College Basketball Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Saturday December 16

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College basketball expert picks and predictions

There are 88 games and some marquee matchups on Saturday. After a bunch of small and weak slates during the week, Baylor/Michigan State, Houston/Texas A&M, Clemson/Memphis, Ohio State/UCLA, Arizona/Purdue, Kentucky/North Carolina, and Alabama/Creighton are the headliners, but there are several other high-end games to follow.

 

As usual, I have to mention that for the Saturday games, I don’t really look at anything before 4 p.m. ET for the article in hopes of giving enough lead time for everybody that is interested and wants to read the write-ups. Sometimes that’ll cut the card a little short, but I’m just looking for the best plays in games that have some time to be up.

One quick note before getting into the games I like – there are quite a few neutral-site games today, so check the venues. Also, many students have left for winter break, so home-court advantage will be lessened for a lot of games on campus sites.

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Here are some thoughts on the December 16 card (odds from DraftKings):

Air Force Falcons vs. UT Arlington Mavericks (-1, 131.5)

5 p.m. ET

This is something of a neutral-site game, in that it will be played at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth as opposed to being played on UT Arlington’s campus about 18 miles away. Maybe the size of the crowd will surprise me, but with students on break and not a lot of excitement surrounding the basketball program, I can’t expect the Mavericks faithful to come out en masse for this one.

To me, that makes it even harder to play in a game like this. It’s a big venue that seats over 13,500 for basketball, effectively making it close to twice the size of College Park Center, which is where UTA typically plays home games. The reason I’m obsessing over that point is because the Mavericks face Air Force’s zone defense tonight, which likely means a lot of jump shots as part of their offensive plan. Air Force comes in ranked 33rd in 2P% defense per Bart Torvik and 156th in 3P% defense. The Mavericks have only played three road/neutral games, but they’ve shot 28.9% from 3 in those games.

I will say that Air Force loves to shoot 3s themselves with a 3P Rate of 46.2%, so that does worry me in this venue. However, the difference in the game to me is that UT Arlington has turned the ball over at a 21.4% clip on offense and Air Force has a 20% TO% on defense. The Mavs are 327th in the nation in TO% on offense per Torvik and the Falcons rank 70th on defense.

I feel like UTA will have a lot of empty possessions between turnovers and missed 3s. The Falcons also recently got back star Rytis Petraitis, who will play his fourth game of the season and has averaged 17 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, so their roster is back to pretty much full strength and he’s a huge presence. I think they’re a little undervalued as a result since their full-season numbers don’t include him and he’s the best scorer on the roster.

Pick: Air Force +1

Charlotte 49ers at Richmond Spiders (-4.5, 137)

7 p.m. ET

This is a pretty decent mid-major matchup between Charlotte and Richmond. The 49ers are back out on the road after getting embarrassed by 24 points against Duke last weekend. The Spiders are back at it after coming up well short against Florida and also losing on the road at Northern Iowa.

Richmond is likely to be a team with big home/road splits as the season goes along because they love jumpers. Their shot share on Close Twos is only 32.8% per Torvik, which is well below the national average. They take a lot of mid-range jumpers and have a 3P Rate of 37.2%. The strength of schedule has certainly been weaker at home, but Richmond is 4-0 at the Robins Center while shooting 39.1% from 3 and 62.8% on 2s. All five of their losses have been in road or neutral settings.

They’re back at home here against Charlotte and what concerns me about the 49ers is that teams that can shoot the ball have burned them. The exception was against George Mason back on November 19, but Liberty had 1.26 points per possession, Davidson had 1.285 PPP, and Duke had 1.271. Richmond is a solid jump-shooting team and I expect them to find success here.

The other thing I like about Richmond is that they really pack it in defensively. Their shot share against on Close Twos is just 29.5%, which ranks 26th in the nation. They’re going to force Charlotte to shoot jumpers and this is a 49ers team shooting just 31.1% from 3. Most of their good shooters from last year left in the portal or exhausted their eligibility.

I like the Spiders back on their home floor for the first time since December 2.

Pick: Richmond -4.5

Green Bay Phoenix at Oklahoma Sooners (-24.5, 135.5)

9 p.m. ET

This game sort of fits the mold of the handicap earlier in the week with St. Thomas and Marquette. Green Bay doesn’t have as much offensive upside as the Tommies, but this is a huge spread in a game that won’t mean a whole lot to the Sooners with a sleepy arena as finals week has come to close.

This is a game that could be played at a slower pace than most Oklahoma games. The Phoenix are 355th in the nation in adjusted tempo per Torvik and 339th per Ken pomeroy. Green Bay has not played a great schedule by any means, but they do rank 59th in 2P% defense and 126th in 2P% offense. Under first-year head coach Sundance Wicks, the Phoenix have been a lot more competitive than they were under Will Ryan, who went 8-54 over his final two seasons and just 6-34 in Horizon League play.

Oklahoma just beat Arkansas a week ago in a big neutral-site game and took down a top-40 Providence team at home in the game prior. The Sooners hit the road for Chapel Hill this week to take on North Carolina in a huge non-conference tilt before the holidays. While Oklahoma’s stats are pretty impressive and they have a high ranking, KenPom has the Sooners with the 302nd-ranked schedule to this point. Green Bay grades slightly better than that, but this just feels to me like a game where the Sooners are looking ahead and will allow Green Bay to keep it reasonably close.

Pick: Green Bay +24.5

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