College basketball best bets today

It is time for another huge Saturday of college basketball, as 145 games are on the schedule for January 20. Conference specialization is a really good idea when you have this kind of volume. Becoming an expert in certain conferences can narrow your focus and also give you the opportunity to find some lines that are off.

Remember, you don’t have to bet every game, but the sportsbooks have to put up a line on every game. College basketball affords bettors opportunities that they won’t find in other sports, so those that are able to find some of those lines or become a bigger expert than an oddsmaker in a certain conference have a good chance at doing well in this market.


As usual, in the interest of lead time, I started handicapping games that begin in the 2 p.m. ET hour and run through the rest of the day.

Check the latest college basketball odds for legal U.S. sportsbooks across the country and our Vegas odds if you share a state with us here at VSiN. Also, give the college basketball betting splits a look for these or any other college basketball games today have your interest. Check out the Tracking Sheet for this season’s results.

Here are the games I’ve found to my liking for Saturday.

Illinois Chicago Flames (-3.5, 136) at Valparaiso Beacons

4 p.m. ET

This looks like a “get right” spot for UIC, as they’ve had a rough go of it so far in conference play. The Flames beat Valpo by six at home earlier this season, but I think they match up well with the Beacons and won that game despite a free throw disadvantage and a 25% performance from 3.

It has been a tough start to Missouri Valley Conference play for UIC, as they’ve lost to Murray State twice, plus they’ve come up short with Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, and Bradley, who are all top-100 teams per Torvik. Valpo is the lowest-rated team in the MVC and they’ve certainly lived up to it thus far.

UIC has offensive issues, but they have been stout defensively, including a borderline top-10 3P% against. Valpo is 325th in the nation in eFG% offense, so they simply don’t make shots. That goes hand in hand with not getting to the rim, as the Beacons have a shot share of just 28% on Close Twos. Both teams have a blind spot in terms of keeping teams away from the rim on defense, but UIC’s interior protection has been stronger, as they’ve held teams to a 52.6% FG%, whereas Valpo has allowed a 59.4% FG%.

In that game, UIC’s Toby Okani only played 17 minutes. He’s played at least 28 minutes in every other game and has averaged 11.5 points and 7.4 rebounds. Without him, Valpo had more success getting to the rim and nearly doubled up UIC in offensive rebounds. With Okani on the floor, UIC fared better and has fared a lot better defensively throughout the season.

I think he makes a difference here and Valpo struggles to make shots against a top-100 unit. The Flames are the better 3P% offense and Valpo is clearly the weaker defense on the perimeter. There are a lot of factors here that point me towards UIC as a short road favorite.

Pick: Illinois Chicago -3.5

Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns at South Alabama Jaguars (-1, 149.5)

4 p.m. ET

Louisiana and South Alabama battle it out in Mobile for this Sun Belt game and I’m looking to ride the train of Louisiana Overs. I had the game against Troy over on Jan. 10 and the most recent game against Texas State on Jan. 17. I’ll ride it again here against South Alabama.

Louisiana only runs about six deep with their rotation and they’re going to use more of their energy on the offensive side than the defensive side. Texas State was 1-of-13 from 3 and still scored 68 points last time out by doing a good job on 2-pointers. That will be a factor here again in this game.

The Ragin’ Cajuns actually defend the 3 extremely well, holding opponents to 27.5% on triple tries. However, they are allowing opponents to shoot 55.8% on 2-pointers. South Alabama likes to shoot 3s, but they also like to go to the rim with a 42.9% shot share on Close Twos. Louisiana has allowed a 44.2% shot share and a 63.1% FG% on those shots.

South Alabama has allowed a 45% shot share on Close Twos themselves and Louisiana has a 44.3% shot share on offense. So, I think we get tons of high-percentage looks at the rim in this game with two defenses that have struggled to protect that area on the floor.

Louisiana is also speeding up teams by playing pressure defense, as they have a 21.6% TO% on defense. South Alabama has taken really good care of the ball, but the pressure will speed up their offense and any turnovers will go the other way in transition. So, I’m expecting points and a higher tempo than what seems to be expected.

