This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
A prime college basketball betting slate is up for Thursday, and a red-hot Steve Peralta returns to preview and predict some notable matchups on evening's board.
Michigan at Maryland
Michigan is a quasi-streaky team this season, winning exactly two games followed by losing exactly two games since late-November. The Wolverines just defeated Northwestern in their last game, so if this trend holds up, then they should get another win on Thursday. Although this pattern is interesting, it's obviously far more relevant to consider how Michigan is playing over the past few weeks, which is actually quite good. If Michigan hadn't blown a seven-point lead with under two minutes remaining against Iowa, it would have a 5-1 conference record with its only blemish being a road loss to Michigan State.
Even with the blown game in hand, the Wolverines are still playing great on both ends of the court. During conference play, Michigan has recorded the third-best efficiency rating among Big Ten teams on both offense and defense. The Wolverines also rank third in two-point and three-point shooting percentages in the conference, so they certainly know how to score in various ways. Their proficiency in the paint will likely come into play as Maryland is allowing conference opponents to make over 53 percent of two-point attempts, the worst percentage allowed in the Big Ten.
Unlike Michigan, Maryland is playing poorly on both ends of the court over the past month. Against Big Ten foes, Maryland has the second-worst efficiency rating in the conference on both offense and defense. Aside from being lousy on defense in allowing made shots, it's also struggling to defend opposing teams without fouling, allowing the worst free-throw attempt rate in the conference. Coincidentally, Michigan has the second-highest offensive free-throw rate in the Big Ten, so this is a major advantage for Michigan. Furthermore, Maryland's offense has the worst turnover percentage against conference competition, another red flag that often results in a loss.
Maryland might rank higher than Michigan in overall efficiency numbers thanks to its performances back in November, but its recent results suggest Michigan is the better team. These two teams already played in Ann Arbor back on New Year's Day, and Michigan absolutely dominated, winning by a final score of 81-46. I'm backing the Wolverines in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Michigan +2
Indiana at Illinois
Indiana had a couple of notable victories during the nonconference season, but it hasn't been nearly as sharp since the start of December. Indiana has lost six of eight games against major conference teams since Dec. 3 and has yet to win a road game against a Big Ten opponent. The Hoosiers played well in their most recent outing, a home game against Wisconsin, but they are not the same team on the road. In its last five games outside of Assembly Hall, Indiana is 0-5 and allowed 84-plus points in the last four. Indiana is still without starting senior point guard Xavier Johnson and starting senior forward Race Thompson, two significant players that have a great deal of experience that's hard to replace.
Illinois, meanwhile, went through a rocky December but has since picked up some steam in January, now riding a four-game winning streak. Illinois has won each of its last four games by nine-plus points, so it's clearly playing at a higher level now than it was a month ago. As far as its matchup against Indiana, the Fighting Illini rank higher than the Hoosiers on both ends of the court in efficiency since conference season started, per KenPom, making them clearly the better team at this moment in time. Illinois is making over 53 percent of its shots inside the arc during conference play, the highest percentage in the Big Ten, and this will likely come in handy against Indiana because the Hoosiers are allowing conference opponents to make over 48 percent of two-point attempts, ranked ninth in the Big Ten.
Overall, these two teams are trending in opposite directions. Illinois is at home, and although the line isn't very short, it's playing at a high level and has a good shot at covering against an Indiana team that hasn't been great on the road this season. I'm taking the home team in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Illinois -6
UCLA at Arizona State
UCLA is on a roll, winning its last 13 games, the nation's third-longest active win streak. While this is undoubtedly impressive, and the team will likely play for the highest stakes late into the season, it hasn't been perfect in recent games against good teams. In its most recent road trip, UCLA had to rally late against Washington State, escaping with a 67-66 victory. Just under a week later, UCLA hosted cross-town rival USC, and the Bruins completely folded in the second half, allowing a 17-3 run over a 10-minute span, narrowly surviving for the victory, 60-58. UCLA is about to take on its toughest road opponent since the game at Washington State, so it'll need to stay at the top of its game if it wants to avoid the upset.
On the other sideline, Arizona State is having its best season in many years, on track to possibly be the best team that coach Bobby Hurley has led since he joined the team in 2016. The Sun Devils primarily won with their defense during the non-conference portion of the schedule, but they've actually had a very balanced attack against Pac-12 opponents. During conference play, Arizona State ranks top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency among Pac-12 teams and ranks top-three in turnover rate on both ends of the court in the same time frame. Solid basketball all the way around.
Looking at how they compare against the Bruins, the Sun Devils appear to have an edge when it comes to inside scoring on both ends of the court. UCLA is making under 47 percent of two-point shots against conference foes, the third-lowest percentage in the conference, while Arizona State is allowing opponents to make under 45 percent of shots inside the arc, the second-lowest percentage allowed in the Pac-12. Similarly, the Sun Devils are making 56 percent of two-point shots during conference play, the second-highest percentage, and they're going against a defense that's allowing over 50 percent of two-point attempts, ranked eighth in the conference.
Betting against a team like UCLA is risky, but, at the same time, one could argue it's just as risky to lay points on the road against Arizona State. The Sun Devils have only lost one home game all season, a New Year's Eve matchup against Arizona, so they have consistently played well at home for most of the season. All things considered, I'll take the points with the home team.
College Basketball Best Bet: Arizona State +4.5
Thursday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Thursday:
- Michigan +2
- Illinois -6
- Arizona State +4.5
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