Get college basketball best bets for the 3/3/23 slate, featuring best bets for Northern Iowa Vs. Bradley, Toledo Vs. Ball State, Murray State Vs. Drake, Abilene Christian vs. Sam Houston State, and Winthrop Vs. Radford.
College Basketball Best Bets (3/3/23)
We’re back for another day of best bets in college basketball, and while the big-name programs might not be playing on Friday, that doesn’t mean we can’t find value on the board. The second day of March was basically a wash with a 3-3 record.
It’s been frustrating – we’ve now lost two spreads (TCU and Oakland) by a half-point each. Those types of results will happen sometimes and illustrate the importance of unit allocation. With the basketball gods owing us some good fortune on this fine Friday, let’s get to work.
March Best Bets Record: 6-5 (+0.5 units)
Northern Iowa Panthers at Bradley Braves
It’s always fun to have a play in one of the first games of the day, and we’re getting our day started early on Friday with Northern Iowa against Bradley in the quarter final of the Mountain Valley tournament.
The first thing you should know about Bradley is they are elite at home and erratic play on the road – that’s part of why they are just 269th in consistency per Haslametrics. They rank 13th in KenPom’s home-court advantage ratings and are 15-1 at home this season.
However, when the Braves haven’t been in the friendly confines of Carver Arena, they haven’t been the same – they are the third-worst in the country in Haslametrics’ away-from-home ratings. Northern Iowa is ranked 34th in the same metric.
One of Bradley’s eight wins on the road came by eight points against this Northern Iowa game, but the results of that game are very misleading. ShotQuality actually graded the game as a four-point Northern Iowa win. The Braves were expected to get 18 fewer points from 3 as they hit 61.5% from deep compared to 26.9% for the Panthers.
While Bradley is a better 3-point shooting team – they hit at a 36.6% clip (51st) compared to 33.8% for Northern Iowa (188th), that drastic of a split repeating would be shocking. Even still, the Panthers would have covered this spread in that game.
Overall, the Panthers do not sport a good offense – they are ranked 218th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency and 196th in half-court points per possession per ShotQuality. However, one area where they can have some success is in the mid-range.
SQ has Bradley ranked 330th in expected points per possession in mid range defense and UNI ranks 57th offensively. The Panthers are comfortable in that area as they get 20% of their shots from mid range.
For a Bradley team so dependent on its superb home-court advantage during the regular season, a neutral-site game off a layoff is a troubling proposition. That’s particularly true against a confident, young Northern Iowa team coming off a 13-point win in the first round.
Best Bet: Northern Iowa +10.5 (play to +8.5)
Toledo Rockets at Ball State Cardinals
Toledo has been utterly dominant to close regular season play in the Mid-American Conference, and they have the opportunity to clinch at least a share in the regular season title with a win on Friday. They’ve won 14 straight games and are ranked first in the country in Haslametrics’ momentum rating.
Their opponent on Friday is the one team to beat them at home this year – Ball State. The Cardinals closed as an 8.5-point underdog in that game but won by 7 in a game that ShotQuality had graded as a seven-point Toledo win.
That shocking result was primarily due to Ball State’s hot three-point shooting. The Cardinals hit 11 of their 22 3s (50%) compared to the Rockets who hit 7 of 18 (38.9%). The Rockets ranked second in the country this season with a three-point clip of 40.1%, so it was a rare accomplishment for Ball State to outshoot them.
Ball State isn’t a bad three-point shooting team by any means – they rank 23rd in the country at a 37.7% clip – but their defense is poor. They allow opponents to hit 37.4% of their shots from deep which ranks 338th in the country.
That’s problematic against a Toledo team that’s 49th in spacing and has five players who play 16+ minutes per game and shoot 40% or better from deep. There are scorers everywhere for the Rockets.
Potential MAC player of the year RayJ Dennis can take opponents off the dribble and score, but he also ranks 14th in the country with 5.9 assists per game and can hit open shooters when defenders rotate to defend the paint. He’ll put Ball State in a bind on every possession.
Last year I complained about Toledo's RayJ Dennis being left off the All-MAC teams. This year, he was also left off the preseason All-MAC teams.
It was insane then. It's insane now. He's the best player in the league. He should be the MAC player of the year. Period. pic.twitter.com/L2oO51WJZ2
— Jordan Strack (@JordanStrack) February 19, 2023
Toledo is also an excellent free throw shooting team – they hit at a 77.3% clip from the charity stripe which ranks 18th in the country. Ball State sits at 298th with a 68.3% clip, and that gap will start to matter in crunch time.
Ball State was lucky to get the upset win over this powerhouse MAC team, and the Rockets didn’t forget about that loss. With everything at stake on Friday night, look for an energized effort from an elite shooting team.
Best Bet: Toledo -4 (play to -5)
Murray State Racers at Drake Bulldogs
On Thursday, I unsuccessfully attempted to fade Murray State against Valparaiso in the first round of the Mountain Valley tournament. Valpo couldn’t buy a bucket from deep as they went 2-23 from long range, leading to a 28-point Murray State win.
This continued Murray State’s run of luck as they now rank 16th in KenPom’s luck ratings. That’s concerning for a team playing its worst basketball lately as they rank 324th in Haslametric’s momentum ratings.
On the other end of the spectrum, Drake is ranked 42nd in positive momentum per Haslametrics, and while they are an erratic team – they rank 334th in consistency – they finished the year with an impressive run of 13 wins in 15 losses.
