College Basketball Best Bets (3/5/23)
The college basketball board was good to us on Saturday as we crushed the slate to the tune of a 10-1 record. Not every day will be that hot moving forward, so unit allocation is important as always. The Sunday slate isn’t nearly as loaded with action, but there are some spots I identified with strong value that I break down here. Let’s get to work.
March College Basketball Bets Record: 19-8 (+11.03 units)
Illinois Fighting Illini at Purdue Boilermakers
First off, let’s get this out of the way – this is a horrible, no good, very bad spot for Illinois. Fresh off a hard fought double overtime win over Michigan, they hit the road to take on first place Purdue. While the Boilermakers have clinched the Big Ten, Mackey Arena will still be electric as ever.
However, the stakes are worth noting here. Purdue has clinched the top seed in the Big Ten tournament while Illinois is in the muck of seven teams sitting at 11-8 in conference play. While they might be tired from that game on Thursday, the Illini simply have to put forth their best effort here.
Purdue plays through big man Zach Edey, the potential Wooden Award winner who averages 22.1 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. With Edey as the focal point, the Boilermakers run post-up plays at the highest rate in the country.
Zach Edey was dominant last night.
— SLAM University (@slam_university) March 3, 2023
However, Illinois is better equipped to handle Edey inside than most other teams. Illinois is ranked third in ShotQuality expected points per possession against shots at the rim and they’re 18th in defensive near-proximity percentage per Haslametrics. The Illini rank 16th in size per KenPom as they have three starters above 6’9”.
The Illini were torched by Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson for 31 points and 16 rebounds this week, but that’s uncharacteristic of their typically stout interior defense, and I expect a renewed intensity in the paint in this game.
One concern I have here is Purdue’s elite ability to defend without fouling – they rank 1st in defensive free throw rate. Terrence Shannon Jr., who leads Illinois with 17.2 points per game, won’t be able to rely on free throws as he has lately.
Shannon is shooting 35% or worse from the field in three of his last four games. His scoring has been bolstered by a shade under ten free throw attempts per game over that span, but he won’t be at the line that often here.
Illinois also isn’t necessarily well-equipped to attack Purdue’s lone weakness. The Boilermakers rank outside the top 200 in ShotQuality points per possession on catch & shoot 3s, but the Illini are shooting a putrid 30.9% from three this season – that ranks just 332nd in the country.
Still, Illinois has been one of the best teams through Big Ten play as they have an 11-6 record since the calendar turned to 2023. Five of those six losses have been graded as ShotQuality wins, so they should be challenging Purdue atop the conference.
With more at stake in this final regular season game, I expect Illinois to lean on its elite rim protection to force Purdue out of its comfort zone and run more perimeter-oriented attacks. Look for Illinois to keep this game much closer than many are expecting.
Best Bet: Illinois +8 (play to +6.5)
Drake Bulldogs at Bradley Braves
On Sunday, another ticket to the dance will be punched as Drake faces Bradley in the Final of the Missouri Valley tournament. I cashed in on Bradley -3.5 in the final game of the regular season as they hosted Drake in a revenge game, and I was very lucky to do so as ShotQuality graded it as an eight-point Drake win.
A huge reason for the discrepancy in the final score of that game were favorable three-point splits for the Braves. Drake shot just 5 of 21 from 3 in that game (23.8%) while Bradley hit 7 of 14 from deep (50%). Both teams shoot around 36%, so we shouldn’t expect that to repeat itself.
In addition, Drake’s leading scorer Tucker DeVries had a poor game as he finished with just 11 points on 3 of 13 shooting. He ranks 42nd in the country with 19.2 points per game and lit up Bradley for 28 points on 10-19 shooting in their first matchup this season, so we should expect a much better effort here.
We love a reverse between the legs bounce pass. Also I think Tucker DeVries has NBA range. pic.twitter.com/Apf6klXc9C
— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) March 4, 2023
Bradley benefitted from an elite home-court advantage this season as they ranked 14th in KenPom’s ratings for home-court edge and went 15-1 at home. However, they were 8-5 on the road and were ranked third-worst in the country in Haslametrics’ away-from-home ratings.
Without the benefit of Carver Arena here, I expect a worse performance from Bradley than they had in that regular season finale against Drake.
Bradley primarily plays through the post as they rank third in frequency of post-up shots. Their Dutch forward tandem of Rienk Mast and Malevy Leons lead the way in terms of scoring inside. However, Drake ranks 52nd in defensive near-proximity percentage per Hasmetrics.
The Bulldogs are well-equipped to defend Bradley’s interior-oriented offense, especially as they are due for significant positive regression in terms of their field goal percentage allowed at the rim per ShotQuality. Forward Darnell Brodie is the anchor for this Drake defense.
Without the ability to rely on their elite home-court advantage on Sunday, expect a worse performance from Bradley here against a Drake team well-equipped to beat them. The coach-player father-son duo of Darian and Tucker DeVries is going dancing.
Best Bet: Drake ML (play to -1.5)
Liberty Flames at Kennesaw State Owls
In the ASUN Championship on Sunday afternoon, the Liberty Flames get an opportunity for revenge against a Kennesaw State team that beat them 88-81 earlier this season. That loss was one of just three for the Flames since the calendar turned to 2023 as they have ripped off a 16-3 record over that span.
Even more impressively, two of those three losses were graded as wins by ShotQuality, and the loss to the Owls is the only game all year that the site has graded as a true loss. Liberty dominated much of that game and led by as many as 14 points in the second half before collapsing down the stretch.
So how can Liberty avoid a similar result? It starts on offense where they are outstanding. The Flames rank 48th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. ShotQuality has them as the best offense in the country by expected points per possession primarily as they rank second in rim & three rate.
That rim & three rate is incredibly important as it measures how often teams are taking the highest-percentage shots on the floor – shots at the rim and three-pointers. Head coach Ritchie McKay has a strong understanding of the analytical advantages of those shots and has emphasized them all season.
Liberty’s offense is led by senior guard Darius McGhee, a certified walking bucket. McGhee is ranked third in the country with 22.7 points per game and he lit up the Kennesaw State defense for 43 points and eight three-pointers earlier this year as they had absolutely no answer for him.
26 points and 8 threes for Darius McGhee in the first half tonight.
Oh, and this shot from the LOGO 😅 pic.twitter.com/SQwVOLF9yv
— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) March 1, 2023
On offense, the Owls are a fascinating team as they are excellent at getting to the free throw line but they can’t convert. They rank 54th in free throw attempt rate but they hit at just a 65.8% clip, which ranks 336th in the country. The Owls hit 16 of 21 shots from the line in their prior win over Liberty (76.2%), and I expect regression in that regard.
The Owls are fortunate to be in this championship game as they rank fifth in KenPom luck ratings and should have lost each of their last two games according to ShotQuality. I believe that luck catches up to them here as Liberty’s red hot offense pushes them to a big win. Let’s get McGhee and the Flames to the big dance.
Best Bet: Liberty -4 (play to -6)