College Basketball Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Saturday, March 18th

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College basketball schedule today has 14 games

There are eight games in the NCAA Tournament tomorrow, but that isn’t the only action on the college basketball betting board. We’ve got two games in the NIT and four games in the first round of the CBI down in Daytona Beach, so there are some additional opportunities that you may not have been thinking about.

 

The CBI is all played in one city this year, so we don’t get the weird and quirky travel spots that created good betting opportunities in past tournaments. That’s a little unfortunate, but I’ll be keeping an eye on that tournament and still following the NIT to see if there are any lines that yield potential value. (Tracking sheet)

Keep an eye on our VSiN College Basketball Betting Podcast feed, as we’ll have second round episodes for you, along with Sweet 16 previews on Monday and Tuesday.

Here are some thoughts on the March 18 card (odds from DraftKings):

(As a quick heads up, I’ll be listing games by tip-off time, not rotation number for the NCAA Tournament)

Duke Blue Devils (-3.5, 128.5) vs. Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers have had a very clear deficiency on offense all season long, yet don’t seem to want to do anything about it. Tennessee has taken a 3 on 40.3% of shot attempts and has only shot 32.7% from 3. One would think that a team converting at a 63.1% clip on Close Twos would try to get to the rim more often, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Tennessee only has a shot share on Close Twos of 32.5%, which ranks 284th as of the Vols’ win over Louisiana.

Duke has a stingy defense in a lot of areas. The Blue Devils are 15th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Bart Torvik and have done really well defending at the rim and on the perimeter. Duke’s 3P% against is just 30.1%, which ranks 15th. Both the Blue Devils and Volunteers rank in the top 70 in FG% on Close Twos, with Tennessee 26th and Duke 67th.

These are two teams that play at a below average tempo, which is factored into the total, but these are two defenses that are way better than the offenses. Duke is 118th in 2P% and 185th in 3P% on offense, but 32nd and 15th, respectively, on defense. Tennessee is 134th in 2P% and 245th in 3P% on offense, but eighth and first, respectively, on defense.

I don’t think either team gets a lot of uncontested looks. Duke does better at getting to the rim, but Tennessee is solid defensively on those shots. Neither team shoots the national average (34%) from 3. The teams are both in the bottom 100 in tempo. I know 128.5 looks low, but I don’t think it’s low enough for this game. I’d play this down to 127.5.

Pick: Under 128.5

Northwestern Wildcats vs. UCLA Bruins (-7.5, 127)

I went back and forth on this game between the under and UCLA because I think that the Wildcats are really going to struggle to score points. Northwestern’s offensive efficiency numbers are really propped up by a low TO% and a solid strength of schedule. Being in the Big Ten has led to a bit of a misleading ranking in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency. The Big Ten really wasn’t that good defensively and Northwestern can’t play against themselves, so I really don’t see how this can be a top-100 team in that metric.

The Wildcats are 305th in the nation in 2P% at 46.8% and 274th in 3P% at 32.2%. UCLA ranks 41st in 2P%, 31st in 3P% defense and also has the 11th-ranked TO% at 23.6%. Teams in the Big Ten aren’t terribly aggressive with ball pressure on defense. Northwestern is one of the few and, again, the Wildcats can’t play themselves, so I think their low TO% is a bit misleading as well.

UCLA is second in adjusted defensive efficiency per Torvik and first per KenPom with the average opponent ranking 42nd in adjusted offensive efficiency. Northwestern is 98th in that department per Torvik, so this is a few steps down from what UCLA typically faces.

I wouldn’t call the Bruins great on offense, but they are better than the national average in 2P% and 3P% and they are also a top-25 offensive rebounding team. We just saw Boise State yank down 20 offensive boards against Northwestern in a losing effort. UCLA should get some second-chance points as well. I generally don’t like laying three possessions in a game that will likely be played to 65 or so possessions, but I don’t think Northwestern scores much and I think their metrics are misleading because the Big Ten was overrated by the ranking sites.

It’s a big number, but I’m expecting Northwestern to be held in the 50s here and UCLA should do enough on offense to cover the spread. I’d play this up to -8.5.

Pick: UCLA -7.5

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