Best Bets: Big 12 favorites in for good night

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

No. 23 OKLAHOMA at No. 5 KANSAS, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • LINE: Kansas -8.5, 151
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 79.75, Oklahoma 71.25
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas 78, Oklahoma 70
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Kansas 74, Oklahoma 72

This is the chance for Oklahoma to prove a point this season. The Sooners have been one of the surprises in college hoops this year, and there’s not ‘Welcome to 2019’ moment quite like having to kick off Big 12 play in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

The way that Lon Kruger is winning this season is with a stout defense that attacks and scores in transition. They are nowhere near as dangerous offensively as they were with Trae Young, but the Sooners are a top ten defense entering the new year. Kansas will be happy to run with Oklahoma, but I’m not convinced this will turn into an up-and-down contest. League play tends to be slower-paced, and both of these teams are top ten defenses.

PICKS: This game is going to come down to whether or not Oklahoma can exploit Udoka Azubuike’s inability to defend on the perimeter. I don’t think that they will. I don’t think they can run Brady Manek at the five, I’m not convinced Jamuni McNeace will be able to hold his own in the paint and I need to see Matt Freeman make an impact in the Phog before I believe that he will.

Personally, I will be staying away from this game, but if I was forced to make a pick, it would be Kansas and the over.

UTAH STATE at No. 6 NEVADA, 11:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

  • LINE: Nevada -9.5, 148.5
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Nevada 79, Utah State 69.5
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Nevada 81, Utah State 69
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Nevada 76, Utah State 71

This is an incredibly important game for a Utah State team that is much better than anyone realizes. The Aggies are a top 50 team, according to KenPom, that badly needs to get at least one win against Nevada to have a shot at an at-large bid this season. I don’t think that they’ll get it in Reno, but I do think that they have a real shot to cover. The reason is simple: I buy just how good Utah State can be defensively. Nevada is dangerous because they have a bevy of ridiculous shot-makers that don’t turn the ball over. The Aggies are top five nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage and they are second-nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

In other words, they force as many misses as anyone in the sport and they don’t let you get a second chance.

PICKS: I’ll take Utah State to cover.

No. 24 NEBRASKA at MARYLAND, 6:30 p.m ET (BTN)

  • LINE: Nebraska -1.5, 137.5
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Nebraska 69.5, Maryland 68
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Maryland 71, Nebraska 70
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Nebraska 71, Maryland 70

It’s hard to get a read on how good Maryland is this year. The Terps don’t have any statement wins yet this season, but they did play Virginia, Purdue and Seton Hall close in losses. They also beat Penn State.

Nebraska, on the other hand, has already landed some impressive wins. They beat Clemson on the road, they smacked Creighton at home and they knocked off Seton Hall and Oklahoma State. They were also in firm control at Minnesota for roughly 32 minutes before blowing a lead at the end.

PICKS: Nebraska has performed well on the road this year, winning at Clemson by two and outplaying Minnesota last month. But they also lost at Minnesota, and Maryland has been a tough out at home. I’ll probably stay away, but if I had to, I’d probably take Maryland plus the points.

No. 11 TEXAS TECH  at WEST VIRGINIA, 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

  • LINE: Texas Tech -4.5, 136
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Texas Tech 70.25, West Virginia 65.75
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 70, West Virginia 66
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Texas Tech 73, West Virginia 63

I don’t think I can remember ever seeing a line move as much as this one has. The total opened at 150.5 in some places. It’s down to 136 or 137, which means the chance for you to get in on the obvious bet in this game is gone.

What we have now is not ideal. Texas Tech is a road favorite in league play, which is never a great situation, while West Virginia is, frankly, not all that good. They will also be without Sagaba Konate tonight, who is the presence in the paint that lets the Mountaineers gamble for steals.

PICKS: While the situation isn’t ideal, I do think that Texas Tech will be able to cover here. West Virginia is not forcing turnovers the way they have in the past, and no Konate means they will not have the rim protection they are used to. Combine that with the fact that the Red Raiders are literally the nation’s best defense and should be capable of keeping West Virginia off of the offensive glass, and it makes sense. I don’t know if Vegas as adjusted for just how good the Red Raiders are yet.


SETON HALL at XAVIER (-3.5, 143), 6:30 p.m. ET (FS1): As much as I don’t like betting road underdogs, I have a hard time putting money on Xavier at this point in the season. Consider me thoroughly unimpressed with wins over DePaul and Illinois. If I bet this game, it will be Seton Hall (+3.5). KenPom and Haslametrics both agree.

HARVARD at No. 15 NORTH CAROLINA (-16.5, 152.5), 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): The total in this game has already moved quite a bit — it opened at 158.5. The total is 4.5 points below what KenPom is projecting, and neither Seth Towns nor Bryce Aiken are expected back. I think UNC can control tempo, and I don’t think Harvard has the horses to run with them. Wait and take the over when the total is as low as it gets.

GEORGETOWN at BUTLER (-8.5, 151), 7:00 p.m.: Georgetown looks like it will be without Mac McClung in this one. I already think Butler is underrated, and with the Hoyas missing the guy that went for 38 last week, I’ll err on the side of KenPom and Haslametrics, who both have this game projected as a double-digit Butler win.

TULSA at No. 19 HOUSTON (-10.5, 135), 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3): This is a huge game for Houston, but bettors seem to think that Tulsa can put up a fight. The line has already move three points in Tulsa’s favor and the total has risen 3.5 points. I’ll stay away personally, but if you’re into fading the public, Houston and the under seem to fit that narrative.

NORTHWESTERN at No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE (-12.5, 138.5), 8:30 p.m. (BTN): Northwestern has been tough defensively this season, and while the Wildcats have not landed a marquee win yet, they’ve made it tough on some good teams — they lost to Michigan by two at home, lost by two at Indiana and took Oklahoma to overtime. I like the Wildcats to cover.

DEPAUL at VILLANOVA (-12, 140.5), 8:30 p.m. (FS1): I’m not on Xavier this year, and Xavier won at DePaul by nine. Villanova is coming off of a shellacking of UConn, should get Colin Gillespie back and, hopefully, will have used the last two weeks to work through the issues with their youngsters. Don’t make me regret it, Jay.

IOWA STATE (-4, 143) at OKLAHOMA STATE, 9:00 p.m. (ESPNN): The line is already moving in this one. The total has come down from 146.5 to 143 and Iowa State is down from a 4.5-point favorite. I love home dogs in league play.

TEXAS at KANSAS STATE (-2, 129.5), 9:00 p.m. (ESPNU): This game is going to be ugly. Two top ten defenses and sub-100 offenses? No Dean Wade? Gross. The total opened at 123 and shot all the way up to 129.5. KenPom has it at 123. Haslametrics has it even lower, at 115. Hammer the under.