Best Bets: Previewing the best weekend in college hoops this season

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As always, the Saturday lines are not yet out. Until they get posted, we will be looking at these games based on projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslam.

No. 9 MARYLAND at No. 20 ILLINOIS (-3), (130); Fri. 8:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Illinois 66.5, Maryland 63.5
  • KENPOM: Illinois 66, Maryland 65
  • TORVIK: Illinois 66, Maryland 63
  • HASLAM: Illinois 63, Maryland 63

I love Illinois (-3) in this spot. The Illini are coming off of a tough loss at Iowa on Super Bowl Sunday. They have had an entire week to prepare for this game, which will be played as an island game on a Friday night for first place in the Big Ten. They will be ready, and their crowd will be ready. Maryland, on the other hand, is coming off of a run where they have won five straight games, including at Northwestern and at Indiana, but none of the wins have really been overly impressive. When these two teams played in College Park earlier this year, Illinois blew a 15-point second half lead when Anthony Cowan went nuclear.

BEST BET: Illinois (-3)

*SATURDAY UPDATE: That’s an L. Don’t sit players with two fouls in the first half. #TrentFrazier

No. 18 LSU at No. 11 AUBURN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Auburn 79, LSU 75
  • TORVIK: Auburn 80, LSU 75
  • HASLAM: Auburn 81, LSU 75

LSU lost in the quintessential look-ahead spot on Wednesday night, dropping a road game at Vanderbilt after winning eight straight games before they head to Auburn Arena in a battle for first place in the SEC title race. I like the Auburn side here. They have been a much better team at home this season — according to Torvik, they are the nation’s 28th-best home team and 77th-best road team — and that building should be rocking.

LSU, on the other hand, had won 10 straight games before losing to Vanderbilt, but their first six wins in SEC play were by a total of 15 points. And maybe this is ignoring something that should be obvious because LSU has been so good at winning close games under Will Wade, but at some point their luck has to run out.

Right?

BEST BET: I like the Auburn side here, but I’ll be hoping to get the line at (-5) or lower. Any higher and it won’t be all that comfortable.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The line opened at Auburn (-5) and is down to Auburn (-4.5) for me, so I’ll be on the Tigers of the Alabama variety.

No. 16 MICHIGAN STATE at MICHIGAN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 72, Michigan 71
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 71, Michigan 70
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 72, Michigan 69

I’m guessing that Michigan will probably end up being favored in this game simply because of the narrative surrounding road teams in the Big Ten and the fact that Michigan State has lost three of their last five games, including two on the road. And if the Wolverines actually have a healthy Isaiah Livers back in action, I think that it’s probably the right decision to favor Michigan.

All I’m going to say is this: The three losses that the Spartans have taken were all one possession games. Xavier Tillman missed a layup at the buzzer that would have forced overtime at Indiana. He went 2-for-8 on layups and had a number of bad turnovers in a one-point loss at Wisconsin. And Cassius Winston, an 86 percent free throw shooter, missed one with 11 seconds left that would have tied the game at home against Penn State on Tuesday night.

Put another way, while they haven’t been winning, I actually think the Spartans have been playing better than what their W-L record says of late.

BEST BET: There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’ll just say this: If Michigan State is getting points and Isaiah Livers is ruled out, then I will be on the Michigan State ML. If Michigan State is laying points and Livers is playing, I will be on the Michigan ML.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line opened up at Michigan State (-2) and is up to Michigan State (-2.5). As of 10 a.m., there is no update as to the status of Isaiah Livers. If we get word that he is playing, I’ll be on Michigan.

PURDUE at INDIANA, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Indiana 64, Purdue 63
  • TORVIK: Purdue 62, Indiana 61
  • HASLAM: Purdue 65, Indiana 61

This is my favorite bet of the almost regardless of where the line opens up. Why? It’s a coming together of every narrative and spot that I’ve ever bet in my life:

  • According to Torvik, Purdue is the best team in the country playing in Mackey. Literally. No one is better playing at home than Purdue is. On the road? They’re 93rd.
  • Indiana, on the other hand, is 22nd nationally playing at home and 126th playing on the road.
  • Purdue is coming off of just a massive home win over Iowa and now heads on the road for a rivalry game.
  • Indiana has lost three straight, including back-to-back road games, and now is coming back him in a buy-low spot.

