This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
The month of March is finally upon us, and teams all across the country are still making their case to have their ticket punched on Selection Sunday. Steve Peralta breaks down some notable matchups with potential seeding implications and shares his best bets of the evening.
Texas at TCU
Star guard Mike Miles returned to the starting lineup on February 18, providing a much-needed boost to the Horned Frogs following a multi-week absence due to injury. TCU was 16-4 (5-3 in the Big 12) prior to Miles' injury at the start of the Mississippi State game, and the Horned Frogs lost five of six games without Miles playing (including the MSU game). Now that Miles is healthy again, TCU more closely resembles itself, winning two of three games, including an emphatic 100-75 win over Oklahoma State. Miles' offensive production cannot be overstated, especially because TCU is currently ranked 20th in KenPom's defensive efficiency standings and third in the Big 12 during conference play. When TCU plays its customary stingy defense and Miles is locked in, the Horned Frogs possess a seemingly unbeatable combination.
Despite losing its head coach in early December, Texas has managed to put itself in a great position to secure a favorable seed come Selection Sunday. That being said, the Longhorns are still vulnerable in a couple of areas. First, Texas has gotten gashed on the perimeter throughout league competition, allowing Big 12 opponents to make over 35 percent of shots from behind the arc, the highest percentage allowed in the conference. Second, Texas' offensive rebounding numbers are down over the past couple of months, recording the second-lowest offensive rebounding percentage among Big 12 teams during conference play. Additionally, like most college teams, Texas hasn't been so formidable away from home, losing five of its last seven road games.
The last time these two teams played, back on January 11 in Austin, TCU gave Texas everything it could handle. The Horned Frogs held a 42-29 lead at halftime but ultimately fell by a final score of 79-75. The game was tied with under two minutes remaining, so TCU had a genuine shot at taking home the victory. In any event, Wednesday's game will take place in Fort Worth, giving TCU the location edge this time around. This game will likely come down to the wire, but my money is on Mike Miles and company getting the job done at home.
College Basketball Best Bet: TCU -1.5
Penn State at Northwestern
Penn State might not make the Big Dance come March, but nonetheless, the Nittany Lions have shown massive improvement in their second year under head coach Micah Shrewsberry. This is most apparent on the offensive side of the court, where Penn State has played at an elite level for most of the season. Among all D1 teams, the Nittany Lions rank 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency (per KenPom), first in offensive turnover percentage, and 10th in effective field goal percentage. Moreover, Penn State is arguably the best shooting team in the land. The Nittany Lions are making 39 percent of their three-point shots while shooting three-pointers at the fifth-highest rate in the country, yielding the second-highest three-pointer point distribution among all D1 teams.
Northwestern, meanwhile, appears to have its ticket punched for March Madness, although the Wildcats are still vulnerable, especially on defense. Northwestern's overall defensive numbers are great, although a closer look at more recent data tells a different story. Since the conference season tipped off, Northwestern ranks eighth in defensive efficiency among Big Ten teams, which isn't awful, but the underlying numbers are much worse. When facing conference opponents, Northwestern's defense is allowing the third-highest field goal percentage in the Big Ten, on shots taken both inside and outside the arc. Northwestern also has the worst defensive rebounding rate in the Big Ten during that same time span, as well as the fifth-lowest offensive rebounding rate, clearly representing one of the weaker rebounding teams in the conference.
The Nittany Lions might be a bit reliant on outside shooting, although they have a good reason -- they have several outstanding shooters up and down their lineup. Given this particular playing style, it's possible Wednesday might be a day when the shots don't fall, but ultimately I'm betting the significantly better offense will come out on top. I'm taking the points in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Penn State +3.5
Missouri at LSU
Missouri has had quite a successful season. The Tigers collected wins over the likes of UCF, Illinois, Kentucky, Arkansas, Iowa State and Tennessee, putting them in a position to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. The key to their success has been their explosive offensive attack, ranking ninth in KenPom's adjusted efficiency standings. Missouri's offensive prowess has carried throughout the conference season as well, recording the second-highest effective field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage among SEC teams. The numbers on the other end of the court won't generate much praise, although they do stand out in a particular category -- generating turnovers. The Tigers have the fifth-highest defensive turnover percentage among all D1 teams, and the highest in the SEC during conference play, so they undoubtedly have a penchant for causing the other team to commit mistakes on offense. This skill will surely come in handy in Wednesday's game, as Missouri's opponent has struggled with offensive turnovers, recording the third-worst percentage among SEC teams.
LSU has suffered the most conference losses in the SEC this season, and that's largely due to ineffectiveness across the board. Since the conference season started, LSU ranks last in the SEC in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage. These numbers are bad enough, but then we also see a similar story on the other end of the court, where LSU has the third-worst defensive efficiency among SEC teams during league competition and also ranks last in effective field goal percentage allowed and three-point field goal percentage allowed. The only thing that LSU has done well against the SEC is collect defensive rebounds, but then again, that doesn't mean much if the Tigers can't stop Missouri's potent offense from scoring. After looking at the data, it's easy to see why LSU has won only a single game since we entered the New Year.
All in all, these two teams are miles apart from each other. One team is still heavily invested in this season, while the other team is most likely three games away from calling it a year. LSU has already lost 14 of 16 conference games this season, and 12 of those losses came by at least nine points. Given Missouri's high ceiling and LSU's massive struggles, I'm taking Mizzou and the points in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: Missouri -5.5
Wednesday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Wednesday:
- TCU -1.5
- Penn State +3.5
- Missouri -5.5
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