College Basketball Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Thursday, March 2nd

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College basketball schedule today has 54 games

A new day beckons in college basketball, as more conference tourneys tip off and more regular season games are completed. Those regular season games are a bit of a struggle to bet, as some teams are clearly looking ahead to the conference tournament, especially in the one-bid leagues. We’ve seen some lackadaisical efforts from teams throughout the week and more than a few no-shows. (Tracking sheet)

 

Tim Murray and Matt Youmans put together another new episode of the VSiN College Basketball Betting Podcast, so I’d encourage all of you to check that out today.

Last quick note: I know there will be some afternoon games in conference tournaments. I won’t really be able to get the article out much earlier with PST and needing the data from the night before. It’s just an occupational hazard at this time of the year, but I’ll try to pick games with as much lead time as possible.

Here are some thoughts on the March 2 card (odds from DraftKings):

UC Santa Barbara (-2.5, 139.5) at UC Davis Aggies

The Big West teams play on Thursday and Saturday before heading to the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev. for the conference tournament. UC Davis is in a rather precarious spot tonight. They actually had to cancel last week’s game against Cal State Fullerton because they didn’t have enough healthy bodies to play the game. They got back on the floor to gut out a win over Cal Poly on Saturday, but had just .869 points per possession, their lowest output in conference play to date.

Saturday’s game means more to the Aggies than this one. If Long Beach State wins tonight and UC Davis loses, then Saturday’s game is for the No. 6 seed, which means not playing in the first round. Sure, if UCD wins tonight, they’d lock up the No. 6 seed anyway, so there’s something to play for, but they get two cracks at it and may choose to give big man Christian Anigwe another couple days of rest.

Aside from the spot, UC Santa Barbara scored 1.175 points per possession in the first meeting, which was the worst defensive output for UC Davis in conference play. The Gauchos were 24-of-28 at the rim and may find an even easier path to the tin without Anigwe. Even if he plays, he’ll be restricted in all likelihood.

The Gauchos have been terrific at the rim with a 41% shot share (44th) and a 62.9% FG% (60th). UC Davis gets to the rim at a slightly higher level (34th), but ranks 308th in FG at 54.4%. In the first game, UCD was 17-of-30 at the rim. The main difference between these two teams is that UC Davis is 331st in the nation in shot share against on Close Twos at 41.5%, while UCSB is 241st at 37.7%.

It’s a good matchup for UCSB and UC Davis is dealing with a ton of injuries. They have Saturday to worry about, while the Gauchos are still very much in the hunt for the No. 1 seed. Most other sportsbooks are -2 on this game, so find one of those instead of taking the 2.5 at DraftKings.

Pick: UC Santa Barbara -2.5

Memphis Tigers (-6.5, 153) at SMU Mustangs

Memphis has the chance to lock up the No. 2 seed in the AAC Tournament with a win here over SMU. Tulane won both head-to-head meetings and last night’s turd sandwich from the Green Wave against East Carolina means that Memphis can take care of business tonight for that spot. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t represent a huge advantage in a neutral-site tournament, but it would mean a couple more hours of rest from the quarterfinals to the semifinals and likely an easier game in the quarters.

More than anything, I just think this is a game where Memphis matches up well. The Tigers won the first meeting at home by a 99-84 score back on Jan. 26. Memphis was a strong 18-of-23 at the rim, while SMU was 10-of-19. The Mustangs had to chuck up a bunch of 3s and that is an unsound strategy against a Tigers defense allowing opponents to shoot just 31.6% from deep. It is also bad for SMU, who is shooting 31.5% on triple tries.

This is likely to be an up-tempo game and Memphis has far and away the better offense and better defense on every possession. The Tigers have a 41.7% shot share at the rim and have finished at a 64% clip on those shots. They don’t like to take a lot of 3s, but are better than SMU in that department as well. The Tigers also rank just outside the top 50 in TO% on defense, so they’re likely to get some extra possessions here.

There’s a small chance the Tigers could look ahead to Sunday’s rematch with Houston, but they’ve struggled a bit defensively in the last three games and I think they’d rather avoid as many bad habits as possible going into that game and the AAC Tournament.

Pick: Memphis -6.5

Pepperdine Waves (-2.5, 161.5) vs. Pacific Tigers

The West Coast Conference Tournament begins tonight at Orleans Arena in Paradise, Nev. This is the late game of the double dip with Pacific taking on Pepperdine. I backed Pacific against Pepperdine back on Feb. 2 as a one-point favorite and they completed the regular season sweep with an 81-72 win. Based on that line, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they are an underdog in a neutral setting, but I really think the Tigers match up well.

In the two regular season meetings, Pacific led in Close Two shot attempts 62-48, including 39 of them in the second meeting. The Tigers had 1.037 and 1.107 points per possession in the two wins, while Pepperdine was held under a point per possession in each game. Shot selection is a big deal between these two. Pacific has struggled to finish at the rim with a low 54.9% FG%, but their shot share on Close Twos is 39.8% (75th), while Pepperdine’s shot share on Close Twos of 33.2% is 269th. 

Furthermore, Pepperdine’s shot share against on Close Twos is 44.1%, which ranks 356th out of 363 teams per Bart Torvik. Pacific is 312th, but Pepperdine’s shot share on Close Twos is low. It just isn’t a big part of their offensive strategy. They take a higher rate of mid-range jumpers than Pacific and those are low-percentage, inefficient shots.

Finally, Pacific is 11th in the nation in 3P% at 38.6% and Pepperdine is 278th in the nation at defending 3s at 35.8%. Both teams play at a quick tempo and Pacific is the better offensive team. They both have some defensive issues, but I trust Pacific to get more looks at the rim and also convert more 3s.

Pacific is also 73% at the free throw lion as a team and their two highest-usage players shoot 81.1% and 89.6% at the stripe, so they should be able to take care of business at the line.

Pick: Pacific +2.5

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