Best Bets: Home underdogs in ranked matchups will make us rich

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The first weekend of conference play kicks off, which means that this is the first time that we have a full slate of college basketball games for our viewing pleasure. 

REMINDER: The official Vegas lines for the Saturday and Sunday games have not been released, so we will be using the projections from analytic sites KenPom and Haslametrics to talk through what the spreads and totals are. 

Let’s dive into this weekend’s games:

No. 9 FLORIDA STATE at No. 4 VIRGINIA, Sat. 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia 70, Florida State 61
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Virginia 71, Florida State 57

This is a really interesting matchup for the simple fact that it is going to be our first real chance to get a taste of just how good Florida State truly is.

I’m firmly on board with the idea that Virginia is awesome yet again this season. They are just as good as ever on the defensive end of the floor but the presence of De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome has made them dangerous offensively. And I think that it is Hunter that makes this such a difficult matchup for Florida State, because the way that the Seminoles want to play is to spread out the floor and create mismatches. They have bigs that can play on the perimeter and wings that can thrive at the four, and Virginia is no longer as susceptible to those mismatches with Hunter at the four and Kihei Clark at the point.

Which brings me to another point — I don’t think Florida State’s press is going to work, not with Clark and Jerome both playing major minutes. Virginia is one of the nation’s very best at protecting the ball. They are also one of the nation’s best at clearing the defensive glass; Leonard Hamilton’s team will not be getting many extra possessions.

PICKS: Based on what KenPom and Haslametrics have as projections, I think that the spread in this game is going to end up being pretty big, and that’s not something that I really want a part of. Virginia plays such few possessions and Florida State is good enough that I can’t really see this becoming a blowout. Do you really want to sweat Virginia (-8) against a top ten team? I don’t.

No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE at No. 14 OHIO STATE, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 74, Ohio State 72
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Ohio State 69

This is going to be a tricky spot for the Spartans, who are 2-1 in true road games this year. Michigan State is clearly the more talented team. I don’t think that’s really up for debate, but neither is the fact that Chris Holtmann has quickly become one of the very best coaches in college basketball. This is not going to be easy for the Spartans, not when the Buckeyes can defend as well as they do and not when Kaleb Wesson has the size inside to keep the Spartans from being able to pound the rock into Nick Ward all afternoon. Remember, in this matchup on this floor last season, Ohio State made a statement with a 16 point win.

PICKS: To me, that’s what this bet come down to. I am not totally sold on Michigan State. And I do think that Ohio State matches up really well them. If Ohio State is getting points, I love it. I’ll probably be on the Ohio State money line, especially if the spread ends up being closer to what Haslametrics is projecting than what KenPom is projecting.

No. 5 KANSAS at IOWA STATE, Sat. 5:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Iowa State 75, Kansas 74
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Iowa State 77, Kansas 69

I am glad to see that both KenPom and Haslametric are projecting Iowa State to win this game. Given the powers of Hilton Magic, I tend to think that is how this game is going to end up playing out. The Jayhawks have lost their only true road game of the season — falling at Arizona State — while Iowa State’s computer numbers haven’t fully factored in the return of Lindell Wigginton from his foot injury.

The biggest question is going to be how the Cyclones deal with the Kansas low-post game. Udoka Azubuike has returned to the lineup and is capable of overpowering smaller defenders, and even when he was off the floor against a better defensive team in Oklahoma, the Jayhawks actually looked better running offense through Dedric Lawson at the five.

PICKS: I am very interested to see what this line is going to end up being. I will be on Iowa State as long as they aren’t favored by more than two or three points, and I will be all over the money line if they are getting points. I would also tend to lean towards the over, assuming the total will be somewhere around the high 140s. Both teams are willing to run, and I am not sure either team is really cut out for slowing the other down. It’s a bad matchup for both sides.

