This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
With day three of March Madness all setup and ready to go, Steve Peralta analyzes a few of the matchups and shares his predictions for Saturday's Round of 32 betting board.
Furman vs San Diego State
With its spectacular win on Thursday in the Round of 64, Furman has now won 15 of its last 16 games and has caught fire at the perfect time. The Paladins have an extremely potent offensive attack, ranked at No. 32 on KenPom's adjusted efficiency chart, and have successful shooting numbers to back it up. Furman ranks 14th among all D1 teams in effective field goal percentage and is making 59 percent of shots inside the arc, the fifth-highest mark in the nation. The latter will surely come into play on Saturday, as San Diego State's defense has been vulnerable inside the paint.
The Aztecs rank ninth in overall defensive efficiency, per KenPom, but most of their defensive success is coming on the perimeter. San Diego State has held opponents to under 29 percent on shots outside the arc, the sixth-lowest percentage in the country, a stark contrast to its numbers inside the arc, where the Aztecs have allowed opponents to make 50 percent of two-point field goal attempts, ranking near the middle among all D1 teams. This number isn't dreadful per se, but it's clear that interior defense is the soft spot in what is otherwise a very stout team.
While San Diego State is among the best defensive teams in the country, the same cannot be said for its play at the other end of the court. The Aztecs are currently ranked at No. 74 in KenPom's offensive efficiency standings and haven't had much success with scoring points in recent weeks. San Diego State has failed to reach 70 points in its last six games and is only a month removed from a dubious victory against Fresno State, one where the Aztecs won by a final score of 45-43.
As most college hoops fans are well aware by now, teams from the Mountain West have struggled mightily in the NCAA Tournament in recent years. We don't want to hold the failures of past teams against this current San Diego State squad, although the numbers reveal that this team is vulnerable and deficient in a couple of important areas, namely interior defense and scoring output. There's a chance that the Aztecs' defense will keep the Paladins in check, but ultimately I'm betting that Furman will take advantage of the soft defense inside the paint and make San Diego State sweat until the very end. I'm taking the points in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Furman +5.5
Duke vs Tennessee
With a dominant victory over Oral Roberts on Thursday, Duke is now riding a 10-game win streak and has covered the spread in seven of its last nine games. It took a few months, but Duke is finally reaching its full potential. The much-heralded freshman class is firing on all cylinders and is much sharper and more poised compared to the team that was seen at the beginning of the season. This shouldn't come as a surprise, however, as this ultra-talented group of freshmen now have 30-plus games under their belt, giving them the experience to combine with the All-American talent, forming a powerful combination.
Tennessee, in contrast, has a team full of upperclassmen and hasn't played well lately at all. The Vols have lost seven of their last 13 games and have failed to cover the spread in nine of their last 13. Tennessee has ranked near the top of the country in defensive efficiency for most of the season, but its inconsistent offensive play will eventually be its undoing. The Vols have been held to 70 points or fewer in nine of their last 13 games, further underlining the downward trend that started at the beginning of February.
It's also important to remember, Tennessee star point guard Zakai Zeigler is out for the season after suffering a knee injury on February 28 against Arkansas. Zeigler led the team in usage rate, so his absence undoubtedly has an effect on the team, even if it's hard to quantify. The Vols survived against Louisiana without him, but scoring against Duke's defense without a player like Zeigler is a tall task.
When it comes down to it, these two teams are trending in completely different directions. Duke is peaking with a roster that's among the most talented in the tournament, while Tennessee has been sinking since February and recently lost arguably its most important player. Given a short line, I'm taking Duke.
College Basketball Best Bet: Duke -3
Penn State vs Texas
Penn State put on a clinic on Thursday, making 13-of-22 shots from behind the arc. This kind of performance might appear unsustainable at first glance, but if you're familiar with this year's group of Nittany Lions then you already know that elite shooting is part of their identity. Penn State has been shooting the lights out all season long and can reasonably make a case for being the best shooting team in the country.
The Nittany Lions have made 39 percent of shots from behind the arc while shooting three-pointers at the 10th-highest rate in the country, yielding the second-highest three-pointer point distribution among all D1 teams. Part of what makes them so dangerous is the fact that nearly anyone on the team can drill a long-range shot at any time. Penn State has four starters that have made over 39 percent of at least 85 three-point attempts, making them a matchup nightmare for most opponents. Moreover, the Nittany Lions are hitting their stride, having won nine of their last 11 games while covering the spread in their last five games.
Texas, meanwhile, doesn't come close to shooting the ball as well as Penn State, although the Longhorns still have an impressive efficiency rating, coming in at No. 17 on KenPom's efficiency standings. Texas also ranks near the top on the other end of the court, currently sitting at No. 11 in defensive efficiency. On paper, this makes the Longhorns one of the strongest and most balanced teams in the nation, although they've had numerous letdowns throughout the season, making it difficult to trust them to advance against a team that is so dynamic offensively. Back in January, Kansas State ran Texas out of its own building, crushing Texas by a score of 116-103. Later that month, Texas lost a pair of games when it allowed 78 points to Iowa State and then 82 points to Tennessee, two opponents that aren't great when it comes to scoring. When Texas is playing at its best on both ends of the court, it can undoubtedly beat any team, although that hasn't been the case on numerous occasions throughout the season.
Overall, with the way Penn State has performed over the past month, this matchup is much closer to even than the season-long data might suggest. Texas is a formidable team, but it's also a team that has played inconsistently, especially on defense. All things considered, I'd rather take my chances with the scorching hot group of shooters. I'm grabbing the points in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: Penn State +5.5
Saturday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Saturday:
- Furman +5.5
- Duke -3
- Penn State +5.5
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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