Find college basketball best bets and expert picks for the Friday slate here, including analysis of Michigan State vs. Wisconsin and Stanford vs. Cal.
College Basketball Best Bets Record 5-0 (+5 units)
Michigan State Spartans at Wisconsin Badgers
Michigan State was one of the preseason favorites to win the national championship this season. Tom Izzo is one of the most respected coaches in the country and the Spartans brought back a seasoned backcourt featuring Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard, two seniors who pushed the team to the Sweet 16 in last year’s tournament. After a rough start to the season, I believe it’s time to buy low on Sparty.
Over their last ten games, the Spartans have an 8-2 record, and since the beginning of December, they’re 13th in barthag, a stat from BartTorvik which measures a team’s expected winning percentage against an average team. Essentially, they’ve been playing at a top 15 level for nearly two months. Over that stretch, they’ve been shooting a blistering 41.5% from 3-point range, which is 5th in the country.
That recent shooting prowess should play well against a Wisconsin defense that has shown some holes recently. The Badgers are allowing opponents to shoot 39.3% from 3 over their last seven games, which ranks 315th in the country. Failing to close out on shooters almost cost them in their last game against a middling Minnesota team after leading by 10 at halftime.
Wisconsin makes up for some defensive deficiencies with an elite offense that ranks sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency. However, they took a hit with the loss of guard Kamari McGee, who helped the Badgers maintain efficiency when star lead guard Chucky Hepburn was on the bench. I have serious concerns about this team’s backcourt depth moving forward without McGee.
One key aspect of this game worth watching is the play of the Spartans’ senior forward Malik Hall. He was a nonfactor in the loss against Wisconsin earlier this year with just two points and three rebounds in the aftermath of a bout with the flu, but he has averaged 14.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in Big Ten play since.
Tom Izzo admitted he was surprised by Wisconsin’s offensive prowess when they won in East Lansing earlier this year. He won’t be surprised this time around, and I expect an expert defensive game plan with plenty of time to prepare – Michigan State’s last game was on Sunday. The Spartans rank 17th in adjusted defensive efficiency this season.
The Spartans have fared well on the road this season with narrow losses against top-ten ranked Arizona and Illinois, and I don’t have many qualms about backing this team despite the hostile environment. Michigan State has been the better team for the better part of two months, and I love being able to back them as an underdog in this spot.
Best Bet: Michigan State +2.5
Stanford Cardinal at California Golden Bears
Cal was featured as a team in my buy/sell article on Lineups as the Golden Bears have had some brutal late game variance go against them. Cal has 12 losses this season, and five of them have been by 3 points or less. They rank 350th in KenPom’s luck ratings as a result and they’ve lost six separate games that ShotQuality has graded as expected wins.
We shouldn’t be shocked to see some growing pains from this Cal group – their top four leading scorers are from the transfer portal and head coach Mark Madsen is in his first year at the helm. That lack of continuity hasn’t helped against what ranks as the 41st-toughest schedule to this point per KenPom. However, positive regression is coming for this group.
Stanford, meanwhile, has won five of their last seven games, but they’re a team I’m looking to sell as the Cardinal has made a wildly unsustainable 48% of its 3-point attempts in conference play. I expect Cal to clean up on the defensive glass if Stanford does see shooting regression in this game – the Golden Bears rank 26th in defensive rebounding rate and Stanford ranks 339th in offensive rebounding rate.
Cal guard Jaylon Tyson will be the best pure scorer on the floor with 21 points per game, and Cal’s offense ranks 30 spots better in adjusted efficiency per KenPom. I trust the Golden Bears in the half court much more, where I expect this game to be played for the most part as both teams rank well below average in turnovers forced per game.
Watch for the injury report for this game as the potential absence of Jared Bynum would be significant – he averages 6.5 assists per game for Stanford but has missed the team’s last four games. Cal should have an electric crowd for this rivalry game, and I’m backing Madsen to lead his team to victory against his alma mater on Friday night.
Best Bet: Cal -1.5