One of those two losses came in the final week of the regular season against a Bradley team that has arguably the best home-court advantage in the mid-majors, as I discussed above. They were underdogs of 3.5 points in that game.
Drake has had five days to lick its wounds after that game, and they’ll be the more rested unit on Friday against Murray State. They also have a ton of advantages they can emphasize against this Racers team.
As their name suggests, the Racers love to get out in the open floor and rank 36th in points per possession in transition per ShotQuality. Compare that to their half-court offense that ranks 281st, and there’s a big discrepancy. However, the Racers rank just 333rd in turnover rate on defense.
They also likely won’t generate many takeaways against a Drake offense that ranks 33rd in turnover rate and 25th in potential breakaway points allowed off steals per Haslametrics. Drake will force Murray State to operate in the half court far more than they would like.
Defensively, Murray State has been quite poor as they rank 280th in defensive efficiency per KenPom. They rank 317th in rate of 3-point attempts allowed on defense, and that’s a problem against a Drake team that ranks top 100 in spacing and open 3 rate per ShotQuality.
Against that poor Murray State defense, look for Tucker DeVries, who leads the team with 18.9 points per game, to put up points in bunches. DeVries averaged 21.5 points per game in two games against Murray State, including a 32-point explosion in their second matchup.
Not many dudes smoother than Tucker DeVries this year in college hoops. Just has perfect footwork, elite touch, and looks great getting into his pull-up. Here's him just calmly attacking a heavy closeout, taking a relocation dribble into the midrange, and stopping for a 15-footer pic.twitter.com/VfPRZyMBeH
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) November 22, 2022
On February 7th, Drake traveled to Murray, Kentucky and smacked around the Racers as they won by 24 points as 3-point road favorites. The line has been significantly adjusted here, but the added benefit of fresh legs for the Bulldogs means another blowout is coming here.
Best Bet: Drake -10.5 (play to -12)
Abilene Christian Wildcats at Sam Houston State Bearkats
Sam Houston State hosts Abilene Christian tonight in their final home game of the regular season. After Utah Valley clinched the Western Athletic Conference regular season title with their win on Wednesday, this could be a letdown for the Bearkats since the conference is no longer up for grabs.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, have everything to play for in terms of conference tournament seeding. The WAC brings its top ten teams to the conference tournament, and the Wildcats are currently sitting on the bubble in the ninth seed. The Bearkats, meanwhile, are locked into the two seed.
The Wildcats are due for some positive regression this season as they’ve gotten unlucky in some key areas. They rank 10th in ShotQuality’s record luck metric which measures how much better or worse a team is expected to be based on the quality of shots they take and allow on defense.
One area of weakness for Sam Houston this year has been their turnovers – they rank 320nd in turnover rate on offense. Abilene Christian is 11th defensively, and if Sam Houston isn’t fully locked in for those aforementioned reasons, some mental lapses could lead to a couple of additional turnovers for them.
Conversely, ACU doesn’t allow many fast break opportunities – they’re ranked 17th in potential breakaway points allowed off steals per Haslametrics – so they’ll force the Bearkats to work in the half court. In addition, they don’t allow second chances as Haslametrics has them ranked first in the country in potential points allowed off offensive rebounds.
When these teams met earlier this season, it was a 15-point Sam Houston State win, but ShotQuality graded it as just a five-point margin. Tonight, with the Wildcats having much more at stake, I expect a close affair that gives Abilene Christian a chance to pull off the upset at the end.
Best Bet: Abilene Christian +7.5 (play to +6.5)
Winthrop Eagles at Radford Highlanders
It’s been a weird season for the Radford Highlanders. They started the season 6-3 with impressive road covers against Power Five teams in Marquette and Notre Dame. They followed that with a streak of five straight road losses before winning ten of eleven games.
Finally, they ended the year with losses in four of six games despite being favored in three of the four losses. As a result of that poor finish, they rank 343rd out of 363 teams in Haslametric’s momentum ratings.
Winthrop, meanwhile, is ranked a solid 103rd in momentum as they closed the regular season with four straight wins. Senior forward Cory Hightower has been a big difference-maker with 18 points per game over that stretch.
Radford earned two wins over Winthrop this season, but a common theme emerged from those games that I don’t expect to continue. The Eagles hit just 25 of their 40 free throw attempts across those two games, good for a 62.5% rate.
That’s uncharacteristically poor for an Eagles team that led the Big South in free throw percentage at 74.7% this season. They also ranked 45th in the country and were 11th in free throw rate as they consistently worked their way to the line.
The Highlanders are all too willing to put their opponents on the line as they rank 200th in defensive free throw rate. Winthrop’s ability to convert at the line will be especially big as the Highlanders rank 310th in free throw percentage. That gap can add up quickly.
Winthrop also has a big edge in three-point shooting where they rank 15th in the country at 38.2%. Meanwhile, Radford hits just 34.7% of their three-pointers, which ranks 151st. The Eagles are a high-frequency three-point team at 45.2% of possessions, which is 19th in the country.
Ultimately, I expect the Eagles to consistently work their way to the free throw line and shoot plenty of times from deep. Their advantages in both areas help them avenge their prior two losses to the Highlanders and advance in the Big South tournament.
Best Bet: Winthrop +2 (play to pick ‘em)