Pick: Over 149.5

Northeastern Huskies (-3, 144) at Elon Phoenix

7 p.m. ET

We’ve got some CAA action here, as Northeastern and Elon get together. This is one of those games where we have a big strength of schedule discrepancy, as Northeastern has played the 133rd-ranked schedule per Torvik, including the 90-ranked non-conference schedule. Elon, meanwhile, has played the 274th-ranked schedule after 300th-ranked slate of non-conference foes.

Despite the tough schedule, the Huskies rank in the top 35 in 2P%. They very much fit the offensive profile of the types of teams that I like to back, as they have a 46.5% shot share on Close Twos. That is among the top 10 in the country when it comes to getting to the rim. That is a great asset to have in general, but especially against an Elon team that ranks in the 331st in FG% against on Close Twos and 305th in shot share against.

Remember, that’s against a bad schedule as well, so Elon has had no success keeping teams away from the tin and no success defending those types of shots.

Northeastern is a pretty bad defensive team as well, as they rank 339th in eFG% defense at 54.4%, but that number was 55.1% during the non-conference part of the season, so they’ve been better within CAA play. By no means have they been great, but they outshot a strong offensive team in Hofstra and beat a tough defensive foe in Towson.

The Huskies just fit a lot of my criteria on offense here and I’ll trust them against an inferior opponent whose numbers aren’t very good, even with the benefit of a bad schedule.

Pick: Northeastern -3

Portland Pilots at Santa Clara Broncos (-11, 154.5)

7 p.m. ET

A West Coast Conference matinee features the heavily-favored Santa Clara Broncos and the Portland Pilots. As the total implies, points are expected in this game and I do believe that they will disproportionately come on the side of the favorite.

The Broncos have had issues with turning the ball over this season. They have a 19.1% TO% on the year. But, they’ve played 11 games with a TO% under 20% and have averaged 78 points per game. Portland has a TO% on defense under 15%, so I don’t think that the Pilots will be able to generate a lot of takeaways in this one.

Given that Portland ranks in the 310s in 2P% defense and opponents are shooting over 35% from 3 on them, the Broncos are set up nicely. They are a top-90 team by eFG% offense, including a 35.4% 3P% and a good rate of getting to the rim at 37.1%. Portland has allowed a 62.9% FG% on Close Twos, so I expect the Broncos to find success there and also out on the perimeter.

Portland has been successful in the mid-range this season, which generally don’t find to be a sustainable skill, especially with a team shooting just 31.5% from 3. Not only does Santa Clara grade well on offense, but the Broncos are also a top-80 team in 2P% and 3P% defense. This should be a big-time rout in favor of the home team and I think this line is light.

Pick: Santa Clara -11

Idaho Vandals at Weber State Wildcats (-15, 138)

9 p.m. ET

It wouldn’t be a Saturday card for me without a play in the Big Sky Conference. This one comes from Ogden, Utah, where Weber State is hosting Idaho. There is no denying that Weber State is easily the superior team between these two, however, the 15-point head start for the Vandals feels like a lot, given the tempo that these two teams play at and Weber’s recent struggles.

This is a step down in class relative to the loss last time out against Eastern Washington, but prior to that, the Wildcats also dropped games to Portland State and Sacramento State, who are two of the lesser teams in this league. With Montana on deck on Monday in a game that pairs two of the conference’s top dawgs over the last several seasons, I’m not sure the Wildcats flip the switch and play at their best to cover here.

Let’s start with this. Weber State is 335th in the nation in adjusted tempo and Idaho is 295th. It takes a supreme level of efficiency at both ends of the floor to win by 15 in a game likely to be played to 63-65 possessions. Both teams take good care of the basketball, so I don’t think we see a lot of transition buckets. Both teams also rank in the 300s in OReb%, so I don’t see many second chance opportunities either. Neither team gets to the line all that effectively either.

Idaho’s interior defense has been pretty decent this season, so I feel like Weber will have to earn their points. The only worry here is that both teams like to shoot a lot of 3s and the Wildcats are pretty good at it, coming in at 36%, but that’s still 36% in a game with limited possessions, so I like a slow, slog of a game here.

Pick: Idaho +15