No. 21 INDIANA at No. 2 MICHIGAN, Sun. 4:30 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 70, Indiana 62
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Michigan 71, Indiana 60

This is a tough spot for Indiana, especially if they are going to be asked to play without Rob Phinisee, who is dealing with a concussion. Not having a point guard to go up against a team that is as stout defensively as Michigan is will be a nightmare scenario for the Hoosiers, who have spent the last month finding a way to win ugly. That was on display on Thursday night, as they worked back from a deficit to knock off Illinois in Bloomington.

I do not expect this game to be high-scoring. Michigan will be able to control pace, and when combined with the fact that Indiana is going to struggle to score against a set defense makes this a game that is difficult to see getting into the 70s. That also means that it will be that much more difficult for Michigan to create separation.

PICKS: I’ll side with Michigan here, although I wouldn’t feel all that comfortable taking them at more than (-8). I’ll also lean towards taking the under here, assuming it is somewhere in the low 130s.

THE REST OF THE WEEKEND’S NOTABLE GAMES AND BETS

No. 13 KENTUCKY (-3.5, 147.5) at ALABAMA, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN): The projections by both KenPom and Haslametrics are pretty similar here, which gives us a good jumping off point: Kentucky is coming off of a pair of really impressive wins away from Rupp Arena against two teams that are both better than Alabama. The Tide have landed four pretty nice wins in a row, but I’m not sure the models have fully accounted for how good Kentucky has been since Quade Green left. Throw in that Alabama fans will be probably already be pregaming for Monday night’s CFB title game, and I would be all over the Wildcats here at (-3.5), but I’m guessing the line will open closer to (-6).

CLEMSON at No. 1 DUKE, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: It is going to be interesting to see where this line opens up. KenPom is projecting Duke to win by 16. Haslemetrics has them winning by 24 points. I liked this Clemson group coming into the season because they had good guards and could really defend, but they’ve struggled adapting to a bigger lineup and their defense has taken a hit. Clemson’s best win is against Lipscomb at home. I’d probably lean Duke up to about (-15) here, but I’ll likely stay away myself.

No. 24 NEBRASKA at No. 25 IOWA, Sun. 5:30 p.m. (BTN): Another game where KenPom and Haslametrics differ pretty drastically — Nebraska (-2) for the former and (-10) for the latter. After a promising start to the season, Iowa’s defense has fallen off of a cliff, and Nebraska has the dudes to take advantage. I’d lean the Cornhuskers.

ST. JOHN’S at GEORGETOWN, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS): This is a really interesting matchup as the Johnnies are fairly unproved but coming off of a resounding win over Marquette while the Hoyas are a team no one trusts yet just smacked around Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Both sites are projecting St. John’s to win. I don’t trust the Red Storm on the road just yet, especially not in a silent Capital One Arena. Georgetown moneyline. Let’s get it.

CAL at UCLA, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (Pac-12): I will be very interested to see where this line opens up. UCLA looked like a team with three five-stars and a bunch of future pros against Stanford on Thursday night. Cal is terrible. Are the Bruins rejuvenated after Alford’s firing? Both sites have Cal losing by about 12 points, and I think I would probably hammer UCLA (-12).

No. 6 NEVADA at NEW MEXICO, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU): New Mexico wants to run and run and run. They don’t, however, have the talent to play that way. They also can’t guard, and Nevada has dudes that will kill you in transition and will expose players that can’t guard. KenPom has this at Nevada (-16) and Haslametrics has it at Nevada (-23). Both have the total right around 156. Give me Nevada and give me the over.

WEST VIRGINIA at TEXAS, Sat. 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2): West Virginia doesn’t really have any talent this year, not like they have in the last four years. Texas hasn’t been able to score since Shaka Smart arrived in Austin. Texas doesn’t want to play fast and doesn’t commit turnovers, which is what West Virginia’s defense is based on. Both teams are coming off hideous games that finished way under low totals. I’m hammering the under in this one, whatever it ends up being.