This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
And now we're down to the Final Four. Steve Peralta breaks down the penultimate round of the college hoops season and presents his best bets for Saturday's action.
Florida Atlantic vs. San Diego State
It's tough to bet against a team that's won 34 of its last 36 games, but Florida Atlantic has its work cut out for it on Saturday. Its matchup against San Diego State poses a major challenge to its primary game plan.
The Owls have a dynamic offensive attack, ranking 24th on KenPom's efficiency chart, but they're also extremely reliant on long-range shooting. In fact, Florida Atlantic shoots three-pointers at the 35th-highest frequency among all D1 teams, and combined with its 37 percent make percentage, yields the 25th-highest three-pointer point distribution in the nation. This strategy has worked exceptionally well so far, although Saturday's opponent arguably has the best perimeter defense in the country. San Diego State ranks fourth in overall defensive efficiency, per KenPom, but the Aztecs are also holding opponents to under 28 percent on shots from behind the arc, the second-lowest three-point field goal percentage allowed among all D1 teams.
It's easy to speculate how a game might play out based on data, but we already saw a similar matchup playout a week ago when San Diego State faced Alabama. The Crimson Tide also utilize a similar three-point barrage game plan, ranking ninth in three-point attempt rate, and the Aztecs completely shut them down en route to their upset. In the Sweet 16 game against Alabama, San Diego State held the Crimson Tide to 3-of-27 (.111) on shots from behind the arc, tied for Alabama's fewest number of made three-pointers in a game, and it marked Alabama's second-lowest three-point field goal percentage in any game this season.
Now, it's one thing to hold an opponent to its worst shooting night of the season one time, but San Diego State's defense had the exact same effect in the next game against Creighton. The Bluejays, much like Alabama and FAU, heavily lean on long-range shooting, ranking No. 97 in three-pointer point distribution, and yet the Aztecs completely shut them down. SDSU held Creighton to 2-of-17 (.118) on shots from behind the arc, the Bluejays' worst three-point field goal percentage in any game this season.
On the other end of the court, Florida Atlantic's defense is also stout in its own right. The Owls rank 30th in efficiency, 15th in effective field goal percentage allowed, and 11th in two-point field goal percentage allowed, making them a sturdy defensive team any way you look at it. The Aztecs managed to outscore strong defensive teams such as Alabama and Creighton, but it wasn't pretty. Florida Atlantic will likely pose a similar challenge on Saturday.
When it comes down to it, I'm betting on San Diego State's elite perimeter defense. The Aztecs were arguably the best in the country at disrupting three-point shooting this season, as they proved multiple times last week against two of the best teams in the nation, and there's no reason to think they won't rise to the moment once again. At the same time, SDSU's offense hasn't pushed the pace too much during its current run, scoring more than 71 points on just one occasion over its past nine games. I'm taking the Aztecs and the under in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: San Diego State -2.5 & Under 132
Miami vs. Connecticut
Connecticut has looked absolutely unbeatable throughout the tournament. The Huskies have crushed all four opponents so far, making it difficult to imagine them tripping up against a team that isn't much better (efficiency-wise) than their recent three opponents.
But at the same time, it's also difficult to envision Miami stumbling at this point as well. The Hurricanes have now defeated four teams that rank in the top 50 of KenPom's defensive efficiency standings, and, perhaps more impressively, they have scored 85-plus points in the last three rounds, with the two most recent games coming against Houston and Texas -- two of the best defensive teams in the country. UConn's defense is currently ranked in between those two teams on KenPom's efficiency chart, so it's hard to argue that Miami will suddenly stop scoring against a defense that's in the same veritable ballpark as its most recent opponents.
Looking at the other side of this matchup, the Hurricanes can't afford to stop making shots because their defense is their Achilles heel. Miami ranks No. 104 in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, so if it can't keep up with UConn then it doesn't have much of a chance. Miami allowed over 74 points to both Houston and Texas and yet the Hurricanes still managed to outscore a pair of teams that rank near the top of the charts. Saturday's opponent once again fits a similar profile, ranking third in the country in offensive efficiency. Safe to say, Miami will likely need to reach the 80-point mark for the fourth straight game if it wants to advance to the National Championship.
And as one might've guessed based on its strengths and weaknesses, Miami strongly favors a fast-paced game, ranking in the top 25 percent of the nation in adjusted tempo, per KenPom. The Hurricanes maintained this quick pace throughout the entire season, recording the second-fastest tempo in the ACC during conference play as well.
All in all, both teams are scorching hot and offer compelling reasons for why they might advance. UConn is the more balanced team and is the clear favorite for obvious reasons, but at the same time, Miami has been unstoppable on offense throughout the tournament. The Hurricanes might not win, but I'm betting they keep pace with the Huskies for most of the game, resulting in a high-scoring affair. I'm taking the over.
College Basketball Best Bet: Over 149
Saturday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Saturday:
- San Diego State -2.5
- FAU vs SDSU - Under 132
- Miami vs UConn - Over 149
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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