College Basketball Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Thursday, March 16th

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College basketball schedule today has 16 games

Sixteen games, baby! No offense to the First Four, but it is officially NCAA Tournament time. The first day is always a fun one and hopefully this year’s Madness delivers in a big way. We have a lot of best bets from VSiN hosts and analysts, including myself, so you can check out our running article.

 

I have some games listed in there and will list some others here throughout the tournament, plus I’ll be using NIT and CBI (starts Saturday) picks in this daily article as well. Sadly, The Basketball Classic was canceled for this season, so we only get three postseason tournaments this year. Also, I’ll be doing a Sunday article for the NCAA Tournament. Shout-out to my dude Zachary Cohen for filling in, but I’ll be taking care of Sunday now as well. (Tracking sheet)

I’m doing the best I can to get this out with some lead time. Some of my thoughts were in that best bets file linked above. I’ll be posting this overnight so it’s up in the morning, hopefully giving readers enough time to check it out before the games start.

Be sure to catch our region breakdowns on the VSiN College Basketball Betting Podcast.

Here are some thoughts on the March 16 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)

West Virginia Mountaineers (-2, 137.5) vs. Maryland Terrapins

Like I said, I’m posting the article overnight for the first weekend of the tournament to try and get it out there with some lead time. I know it’s hard because this is the early game with a 12:15 p.m. ET tip-off, but I do like West Virginia in this matchup and wanted to include it in the article. Maryland has simply not been the same team away from home that it has been on the road. Haslametrics has an “AFH” metric that stands for Away From Home and Maryland ranks 304th in the nation in that metric.

The Terps are also a really slow-paced team, but the Mountaineers speed up games with their Press Virginia defense and high TO%. Their 20.9% TO% ranks 47th in the nation. While Maryland’s TO% on offense is good at 16.2% (49th), it’s important to point out that only two teams – Northwestern and Rutgers – had a TO% better than 18.6% in the Big Ten and only one – Northwestern – had a TO% over 20% in conference play. Maryland beat them 75-59, but went 14-of-22 from 3 for a season-high in 3-pointers made. That game was also at home.

On the road against a Rutgers team that forced turnovers at the second-highest rate in conference play, Maryland lost 64-50 and had 20 turnovers in a game played to 62 possessions. Iowa was third in TO% in Big Ten play and beat Maryland by 14 in Iowa City. Wisconsin was fourth and Maryland lost to them on the road as well.

West Virginia has a couple other advantages. They get to the free throw line at a much higher rate on offense and they also are the more superior team on the offensive class. The Mountaineers have gone to the NCAA Tournament 10 times under Bob Huggins and have won at least one game in seven of those appearances. Sure, he’s had some better teams and higher seeds, but I think they’re a hard team to play with their defensive style and physicality.

WVU played a harder schedule, comes from a better conference and has enough advantages to be worth a bet here. Since this is an overnight posting, I’ll say that I’d play them up to -3 for frame of reference if the line does move.

Pick: West Virginia -2

Charleston Cougars vs. San Diego State Aztecs (-5, 141.5)

The Selection Committee really screwed Charleston. It is entirely possible that the Cougars beat the Aztecs, but this is a very tough draw and the type of mid-major team that does a lot of things well that don’t jive with Charleston’s strengths. Year after year, we see upstart mid-majors and low-majors get boned by the Committee by being forced to face an underseeded powerhouse or a fellow standout mid-major.

This is both. San Diego State was as low as No. 27 in Bart Torvik’s rankings this season and as high as No. 8. Five of San Diego State’s six losses have been in Quadrant I-A games. Charleston didn’t even play one of those and only played one Quad I opponent (North Carolina in the second game of the year). In fact, Charleston has played one top-100 team per Torvik since Nov. 23 and that was Hofstra, who won 85-81 at Charleston.

Charleston shoots a 3 on 47.4% of shot attempts and ranks 206th in the nation at 33.3%. San Diego State is seventh in 3P% defense at 29.2%. Charleston got back a lot of those misses with a top-20 offensive rebounding percentage, but San Diego State was a top-65 team in offensive rebounding percentage against and played a far tougher schedule.

This is just a really difficult matchup for Charleston. They push the pace well, but draw a very controlled, veteran Aztecs team that won’t get caught up in the speedy tempo. San Diego State is quietly good at forcing turnovers and is dangerous enough from 3 to offset whatever Charleston may do from deep. It looks like a big spread given the history of 12/5 games and Charleston’s record, but I don’t think it is. Torvik has San Diego State by 7.5 and Haslametrics has the Aztecs by 8.16 points. The Aztecs are also a good free throw shooting team if that’s what it comes down to in this game.

There’s a chance this line comes down by morning given the 12/5 narrative and Charleston’s record, so that may be helpful. I wouldn’t play this past 5.5 if it does go up.

Pick: San Diego State -5

Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns vs. Tennessee Volunteers (-11.5, 136)

Everybody knows the history of Rick Barnes in the NCAA Tournament, yet this line has slowly, but surely grown in favor of the Volunteers. While I have zero interest in laying double digits with a Barnes bunch in March, I do think the movement on the spread is a positive for what I do like in this game and that is the under.

Tennessee takes way too many 3s for a team that isn’t very good at making them. The Volunteers shoot a 3 on 40.4% of their shot attempts, but rank 226th in the nation at 32.9% from beyond the arc. Louisiana struggled a bit to defend the 3, but also pushed teams off the 3-point line with a low shot share of 29.9%. That makes me think Tennessee’s 3-point attempts will be contested here and that’s bad for a team that struggles to make them anyway.

Louisiana is the faster of the two teams by tempo, but Tennessee’s 22.2% TO% ranks 21st in the nation and I think they’ll get some steals and slow the game down. For as athletic as the Vols are, their shot share on Close Twos is just 32.6% per Torvik, which ranks 280th in the nation. They just don’t focus on getting inside much and I doubt they will here because they are poorly coached.

The Ragin’ Cajuns shoot 3s at 36.6%, but they don’t take a lot of them and Tennessee is the best defense in the nation at 26.2% on 3-pointers. I don’t think Louisiana will get inside much here, which means a lot of low-percentage mid-range jumpers. Tennessee is also missing point guard Zakai Zeigler, who averaged 5.4 assists per game.

There are some 136.5s out there, so look for those. I would play this down to 135 if it does move down. I’ll grade it in the sheet at 136 since that’s the prevailing number at books outside Las Vegas, but shop around if you can.

Pick: Under 136

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