This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
The Friday night college hoops slate is a smaller one, naturally, but we still have plenty of compelling matchups on the board. Steve Peralta breaks down some of the action and shares his best bets of the night.
Xavier at Butler
Xavier currently sits atop the Big East standings and has played tremendous basketball over the past couple of months, winning 15 of its last 17 games. The Musketeers recently lost forward Zach Freemantle to injury, but that didn't stop them from defeating Providence and dominating St. John's by 25 points in their last two games. Xavier is decent enough on the defensive end, but it's the offense that really has this team firing on all cylinders. The Musketeers rank sixth in the country in offensive adjusted efficiency, including the highest rating in the Big East during conference play, so their scoring potential cannot be overlooked. Xavier is making over 40 percent of shots from behind the arc, the highest percentage in all of D1 basketball. For good measure, it's worth noting the Musketeers are also shooting over 40 percent since the conference season started, so they've been shooting and playing consistently as well as any team in the land. The other key to its offense is the unselfishness and ability to find open shots on most possessions, as Xavier has the second-highest assist rate in the country. Add everything up, and this is clearly one of the best offensive teams in all of college basketball.
Butler, on the other hand, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Bulldogs have the lowest offensive efficiency rating in the Big East, both before and during the conference season, so they've struggled to score points any way you slice it. Butler's defense has played a bit better, ranking seventh in efficiency among Big East teams during league competition, but it still hasn't been enough to compensate for its challenges on the offensive side of the equation. This issue didn't seem to hamper them too much during the non-conference portion of the schedule, but it's severely plagued them throughout league play. The Bulldogs have played 14 conference games up to this point, losing 10 games straight up, and nine of those losses came by at least 16 points. Its closest conference loss was an eight-point defeat at Marquette over the past weekend, a slightly better margin, but even still, when a team has lost eight of 14 conference games by 20-plus points, you know it's in bad shape.
Overall, these two teams are miles apart. Xavier has a substantial advantage in scoring and rebounding and has played great all season long, with only one of its losses coming by more than seven points. The opposite is true for Butler, which has lost more than half of its conference games by 20 points. The line in this game isn't very short, but with Xavier's scoring prowess, I'm betting the line won't matter in this case. I'm taking the Musketeers.
College Basketball Best Bet: Xavier -6.5
Akron at Ohio
Akron is currently tied for first place in the Mid American Conference, hardly a surprise when looking at its numbers. The Zips recently won eight consecutive games prior to losing its most recent matchup against Toledo, only its second conference loss of the season. Akron is a balanced team, playing at a high level on both ends of the court, most noticeably during conference play. Against MAC opponents this season, Akron ranks first in the conference in defensive efficiency and second in offensive efficiency. With high proficiency in both areas, it's no wonder that Akron has a shot at winning the regular season conference championship.
Ohio hasn't been nearly as balanced. The Bobcats are strong on the offensive side but are severely lacking on defense. Ohio ranks No. 264 on defense in KenPom's overall efficiency standings and ranks fourth-worst in the conference during league competition. This a major problem against a team like Akron, one with a stout defense, because Ohio's defense can't be trusted to get stops. If Akron's defense plays up its expectations, then it should keep Ohio in check while its offense takes advantage of the Bobcat's leaky defense.
These two teams already played each other a couple of weeks ago in Akron, and the Zips crushed Ohio in the first half, jumping out to a 47-30 lead at halftime. Akron took its foot off the pedal in the second half, allowing Ohio to chip away into the deficit before ultimately losing by six points. Akron will be on the road in Friday's matchup, although it still appears to match up quite favorably against Ohio. With a short line to work with, I'm taking the Zips.
College Basketball Best Bet: Akron -1.5
Saint Louis at Dayton
Saint Louis had won six straight games before dropping a pair to Fordham and VCU last week. The Billikens had over a 60 percent chance of winning both games with under 10 minutes left, according to KenPom, so they certainly gave themselves a legitimate shot at winning both games. In any event, the Billikens bounced back by defeating Rhode Island this past Tuesday, appearing back on track. Earlier in the season, the Billikens earned quality wins over Memphis and Providence, and now they're in the running for the Atlantic 10 regular season championship. Saint Louis has won mostly thanks to its offense, which has the highest overall offensive efficiency rating in the conference. The Billikens also rank first in three-point percentage, knocking down 38 percent against conference foes. The Billikens' defense wasn't quite as sharp earlier in the year, but it's improved throughout the conference play, now ranked fifth-best among Atlantic 10 teams.
In contrast, Dayton has played up-and-down for the past month, with a general downward trend. Prior to upsetting VCU this past Tuesday, Dayton had lost four of seven games and needed overtime to defeat Loyola Chicago at home. The Ramblers have won just two conference games this season, so this was a discouraging performance from Dayton despite getting the win. This red flag is nothing new, however. Prior to the close call against Loyola Chicago, Dayton lost straight up to George Washington and Rhode Island, two more opponents without a winning record. Additionally, the Flyers have failed to cover the spread in six of its last eight games, further underscoring its underwhelming performances over the past few weeks.
All in all, these two teams rank pretty close to each other when looking at all of the efficiency numbers. That being said, Saint Louis has arguably played better over the past month while also defeating more significant non-conference opponents. Considering this game has a decent chance of coming down to the final possession, I'll take the points in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Saint Louis +5.5
Friday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Friday:
- Xavier -6.5
- Akron -1.5
- Saint Louis +5.5
For up-to-date information on the latest college basketball odds and props from multiple sportsbooks, check out the College Basketball odds page on RotoWire.
If you're in Ohio where legal betting just launched, check out Ohio sports betting promos. With Massachusetts set to launch March 14, residents can pre-register now for many Massachusetts sports betting promos as well.