This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Riding a hot start to the week, going 8-1 in the last three days, Steve Peralta returns to preview more college hoops conference tournament action. Here are his best bets of the day.
Connecticut vs Marquette
Connecticut enters the Big East tournament semifinal with a six-game win streak, its longest win streak since before the New Year. The Huskies looked like a championship contender during the non-conference season, although they hit a severe rough patch in January, losing six of eight games at one point. Connecticut appears back on track since that skid, although the damage was already done. The Huskies ended up as finishing in fourth place in the conference and now must face the undisputed conference title winner. UConn's achievements during the non-conference season are certainly impressive, although the Huskies also revealed themselves to be quite vulnerable against Big East competition.
Not to be outdone by its opponent, Marquette has won its last seven games and stayed on fire seemingly all season long. Marquette has yet to lose back-to-back games this season and, perhaps more impressively, has won at least five consecutive conference games in three separate instances, including its current streak. Marquette won most of its games thanks to a highly successful formula in the form of an extremely potent offense combined with an opportunistic defense. During conference play, the Golden Eagles finished first in the Big East in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, offensive turnover percentage and two-point field goal percentage, making 59 percent of shots inside the arc. Marquette also led the nation in two-point field goal percentage for the entire season, giving us one of the most reliable scoring teams in the country. On the other end of the court, Marquette had the 15th-highest defensive turnover percentage among all D1 teams, and the highest among Big East teams, which is crucial in this matchup because UConn has been sloppy on offense, logging the second-worst offensive turnover percentage in the Big East during league competition.
All in all, these two teams are incredibly even. They split the regular season series. They both rank in the top-15 of KenPom's overall adjusted efficiency chart, and they both enter Friday with a 20-11 record against the spread. That said, Marquette has been the more steady team throughout the season. The Golden Eagles have won 17 of its last 19 games, and they're getting points in this matchup. I'm taking Marquette.
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College Basketball Best Bet: Marquette +3.5
Penn State vs Northwestern
We're riding the hot hand in this one. Penn State lived up to my hype in yesterday's breakdown and took down Illinois without any real drama. Now, Penn State will face a defense that ranks lower than Illinois in many key categories.
The Nittany Lions have now won six of their last seven games and are proving themselves to be among the best scoring teams in the country. Their dynamic offensive attack is extremely potent due to a lineup full of sharpshooters, consisting of four starters that have made over 39 percent of at least 80 three-point attempts. Considering the numbers, it's reasonable to say Penn State might be the best shooting team in the country. It has made 39 percent of shots from behind the arc while shooting three-pointers at the seventh-highest rate in the country, yielding the second-highest three-pointer point distribution among all D1 teams.
Northwestern, on the other hand, ended the season on a down note. The Wildcats lost three of their last four games, although they did win a challenging road game at Rutgers in the regular season finale, for what it's worth. In any event, Northwestern's defense isn't bad, although the offense cannot be trusted. The Wildcats rank No. 103 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom, but it's worse than it looks. Among all D1 teams, Northwestern ranks No. 309 in effective field goal percentage, No. 273 in three-point field goal percentage, and No. 305 in two-point field goal percentage.
Although Northwestern ranks No. 19 in defensive efficiency, the numbers during the conference season don't look nearly as impressive. The Wildcats rank below the conference average in many categories, such as rebounding percentage, effective field goal percentage allowed, two-point field goal percentage allowed and three-point field goal percentage allowed. The one thing the Wildcats did exceptionally well during league competition was force turnovers, recording the highest defensive turnover percentage in the Big Ten. However, that advantage is rendered moot against Penn State, as the Nittany Lions have been careful with the ball throughout the entire season, ranking second in the conference in offensive turnover percentage.
These two teams played in Evanston just over a week ago, and Penn State emerged victorious in overtime despite Northwestern making 12 three-pointers, tied for its most in any conference game this season. The Wildcats shot 32 percent from behind the arc on the season, so it's hard to expect another great shooting performance out of them. It's always possible Northwestern's defense will step up and keep them in the game, but ultimately I'm betting that the better and more consistent offensive team will pull away by the end. I'm going with Penn State.
College Basketball Best Bet: Penn State +1
Duke vs Miami
Duke was seemingly invincible at home this season, winning all 16 games at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Once it came time to travel, though, the Blue Devils were the epitome of average, going 8-8 in games taking place on the road or on a neutral court. Not only did Duke lose its toughest games in these settings, as we saw against Kansas and Purdue, but the Blue Devils also played down to the level of competition, as was the case when it survived by three points against lowly Oregon State. Duke looked pretty sharp against Pittsburgh in Thursday's game, but now it must face a significantly more challenging opponent.
Miami has won nine of its last 10 games and looks ready to go on another run. The Hurricanes returned several players from last year's team that advanced to the Elite Eight, so it's hardly surprising to see them once again in a position to attend the Big Dance.
Miami's offense is among the best in the country, ranking 13th in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom, and also tops the ACC in several categories, ranking first in efficiency, effective field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. Miami's defense isn't quite as strong, although it's improved as the season has progressed. In fact, the Hurricanes have the fifth-best defensive efficiency rating among ACC teams during league competition, making Miami the most well-balanced team in the ACC. Additionally, Miami's defense does one thing particularly well that should help its cause on Friday -- cause turnovers. Miami had the fifth-highest defensive turnover percentage in the ACC during conference play, while Duke had the second-worst offensive turnover percentage, giving the Hurricanes a decisive advantage in the turnover department.
Overall, these two teams are just about even, although Miami still has the edge in a few notable categories. This was also evident when they played each other during the regular season. Duke won at home by two points back on Jan. 21, but Miami won by 22 points in the rematch just a couple of weeks later. Duke is talented and played well over the past few weeks, but Miami is the more consistent and more balanced team. I'm rolling with Miami in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Miami +2.5
Friday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Friday:
- Marquette +3.5
- Penn State +1
- Miami +2.5
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