This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
With Day 2 of March Madness quickly approaching, Steve Peralta previews some of the upcoming action and offers up his best bets for Friday's Round of 64 betting board.
UC Santa Barbara vs Baylor
UC Santa Barbara enters the NCAA tournament with a seven-game winning streak and has scored at least 78 points in five of the seven games. The Gauchos had the highest offensive efficiency rating in the Big West, so this is hardly surprising, especially considering that they rank at the top in most scoring categories. During league competition, UCSB also ranked first in the Big West in effective field goal percentage, offensive turnover percentage and two-point field goal percentage. The latter is the most critical stat in this matchup, as the Gauchos might not pull the upset, but if they do, it will likely involve taking advantage of Baylor's interior defense. Throughout the entire season, UCSB made 55 percent of shots inside the arc, the 24th-highest percentage in the nation, while Baylor's defense allowed opponents to make over 53 percent of two-point field goals, ranking No. 314 in that category.
Baylor, meanwhile, has lost four of its last six games, although this tends to happen when residing in the Big 12. Most of these losses were due to Baylor's vulnerable defense, which hasn't been great lately, allowing over 70 points in five of the last six games. Thankfully for the Bears, they are among the best, if not the very best, on the other end of the court. Baylor ranks second on KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency chart, and the Bears have proven they're capable of beating the best in the nation. In November, Baylor dropped 80 points against UCLA, the current team sitting atop KenPom's defensive efficiency standings. This was the most points UCLA allowed all season, so this performance, though a while ago, speaks volumes to the great potential of Baylor's scoring ability.
When it comes down to it, these are two offensive-oriented teams that will likely trade baskets for a good portion of Friday's matchup. Given Baylor's significant issues with guarding inside the arc, it's tempting to take the double-digit spread with the Gauchos, although it seems more likely that this game will see a ton of points scored, one way or another. The over/under total isn't too high, so I like our chances at clearing the bar considering the teams involved. I'm taking the over.
College Basketball Best Bet: Over 142
VCU vs Saint Mary's
VCU started off the season in questionable shape, going 5-4 after its first nine games, although it caught fire after that point and never looked back. Since December 11, VCU has won 22 of 25 games and enters Friday with a nine-game winning streak. The Rams won most of their games thanks to their elite defense, which currently ranks 16th on KenPom's adjusted efficiency standings. VCU also excels at forcing turnovers, recording the sixth-highest defensive turnover percentage among all D1 teams, giving us a ferocious defense that wreaks havoc on opposing teams.
The story is a bit different on the other end of the court, however. The Rams' offensive attack doesn't look as sharp when checking season-long numbers, but the data from the conference season suggests they improved quite a bit in that area. VCU finished with the third-highest offensive efficiency rating among Atlantic 10 teams during conference play, a better standing compared to the overall numbers from the full season.
Saint Mary's season has taken a similar path, as the Gaels started with a 6-3 record after losing three straight non-conference games at the end of November. Since December 7, Saint Mary's has won 19 of 23 games against D1 teams, with two of those losses coming against Gonzaga. The Gaels' defense also ranks near the top of the country in efficiency, coming in at ninth, although they don't force nearly as many turnovers as VCU, ranking at No. 120 in defensive turnover percentage. Saint Mary's has a higher offensive efficiency rating than VCU, but the Gaels have still had significant scoring issues at times, especially whenever they play a strong defensive team. Saint Mary's went 6-4 against teams that rank above No. 80 in KenPom's defensive efficiency standings, compared to a 19-3 record against teams that rank below No. 80.
Considering the dominant defensive profiles of each team, it's no surprise that the over/under total is extremely low. It's tempting to take the under, but ultimately I'm trusting that VCU will keep the game close. The Rams haven't lost a game by more than five points since January 4, and they've only lost four such games all season. In what figures to be a tight defensive battle, I like our odds with the points. I'm going with VCU in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: VCU +4.5
Iona vs Connecticut
Iona is currently riding a 14-game win streak, the third-longest active streak in the nation. The efficiency numbers treat Iona rather favorably, although performances in its most difficult matchups paint a much different picture. The Gaels went 7-6 against teams that rank above No. 215 in offensive efficiency and went 20-1 against teams below that threshold. The other end of the court has a similar trend, as the Gaels again went 7-6 against teams that rank above No. 190 in defensive efficiency and went 20-1 against teams below that mark. In short, the Gaels are seemingly unbeatable when playing against inferior teams, but have looked incredibly vulnerable otherwise. Now, they must face the toughest opponent they've seen all season
Connecticut is among the strongest and most balanced teams in the country, ranking sixth in offensive efficiency and 19th on the defensive side, per KenPom. The Huskies endured a rough patch in January but have now won nine of their last 11 games, looking more like the team that started off the season at 14-0 after blowing out teams such as Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State. UConn has many statistical advantages over Iona, with the biggest being on the offensive glass. The Huskies have the highest offensive rebounding percentage among all D1 teams, while the Gaels struggled on the defensive glass, ranking No. 272 in defensive rebounding percentage. Safe to say, UConn should see plenty of put-back opportunities and second-chance points in this matchup.
Covering a double-digit spread is never easy, although Connecticut has returned to form and has already beaten top-seeded teams such as Alabama and Marquette by 15 points. There's no reason to think that UConn won't be able to overpower Iona, a team that has gotten blown out by the likes of Quinnipiac and Siena. Anything is possible in one game, but I'm betting that the Huskies will look like the squad that has already crushed some of the best teams in the nation. My money's on UConn.
College Basketball Best Bet: Connecticut -9
Friday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Friday:
- UCSB vs Baylor - Over 142
- VCU +4.5
- UConn -9
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.
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