This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
March Madness has finally arrived. Steve Peralta returns to break down some of the action and present his best bets for Thursday's Round of 64 slate.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi vs Alabama
Texas A&M Corpus Christi has been scorching-hot since the end of January, winning 13 of its last 14 games. The Islanders recorded the best offensive and defensive efficiency rating in the Southland conference during league competition, although it's the former that has largely carried them up to this point. TAMU-CC ranks at No. 142 on KenPom's offensive efficiency chart, but its shooting numbers are much more impressive. The Islanders are making over 37 percent of shots from behind the arc, the 50th-highest mark in the country, and they're also making 80 percent from the charity stripe, the second-highest percentage among all D1 teams. The latter has been especially lucrative for them considering they have the 70th-highest free-throw attempt rate in the land. This will likely come into play on Thursday, as Alabama's defense, although elite, has had a problem with fouling opponents, ranking No. 225 in defensive free-throw attempt rate.
Alabama, in contrast, has seemingly been on fire all season. The Crimson Tide never lost back-to-back games and didn't have a winning streak shorter than four games the entire season. This is mostly due to their incredible numbers on both ends of the court, ranking 19th in offensive efficiency and third on defense, per KenPom.
In this matchup, however, it's the offense that should have the easiest time in the game. Whenever Alabama isn't shooting a three-pointer, it aggressively attacks the basket, which is the last thing TAMU-CC wants to hear, as the Islanders were dreadful at interior defense, allowing over 54 percent on shots inside the arc, ranking in the bottom 10 percent of the country. Alabama scored over 100 points in regulation on four occasions this season, and every game happened against an opponent that allowed an average of 50-plus percent on two-point attempts. As it turns out, TAMU-CC has the worst two-point percentage defense out of any opponent that Alabama has faced all season. Needless to say, this one might get ugly.
On top of the scoring abilities of each team, both also prefer playing at an extremely fast pace. Alabama ranks fourth in the country in adjusted tempo, per KenPom, while TAMU-CC ranks 55th in offensive tempo, giving us good reason to expect an abundance of extra possessions in this matchup. All in all, this game has all the makings of a high-scoring affair. It's tempting to take Alabama's point spread, given the massive mismatch against TAMU-CC's defense, but ultimately a high-scoring game seems like the most likely outcome. I'm taking the over in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: Over 155
Auburn vs Iowa
Auburn was flying high in the middle of January, starting off the season at 16-3 and 6-1 in the SEC, but the Tigers went sideways and never truly got back on track, despite making the cut for the Big Dance. With its first-round exit in the SEC tournament, Auburn has now lost nine of its last 13 games, with all four wins coming at home, and two of the wins coming against Georgia and Mississippi, two of the worst teams in the league. The Tigers looked fine against Tennessee in the regular season finale March 4th, although that game appears more like an outlier compared to their other performances over the past month. When looking at their losses, most of them have one thing in common -- an opponent with a strong offensive attack. Over the course of the whole season, Auburn went 4-11 in games against opponents that rank in the top 50 of KenPom's offensive efficiency standings. In contrast, the Tigers went 16-1 in games where Auburn's opponent was ranked under the top 50 in offensive efficiency. As fate would have it, Thursday's opponent will be the best offensive team that Auburn has seen all season.
Iowa, on the other hand, started off the season on a questionable note with a record of 8-6 and 0-3 in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes righted the ship and went 11-6 in the conference following New Year's Day. The Hawkeyes haven't played much defense over the past several years, but their scoring ability has consistently been among the best in the nation, and this year is no exception, ranking third in KenPom's offensive efficiency standings. While this ranking speaks for itself, it's also worth pointing out that Iowa had success against the toughest defensive teams, defeating the top-three defensive teams it faced all season. Iowa beat Rutgers by double digits on two different occasions, defeated Iowa State by 19 points, and then won against Northwestern by 16 points in their first meeting of the season.
When looking at how these teams stack up against each other, Iowa has massive advantages in two critical areas. First, Iowa was among the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, ranking 66th in offensive rebounding percentage, while Auburn was one of the worst defensive rebounding teams, ranking No. 317 in defensive rebounding percentage. Second, Iowa is very effective at drawing contact on offense, ranking No. 133 in free-throw attempt rate, a beneficial trait in this matchup because Auburn had substantial fouling problems this season, ranking No. 331 in defensive free-throw attempt rate.
Overall, based on the matchup advantages and exceptionally high offensive proficiency, Iowa is a good bet to outscore Auburn. It's seemingly inevitable that the Hawkeyes' leaky defense will cause its demise sooner rather than later, but their offense should be good enough to shoot their way out of the first round. Iowa has advanced to the second round in four of its last five trips to the Big Dance, and based on Thursday's matchup, I'm betting that trend will continue once again. I'm backing Iowa.
College Basketball Best Bet: Iowa +1.5
Oral Roberts vs Duke
Oral Roberts enters the NCAA Tournament with a 17-game win streak -- the nation's longest. The Golden Eagles have achieved this thanks to its Iowa-esque offensive attack, ranking third in the country in scoring with 82 points per game and ranking 22nd in KenPom's adjusted efficiency chart. The similarities don't end there, however, as Oral Roberts also aggressively plays at a fast pace and doesn't pay as much attention to defense, ranking No. 106 in defensive efficiency. Moreover, Oral Roberts ranks near the top in several shooting categories as well. The Golden Eagles rank in the top 10 of the country in effective field goal percentage, two-point field goal percentage and free-throw percentage. They are also making 37 percent of shots from behind the arc, which, combined with its rapid attempt rate, yields the 12th-highest three-pointer point distribution among all D1 teams. In short, Oral Roberts can score any and every way possible. If it pulls the upset, its offense will be the central reason.
Duke, meanwhile, is currently riding a nine-game win streak and is playing its best basketball of the season. It took a couple of months for the much-heralded freshman class to start clicking, but now that they're on a roll, the ceiling for this ultra-talented roster is sky-high. The defense has been rather stout for most of the season, and now the offense has finally caught up. When facing opponents that rank below the top 100 of KenPom's defensive efficiency standings, Duke has scored at least 81 points in the last three matchups. Based on Oral Roberts' defense and its penchant for pushing the tempo, Duke is poised to once again top 80 points.
When looking at the spread for this game, it's tempting to take a chance with the underdog and its high-powered offense -- a team that has only lost a single game since late November. However, Duke's talent and roster advantage cannot be overlooked. Based on the strengths, weaknesses and styles of each team, we should see a ton of points in this game. I'm on the over.
College Basketball Best Bet: Over 145.5
Thursday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Thursday:
- TAMU-CC vs Alabama - Over 155
- Iowa +1.5
- Oral Roberts vs Duke - Over 145.5
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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