This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Kansas State at Texas Tech
For the first time all season, Kansas State lost back-to-back games last week. But for what it's worth, these were no ordinary losses. The Wildcats lost to Kansas and Texas, two of the top teams in the country, and two teams that Kansas State had already beaten back in January. The Wildcats bounced back by hammering TCU by 21 points in the follow-up game, so they appear to still be the same formidable team despite the recent losses. Kansas State is still just one game behind first place in the Big 12, a significant standing considering how absurdly competitive the conference is this season. During league play, Kansas State has recorded the second-highest offensive efficiency rating and fifth-best defensive efficiency rating, clearly a strong and balanced team.
Texas Tech, meanwhile, entered the conference season with high expectations, but it never found its footing. The Red Raiders are 1-10 against Big 12 opponents, and they needed overtime at home to secure the victory against Iowa State. While it's certainly a nice win, it stands out as an isolated occurrence, really the only good win of the season for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have earned just two quality wins all season, per KenPom, although the other "quality" win came at LSU, a game that's liable to lose its "quality" distinction if LSU is unable to snap its current 11-game losing streak. If Texas Tech's resume isn't bad enough, the underlying metrics paint a picture that's just as grim. Since the conference season tipped off, the Red Raiders rank last among Big 12 teams in both offensive and defensive efficiency, in addition to ranking last in effective field goal percentage, offensive turnover percentage, and defensive rebounding rate. The latter is an area that might haunt Texas Tech in this matchup, as Kansas State ranks fourth in the conference in offensive rebounding rate. Given this data, it's no surprise that KenPom is projecting Texas Tech will lose all of its remaining games (based on individual win probabilities).
All in all, based on its resume and efficiency numbers, Kansas State is competing like a team that's poised to play late into March. The same cannot be said for Texas Tech, which at this point will need a miraculous run in order to make the Big Dance. These two teams already played each other exactly three weeks ago, with Kansas State winning by 10 points. I'm betting we'll see a similar outcome on Saturday.
College Basketball Best Bet: Kansas State pk
UCLA at Oregon
UCLA is having a highly successful season up to this point, putting itself in a position for a very high seed come tournament time. That being said, the work is far from over, especially considering it still has a few more road games left on the schedule, and that's where the Bruins have been most vulnerable. All four of UCLA's losses have come away from Pauley Pavilion, so Saturday's game is no gimme. In fact, this is the most difficult game remaining on the Bruins' schedule, according to KenPom, even more challenging than its home matchup against Arizona at the end of the regular season.
The difficulty stems from the fact that Oregon is finally racking up wins after starting the season on a questionable note. The Ducks have won six of their last eight games, including victories over Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Arizona State, and USC, or the entire top of the Pac-12 standings, in other words. The only team missing from Oregon's recent collection of wins is UCLA. The key for Oregon during this stretch run has been its elite offensive play. Since the conference season tipped off, Oregon now has the highest offensive efficiency rating in the Pac-12 and also ranks first in effective field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage. The latter is noteworthy because UCLA, although elite defensively, has been relatively weak at guarding the interior. The Bruins are allowing conference opponents to make 49 percent of shots inside the arc, the sixth-highest percentage allowed in the Pac-12.
The Bruins are a tough team to bet against, but one could argue it's harder to bet against a team led by head coach Dana Altman. Throughout his time with Oregon, Altman's teams consistently improve throughout the season, and this year has been no exception. Dating back to 2014, Oregon's collective home record in the month of February is 34-3 (.919), truly astonishing. Saturday's game won't be easy, obviously, but there's little doubt that Oregon will be ready to play. In what figures to be a close game, I'm taking the points with the home team.
College Basketball Best Bet: Oregon +2.5
Colorado at Utah
Of all the teams in college basketball, Colorado is perhaps the most puzzling. The Buffaloes have double-digit wins over Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Oregon, but then they've also lost to Grambling State, Massachusetts, and Oregon State. The more concerning part of the picture is that Colorado's best highlights from this season are drifting further and further away in the rear-view mirror. Its most impressive wins came back in November, and its overall body of work against league competition isn't looking so great, especially when it comes to scoring. Since the conference season tipped off, Colorado has the third-worst offensive efficiency rating among Pac-12 teams while also recording the worst offensive turnover percentage. The challenges on this end of the court are about to get more difficult, as Utah ranks third in the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency and ranks first in effective field goal percentage allowed, defensive free-throw attempt rate, and three-point percentage allowed.
Utah made some noise when it defeated Arizona back on Dec. 1, a type of win that might seem like an outlier early in the season, but now it appears it was a precursor to a semi-successful season for Utah. The job isn't over, as Utah undoubtedly has aspirations to still go dancing in March, but it's done well for a team that was picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. In any event, Utah has been extremely tough to beat at home. The Utes are averaging a 10-point scoring margin through seven home games against conference foes, and in its five wins, Utah has defeated each opponent by 14-plus points. To further put its home-court advantage into perspective, Utah is averaging just 60 points per game on the road against Pac-12 teams, but its scoring output jumps up to 74 points per game when playing at home.
Colorado is currently riding a five-game road losing streak and has lost seven of eight road games this season, with all seven losses coming by four points or more. And based on how it matches up against Utah, I'm betting that streak will be extended after today. I'm backing the Utes in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: Utah -4
Saturday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Saturday:
- Kansas St pk
- Oregon +2.5
- Utah -4
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