This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
With several major conferences once again in action on Wednesday's college hoops slate, Steve Peralta sets his sights on an ACC clash and a pair of Big East matchups. Here are his best bets of the day.
Providence at Connecticut
Despite experiencing significant roster turnover after making the Sweet 16 last year, Providence once again finds itself on the cusp of making the NCAA tournament and going on another run. The Friars had a few letdowns during the non-conference portion of the schedule, but they've since played markedly better in the past couple of months. During conference play, Providence ranks third in both offensive and defensive efficiency among Big East teams, which is actually one slot higher than Wednesday's opponent on both accounts. UConn ranks fourth in the conference in efficiency on both ends of the court during league competition, giving Providence the edge when focusing on the most recent data.
When comparing these two teams side-by-side, Providence has a significant advantage in one key category -- free-throw attempts. Since the conference season tipped off, the Friars have had the highest offensive free-throw attempt rate in the Big East, an ideal trait in this matchup because the Huskies have the worst defensive free-throw attempt rate in the conference. This massive disparity played out exactly as one might expect in the previous meeting between these two teams, as Providence made 29-of-35 free throw attempts in a 73-61 victory back on January 4.
Connecticut appears to be playing better since it went through a rough patch in January, losing six of eight games at one point, although it's hard to tell if it's back on track or if the schedule is giving them a break. Since we entered the new year, UConn has just won six total games, and three of them came against Butler, DePaul and Georgetown -- the bottom three teams in the Big East. If we ignore those three 'layups,' the Huskies are suddenly 3-7 in their last 10 games. Either way, not great results any way you look at it.
Overall, these two teams have been trending in different directions in recent months. Providence has covered the spread in 15 of 19 games since the start of December, further underscoring its consistent improvement throughout the season. It's always possible UConn pulls away in the second half, but I'm betting Providence will once again find a way to stay in the game and keep the score close. I'm backing the Friars.
College Basketball Best Bet: Providence +7.5
Syracuse at Clemson
Syracuse was humbled against Duke in its most recent game, although the Orange were coming off arguably their best win of the season, taking down NC State a week ago. Even with the recent loss, Syracuse has still been playing relatively well over the past couple of months. The Orange are 13-6-1 against the spread since the start of December, giving us a team that's continuously exceeding expectations for a lengthy period of time.
Clemson, on the other hand, has fallen well short of expectations for over a month now. In fact, the Tigers have failed to cover the spread in seven of their last nine games, and what's worse, they are coming off their worst game of the season. Clemson was a double-digit favorite over Louisville and ended up losing by 10 points to the worst team in the ACC. Sometimes when a team loses in such a manner, one can toss it aside as simply a bad game. That's something that happens to every college basketball during a season, although this outcome appears different. Clemson has now lost four of its last five games, and the most recent ugly loss only further highlights the Tigers' downward trend.
When looking at how these two teams match up against each other, Syracuse has a noticeable edge in one particular category -- defensive turnovers. The Orange have the second-highest defensive turnover rate in the ACC since the conference season tipped off, while Clemson ranks 11th in the conference in offensive turnovers during the same time frame. Clemson, meanwhile, ranks ninth in defensive turnover rate, so it's a safe bet that Syracuse will win the turnover margin in Wednesday's game.
Considering the recent performances of the two teams, and the aforementioned turnover advantage, my money is on Syracuse keeping this game close. I'm taking the points.
College Basketball Best Bet: Syracuse +4
St. John's at Georgetown
The Red Storm has struggled for most of the season, although it's still notched a couple of impressive victories along the way, defeating Connecticut in Storrs and more recently defeating Providence. The losses have otherwise piled up, but these two wins prove that St. John's still has the potential to beat a formidable team, even if it didn't happen as often as the Red Storm would've liked.
St. John's ranks higher than Georgetown in efficiency on both ends of the court, and St. John's has a noticeable edge when it comes to the offensive side, mostly thanks to Georgetown's awful defense. During conference play, the Hoyas rank last in the Big East in defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage allowed, defensive turnover percentage, and three-point field goal percentage allowed. Considering these numbers, it's unsurprising that Georgetown is 2-15 against the Big East.
All in all, the distinction of the 'worst team in the Big East' undoubtedly belongs to Georgetown. For that reason, I like St. John's in this matchup, a team that's already beaten two opponents that will almost certainly go dancing come tournament time. Given a short line, I'm riding the Red Storm.
College Basketball Best Bet: St. John's -2
Wednesday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Wednesday:
- Providence +7.5
- Syracuse +4
- St. John's -2
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