This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
With the second half of the Sweet 16 coming up, Steve Peralta breaks down Friday's slate of March Madness and shares his best bets for the day.
San Diego State vs Alabama
Alabama is playing like a juggernaut, but if it's ever going to trip up, San Diego State is the right team to do it.
The Aztecs have had an elite defense for well over the past decade, and this year is no exception. San Diego State ranks fifth in the country in KenPom's defensive efficiency standings, and perhaps more importantly, plays outstanding perimeter defense. The Aztecs held opponents to under 29 percent from behind the arc, the fourth-lowest percentage among all D1 teams. This is critical against Alabama, because the Crimson Tide make it their mission to shoot three-pointers, posting the eighth-highest three-point attempt rate in the nation.
Additionally, Alabama's offensive game plan also entails relentlessly attacking the basket, which makes for efficient shots but also leads to blocks. The Crimson Tide is among the worst teams at having its shots get blocked, ranking near the bottom five percent of the country in offensive shot-blocking percentage. This is a problem against any average opponent, but the Aztecs, as it turns out, recorded the highest defensive shot-blocking percentage in the Mountain West during conference play. Safe to assume they'll end up with several blocks in Friday's matchup.
Lastly, San Diego State also appears to have an edge when it comes to turnovers. Alabama turns the ball over at a higher-than-average rate, ranking No. 226 in offensive turnover percentage, while San Diego State's defense forces them at a high rate, ranking No. 102 in defensive turnover percentage. A similar story plays out on the other end of the court, where San Diego State ranks significantly higher in offensive turnover percentage (No. 137) compared to Alabama on defense (No. 312).
Overall, while it's tough to bet against Alabama, Friday's opponent has a fair shot at slowing them down. The Aztecs might not advance, but I'm betting they'll keep it close. I'm taking the points in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: San Diego State +7.5
Princeton at Creighton
Princeton has defied all expectations up to this point, but it's only a matter of time before it comes down to Earth. This is especially true on the defensive end of the court, where the Tigers held the explosive Arizona Wildcats to 55 points in the Round of 64, before holding Missouri to just 63 points in the next round. The final score in the Arizona game looks impressive, but a closer look at the box score reveals Princeton was rather fortunate that Arizona had one of its worst shooting days of the year. After making 38 percent of shots from behind the arc during the season, Arizona barely made 3-of-16 (.188) against Princeton. A similar fortune followed in the next round, where Missouri made 6-of-22 (.273) three-point shots after making 36 percent on the whole season. We don't want to discredit Princeton's defensive effort, but at the same time, their defensive output doesn't seem sustainable, especially as it prepares to take on another team that's full of long-range shooters.
Creighton has continually ranked among the highest-scoring teams in the nation ever since head coach Greg McDermott joined the team over a decade ago. This is once again the case this year, as the Bluejays currently rank 23rd in KenPom's offensive efficiency standings. They are extremely effective at scoring inside, making 55 percent of two-point field goals, and then they are also capable of burying opponents with three-pointers, making 36 percent from behind the arc while shooting them at the 64th-highest rate among all D1 teams. Creighton has topped 80 points numerous times against teams that have stronger defensive numbers than Princeton, so there's no reason to think that the Bluejays won't light up the scoreboard. It was just over a month ago that lowly Dartmouth torched Princeton for 83 points, so the Tigers' defense is far from elite.
Add it all up, and this game has a good chance of seeing a ton of points scored. Both teams take three-pointers at an incredibly high frequency, both ranking near the top 20 percent in the highest three-point attempt rate in the country, so if the shots start falling then the score will quickly escalate. Princeton has been a fun story, but it's hard to believe it can keep playing at this level, especially on the defensive end. The spread is a bit large for my liking, especially when the Tigers take so many three-pointers, but we should have a high-scoring game either way. I'm on the over.
College Basketball Best Bet: Over 140
Xavier vs Texas
This matchup is extremely close on paper, although Xavier has an edge in a few key categories.
First, Xavier has proven itself as one of the best-scoring teams in the country. The Musketeers rank seventh in KenPom's offensive efficiency standings, but perhaps more impressively, they're making 39 percent of shots from behind the arc, the third-highest percentage among all D1 teams. Xavier also has the sixth-highest assist rate, giving us a team that undoubtedly finds the open player on any given possession, enabling a high-quality shot more often that not. It's one thing to pad stats against weaker opponents across the season, but Xavier actually played well offensively against most of its toughest opponents. The Musketeers scored 80-plus points in their two wins against Creighton. They scored 80-plus points in both games against UConn. They scored 80-plus points against Seton Hall, Florida and Marquette. All of these aforementioned opponents rank in the top 45 of KenPom's defensive efficiency chart, making Xavier thoroughly battle-tested.
While Texas also fits the bill as being an elite defensive team, the Longhorns had several instances throughout the season where the defense didn't show up. The most egregious came on January 3rd when Kansas State traveled to Austin and dropped 116 points during regulation. Not long after that game, Texas allowed 78 points to the offensively-challenged Iowa State Cyclones. Overall, this is still a great defensive team, but it's far from invincible.
The Musketeers also have a clear advantage when it comes to rebounding. Xavier ranks in the top 100 of the nation in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, clearly an outstanding team on the glass. This is in stark contrast to Texas, which ranks in the bottom half of the country in the same two categories. It's hard to know which way the ball will bounce at any given time, but if history is any help, then Xavier has a good chance at coming away with the board in this matchup.
All in all, it's hard not to imagine this game coming down to the final minute of action. And considering Xavier is the better offensive team and it's getting points, I like the Musketeers' chances of covering the number. I'm taking the points.
College Basketball Best Bet: Xavier +4.5
Friday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Friday:
- San Diego State +7.5
- Princeton vs Creighton - Over 140
- Xavier +4.5
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.
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