BEST BET: I don’t care what the line is, I’ll be on Indiana. And if the Hoosiers are actually getting points, as Torvik and Haslam suggest they will be? It’s time to take out a second mortgage.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Indiana opened at (-1.5) and is now sitting at (-2). Bob Knight is coming to the game for the first time in two decades. All of the narratives say Indiana. Fire on all cylinders.

No. 12 SETON HALL at No. 10 VILLANOVA, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM: Villanova 71, Seton Hall 69
  • TORVIK: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 67
  • HASLAM: Villanova 71, Seton Hall 68

If Indiana is my favorite bet of the day, then Villanova (-2.5) would be my second favorite bet of the day. The Wildcats are coming off of a pair of losses, once of which came on a buzzer-beating three at Butler on Wednesday night, and now they return home to take on a Seton Hall team that is sitting two games in front of them in first place in the Big East regular season race.

The Wildcats are always going to be in the mix for the conference title, and getting a chance to cut the Pirate lead to one game is not something that Jay Wright typically whiffs on.

BEST BET: I like Villanova up to (-4.5).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line opened at Villanova (-2.5) and is now sitting at (-3.5). Let’s go Cats.

NO. 7 DUKE at NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Duke 80, North Carolina 68
  • TORVIK: Duke 80, North Carolina 70
  • HASLAM: Duke 83, North Carolina 68

There’s no way that I’m going to lay 12 points with the road team in a rivalry game that could end up being the Super Bowl for the underdog. If this is a lost season, beating Duke at home may be all the Tar Heels left to do. It’s also something of a make or break game. If there is any realistic chance of getting an at-large bid, this is a must-win.

That said, I do think the under is in play here. North Carolina isn’t running the way they’ve run in the past, and Cole Anthony is not Coby White. He’s shot 10-for-36 since coming back from his knee injury. But the Tar Heels don’t run the kind of offense that can exploit Duke’s weaknesses. Their bigs play around the bucket, Roy Williams is not going to run ball-screen after ball-screen and the Heels cannot shoot. They can, however, deal with Vernon Carey inside with the size of Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot.

BEST BET: If forced to pick, I would probably take North Carolina (+12), but I will not personally be betting that line in this game. The bet I like more is the under, especially if the total opens at 150 or higher.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: At my book, this total opened up at 150 and moved to 150.5. I’ve already fired on the under. The line, however, is more interesting. It opened at Duke (-8) and has already moved to Duke (-7). Taking the road team in a rivalry game where the underdog is in a must-win spot is never comfortable, but at some point we have to recognize that Duke is actually good and North Carolina, for the last three months, has been actually bad. At this number, I like the Blue Devils.

No. 2 GONZAGA at SAINT MARY’S, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 77, Saint Mary’s 75
  • TORVIK: Gonzaga 76, Saint Mary’s 73
  • HASLAM: Gonzaga 79, Saint Mary’s 71

Assuming this line opens around Gonzaga (-3), the best to me seems pretty straight forward: If Killian Tillie plays, take the Zags. If Killian Tillie does not play, bet the Gaels — at this number, I’ll be on the moneyline, which I’m assuming would be right around +120 or so. At this point, it seems likely that Tillie will end up playing. He went through warmups with the team before Thursday night’s win at home against Loyola Marymount. With Tillie, I would probably take the Zags up to (-4.5) or so.

BEST BET: Wait for a report on Tillie.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: There is no official word on Tillie as of 10 a.m. Saturday. I think that he is going to play, which makes sense since the line opened at (-6). It’s now at Gonzaga (-5.5), and even with Tillie in the lineup, I like the Saint Mary’s side here.