College Basketball Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Saturday, January 28th

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College basketball schedule today has 147 games

That is a lot of games. That is a lot of teams. There are 363 Division I teams and 295 of them are scheduled to be in action on Saturday. Chicago State plays a lower-division team, but the other 146 games feature Division I foes going head-to-head. For the purposes of this article, the time difference, the sheer size of the card and some lead time for readers before the games tip off means that I’ll be focusing on the later games, generally looking at 2 p.m. ET or later, so that cuts it down a little bit.

I can’t promise good results on Saturdays, but with this many teams on the court, there are going to be mistakes, oversights and inaccuracies with the lines. This is why conference specialization works so well. I look at the country as a whole because it’s my job, but for those with limited handicapping time, try to pick a few conferences you like or have easy access to for information and become an expert on those. It will help on days like today. (Note: Most stats as of 1/27)

 

As always, check out Jonathan Von Tobel’s daily NBA best bets and Andy MacNeil’s top NHL picks.

Here are some thoughts on the January 28 card (odds from DraftKings):

Illinois Fighting Illini (-2, 131) at Wisconsin Badgers

The Fighting Illini have had some real head-scratchers this season, but they aren’t alone by Big Ten standards. A lot of teams have had a “WTF happened?!” performance or two this season. Wisconsin’s actually had a few of them lately, including an 18-point loss at Indiana two weeks ago and an 18-point loss to Maryland just a few days ago.

Wisconsin is back at the Kohl Center for this one after playing a couple of road games earlier in the week, but I’m not sure how much help that will be against Illinois. The Illini won 79-69 at home on Jan. 7 and led by as many as 15 in the second half. There are a few reasons why I think this game will fall a similar way.

Wisconsin doesn’t get to the rim enough. The Badgers are in the bottom 10 in shot share on Close Twos at 28.6%. They take a lot of mid-range jumpers and don’t shoot a high rate on them. As a result, they rank 310th in the nation in 2P%. They’ve been able to survive with 3s, but Illinois pushes teams off the 3-point line and into a lot of mid-range jumpers.

Illinois is 75th in eFG% offense and 14th in eFG% defense, whereas Wisconsin ranks 209th in eFG% offense and 164th in eFG% defense. Wisconsin is also an awful offensive rebounding team. In the first meeting, Wisconsin only had two fewer shot attempts at the rim and had three more offensive rebounds, yet lost by 10. We should see a return to normal from Illinois here and I’ll be on them for this Big Ten battle.

Pick: Illinois -2

Louisiana Monroe Warhawks at James Madison Dukes (-12.5, 145.5)

This probably looks like a really big spread when you consider that ULM actually has a better record in conference play than James Madison, but there are a lot of reasons to like the Dukes in this game.

Let’s start with the situational spot here for ULM. The Warhawks just beat Marshall on the road in double overtime. Five players played at least 41 minutes in that game, as the Warhawks do not have a whole lot of depth. This will be the fourth road game for Louisiana Monroe in the last 10 days.

My favorite basketball reason is that James Madison also gets to the rim a ton. The Dukes have a shot share on Close Twos of 46.5%, which ranks in the top 10. They should get some quality looks and convert at a high rate against a defense that has allowed a 60.9% FG% on Close Twos. James Madison has not defended those well, but that isn’t a big part of ULM’s offense. They take a lot of long jumpers, which is how you wind up being 350th in 2P% offense. Meanwhile, the Dukes are just outside the top 50.

Next, James Madison is a bit better than average from beyond the arc and Louisiana Monroe ranks outside the top 300 in 3P% defense. The Dukes also like to push the pace. They have the chance to put up some excellent offensive efficiency numbers against a tired defense and really run the Warhawks off the floor. James Madison also has a huge edge on the offensive glass, as ULM ranks among the bottom 40 in offensive rebounding percentage against, something I think plays a bigger factor in this game with the Warhawks a bit tired off the marathon OT game and biggest win of the season.

Add it all up and I’ll lay the hefty number with James Madison.

Pick: James Madison -12.5

UTEP Miners at North Texas Mean Green (-7.5, 116)

We’ve got a very low total in this Conference USA clash between UTEP and North Texas. The Mean Green continue to struggle to cover big numbers as the slowest-paced team in the nation. I was against them on Jan. 19 laying 12 against Rice and they lost the game outright by 12. They were a huge favorite on Thursday against UTSA and only won by four. Their style of play isn’t conducive to running up the score and securing blowout wins.

Admittedly, this game is a little bit of a crapshoot because both defenses force a lot of turnovers and both offenses fail to take good care of the basketball. However, there are a few reasons why I think UTEP can keep this game close. First, North Texas doesn’t get to the rim much. The Mean Green have a shot share on Close Twos of 29.7%, which is in the bottom 20 nationally. Therefore, it is no surprise that they are only shooting 45.9% on 2s, which ranks outside the top 300.

UTEP gets to the rim at a decent rate and converts at a very high rate of 64.5%. Defensively, they have issues protecting the interior, but North Texas doesn’t get to the rack, so I think the Miners should have more looks at high-percentage shots. Because UNT doesn’t get inside much, they shoot a lot of 3s. UTEP allows a lot of 3-point attempts, but they’ve shown good length defensively, holding teams below 31% on 3s. They are in the top 50 in that department.

I don’t think UTEP wins, but I see no reason why they can’t keep this game close in another low-possession environment. There could also be a lot of turnovers here to make this game even sloppier and UTEP should get enough of those to avoid getting beaten by margin. Also, UTEP gets to the free throw line a lot more than North Texas, which could also help the cause.

Pick: UTEP +7.5

Northern Colorado Bears at Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (-2, 149.5)

In what profiles as a high-scoring game in the Big Sky Conference, we’ve got Northern Colorado getting a short number in Flagstaff against Northern Arizona. The Bears are something of a high-variance team because they live and die with the 3. Steve Smiley’s crew shoots a three on 41.8% of their field goal attempts. It’s tough to bet on teams like that sometimes, but I like this matchup for the Bears.

When I’ve got a team that shoots a lot of long-distance jumpers, I like to look to play on them against opponents that won’t get a lot of high-percentage shots. That fits Northern Arizona, who ranks 333rd in shot share on Close Twos per Torvik. Opponents are shooting nearly 38% on 3s against the Lumberjacks, so we run into a scenario where this matchup suits the Bears and they can outshoot Northern Arizona.

This is also a matchup where NAU allows opponents to get to the rim pretty frequently. That may give Northern Colorado the chance to get more looks on the inside than usual, which likely opens up more clear looks from 3. All in all, I don’t think Northern Arizona can keep pace offensively with Northern Colorado. These are two bad defenses, so points will rule the day.

Pick: Northern Colorado +2

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