This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Kansas at Kansas State
Kansas is one of five teams in D1 basketball that still have a 'one' in the loss column, but it will be nearly impossible to keep it that way with how the Big 12 is playing this season. In fact, although the Jayhawks are 5-0 in the Big 12, KenPom is projecting them to finish with five conference losses, based on the latest data. While Kansas is undoubtedly an elite team, this projection is very believable when looking at recent results. In three of its Big 12 wins this season, Kansas' opponent has had an opportunity at a game-winning or game-tying shot at the end of the game. The ball bounced in the Jayhawks' favor in all three games, but it's only a matter of time before a close game flips against them.
Kansas State also has a nearly impeccable record at 15-2, although the Wildcats suffered a small setback in its most recent game, a loss at TCU. Prior to this game, Kansas State had won all four of its games against Big 12 foes, defeating West Virginia, Texas, Baylor, and Oklahoma State. All of these wins were great resume builders, however, its most impressive performance came in Austin, when the Wildcats torched the Longhorns for 116 points, something that was unthinkable for a defensive-minded Texas team at the start of the season. The Longhorns have obviously had off-the-court distractions over the past month, but this was still a statement game and revealed an incredibly high offensive ceiling for Kansas State. The Wildcats currently have the second-highest offensive efficiency rating in the Big 12 since conference season started, so it's been operating at a high level for a few weeks now. Aside from efficiency, Kansas State also ranks third in the conference in two-point field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage, so it's been a balanced attack all the way around. Defensively, Kansas State has played solid perimeter defense, allowing the lowest three-point percentage against Big 12 opponents, which will come in handy because Kansas has the second-highest made three-point percentage in the conference.
It's tough to bet against a team like Kansas, but the Jayhawks have consistently tested their luck against Big 12 teams, and they once again face an incredibly challenging opponent. After dwelling near the bottom of the Big 12 standings over the past few seasons, Kansas State has completely turned everything around in its first season under new head coach Jerome Tang. The true potential of this team remains to be seen. On top of all of the statistical notes, these two teams are also in-state rivals, and it's obvious which team will come into the game with a bigger chip on its shoulder. I'm not big on motivational angles, but it's safe to say the Wildcats have had this game circled on their calendar all season. I'm taking the points with the home team in this one
College Basketball Best Bet: Kansas State +2
Texas at Iowa State
Texas has a shiny record at 15-2, but these two numbers don't tell the whole story. In its last two games, both at home, Texas fell behind and entered halftime trailing by nine-plus points. The Longhorns were able to rally at home, although a similar lethargic half on the road almost guarantees a loss in the Big 12. Although the Longhorns' offense wasn't exactly great in their most recent games, their defense has been the more alarming part of the team. Through five conference games, Texas ranks seventh in the Big 12 in defensive efficiency and two-point field goal percentage allowed. It also ranks last in effective field goal percentage allowed and three-point field goal percentage allowed. The latter is particularly noteworthy because Iowa State is making 43 percent of its three-point field goal attempts against Big 12 opponents.
Iowa State was three points away from having a perfect record in the Big 12. Instead, thanks to a missed game-winning shot at Kansas, the Cyclones' conference record sits at 4-1. In spite of the loss, Iowa State is still having an incredible season, both outside and inside the conference. In total, Iowa State ranks fifth among all D1 teams in adjusted defensive efficiency, and number one in defensive turnover rate, per KenPom. These are excellent numbers, but its conference rankings are perhaps more telling and impressive. During conference play, Iowa State ranks first in the Big 12 in the following categories: defensive efficiency, defensive turnover rate, defensive rebounding, offensive rebounding, effective field goal percentage, and three-point made percentage. Its offense also ranks fourth in efficiency, so the Cyclones are playing at an elite level on both ends of the court, in many different facets of the game. I should also note, as one might expect, the Cyclones are playing even better at home. Iowa State is perfect at home this season, 9-0, and is defeating teams by an average margin of 26 points per game. Normally one might think this is inflated due to lower-tier non-conference opponents, but that is not the case. Iowa State beat Baylor by 15 points and then more recently beat Texas Tech by 34 points. At home, the Cyclones are a force of nature against any team they play.
The records might not show it, but these two teams appear trending in opposite directions. Since losing its former head coach on Dec. 12, Texas has failed to cover the spread in seven of nine games. Iowa State, meanwhile, has covered the spread in its last five games, all against Big 12 foes. Iowa State ranks higher than Texas in efficiency on both ends of the court during conference play. The Cyclones have been the better team over the past few weeks. I'm backing the home team.
College Basketball Best Bet: Iowa State -3
Clemson at Wake Forest
Wake Forest enters Tuesday's game with a 5-2 conference record, but this is somewhat misleading. Wake Forest won its last three conference games, although it's worth noting that all three of these opponents rank below the D1 average in overall adjusted efficiency margin, per KenPom. In fact, there are only three teams in the ACC that have a negative efficiency margin on the season, and Wake Forest just faced them in sequence. The wins against weaker conference competition aren't bad, although it's clear Wake Forest still has a lot to improve, especially on the defensive end. During conference play, Wake forest ranks 10th in the ACC in defensive efficiency, but what's worse, it ranks last in the two-point field goal percentage allowed, with opponents making a staggering 57 percent of two-point field goal attempts. This Achilles heel will almost surely come into play against Clemson, as the Tigers are making over 54 percent of two-pointers against ACC foes, the third-highest percentage in the conference.
Clemson is the hottest team in the ACC, sporting a flawless 7-0 conference record. The Tigers have already collected several quality wins, beating the likes of NC State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Duke. Clemson's most relevant victory, however, came on Dec. 2 when it hosted Wake Forest and dominated the matchup, winning 77-57. Clemson appeared to have a major matchup advantage in that game, and the story appears to be the same with the way the teams have played since conference season started. Wake Forest needs its offense to play well because its defense has been a major weakness, but that's going to be a problem against Clemson. The Tigers have the highest defensive efficiency rating among ACC teams during conference play, effectively canceling out Wake Forest's strength. Clemson also ranks first in the ACC in two-point field goal percentage allowed and effective field goal percentage allowed, consistently forcing teams to take difficult shots. Clemson is also playing well at the other end of the court, recording the fifth-highest offensive efficiency rating in the ACC. Wake Forest hasn't been good on defense, so the Tigers will likely take advantage.
Overall, Clemson is the more balanced team and more accomplished team. The Tigers have had seven opportunities to earn a quality win, and it's got the job done in six of them. Road conference games are seldom easy, but in this case, I like Clemson's odds. I'm taking the points in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Clemson +2.5
Tuesday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Tuesday:
- Kansas State +2
- Iowa State -3
- Clemson +2.5
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