This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
With most of the college basketball world taking the day off on Friday, Steve Peralta breaks down a pair of noteworthy games on the slate. Here are his best bets for the evening.
Villanova at St. John's
Villanova hasn't had much success against other conference foes, but it dominated St. John's on Dec. 21, 78-63, and then swept Georgetown in between now and then. Villanova and St. John's match up evenly in many different categories, although the Wildcats have a noticeable advantage in a couple of key areas. First, Villanova has been great at scoring in the paint during conference play, making 55 percent of two-point attempts, the second-highest percentage in the Big East. This is noteworthy because St. John's has had trouble stopping inside scoring since conference season started, allowing opponents to make over 53 percent of two-point shots, the second-worst percentage among Big East teams. Second, Villanova has the highest free-throw percentage among all D1 teams, and it has actually made an even higher percentage from the charity stripe against Big East competition. This is in stark contrast to St. John's, which was one of the worst free-throw shooting teams during the non-conference season, and the numbers are even worse during conference play, making 64 percent of free-throw attempts, the worst in the Big East. In a close game, these two matchup advantages could make all the difference.
St. John's is coming off its best game of the season, a rousing 85-74 victory against Connecticut. Two weeks ago, this win would've been even more impressive, but UConn has suddenly lost five of its last six games, so it's always possible the Red Storm caught the Huskies at the perfect time. It wasn't too long ago that St. John's was also on a major skid, losing five straight games from late December through early January. It would be easy to say that St. John's possibly turned its season around with the victory over UConn, although its track record throughout the season suggests that game might've been an aberration. Prior to defeating the Huskies, the Red Storm had lost six straight opportunities at securing a quality win, and six of seven overall. Its only quality win was an overtime victory over Syracuse back on Nov. 22, not the best highlight for a resume.
Ultimately, neither team has done much this season to inspire long-term confidence. Both teams are 3-5 in the Big East, and it's a pretty close matchup when looking at efficiency since the conference season started. Villanova ranks fifth in offense, St. John's ranks fifth in defense, while the latter ranks eighth in offense, and the Wildcats rank eighth on defense. Considering Villanova's advantages mentioned above, and the fact that the Wildcats already decisively beat the Red Storm not too long ago, I'll take the points in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Villanova +4.5
Boise State at New Mexico
Boise State started off the season on a sour note, dropping a pair of games, but it has since played almost flawlessly. Since losing to Charlotte in South Carolina on November 17, Boise State has won 14 of 16 games, including six quality victories in that span, per KenPom. The Broncos are one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranking No. 11 in adjusted efficiency. The offense has lagged behind early in the season but has been much better over the past month. During conference play, Boise State ranks first in the Mountain West in both offensive and defensive efficiency, underlining how dominant it has been through six conference games so far. Furthermore, Boise State also ranks first in the conference in effective field goal percentage, offensive turnover rate and three-point make percentage -- clearly operating at a high level any way you look at it. Aside from efficiency, Boise State also has the points to prove its proficiency, as the Broncos have scored 77-plus points in its last four games.
New Mexico, meanwhile, started off the season at 14-0 before losing back-to-back games in early-January. It now enters Friday with an outstanding 17-2 record, and while this is a great mark, it's also a bit hollow considering the Lobos have hardly been tested. New Mexico has had just three opportunities all season at earning a quality win, per KenPom, and while it won them, it's still hard to trust a team that has only played in three challenging games. According to KenPom, the Lobos have nine upcoming opportunities at collecting quality wins, so we're about to find out a lot more about them, starting with the game on Friday.
The Broncos represent the second-toughest opponent that the Lobos have faced this season, based on KenPom's overall efficiency rankings. Similar to Boise State, New Mexico is proficient on both ends of the court, however, it does have one major weakness -- interior defense. New Mexico is allowing conference opponents to make 57 percent of two-point field goal attempts, the worst percentage allowed in the Mountain West. Boise State is making over 53 percent of two-point shots, the fourth-highest percentage in the conference, so it will likely take advantage of this weakness in Friday's matchup.
In total, Boise State has had nine opportunities to earn a quality win, and it's gotten the job done in seven of them. New Mexico might be a great team when it's all said and done, but right now Boise State is the more battle-tested team and the better team up to this point in the season. One other important note, both of these teams prefer playing at a fast tempo, especially New Mexico. The Lobos are playing at the fastest adjusted tempo in the conference, with Boise State trailing not too far behind, ranked fourth in the Mountain West during conference play. Similar to Boise State, New Mexico has also been scoring a good amount of points lately, putting up 76-plus points in its last four games. Considering the styles of the teams involved, I'm betting we'll have a high-scoring game that comes down to the final minute. I'm on the points and the over in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: Boise State +3 & Over 144.5
Friday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Friday:
- Villanova +4.5
- Boise State +3
- Boise State at New Mexico - Over 144.5
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