This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Pivotal matchups fill the Saturday College Hoops slate, as teams fight for the opportunity to go dancing in March. Steve Peralta breaks down a few games and presents his best bets of the day.
Indiana at Purdue
Indiana started off the conference season in rough shape, but the Hoosiers have since rounded into form, winning nine of its last 12 games. During this stretch, Indiana has defeated Illinois twice, Purdue, Rutgers and Michigan; almost the entire top of the Big Ten standings, in other words. The Hoosiers have had most of their success thanks to a balanced attack, ranking 25th in KenPom's adjusted efficiency standings on the offensive end and 43rd on the defensive end. The team is led by superstar forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and also possesses outstanding shooters, making 38 percent of their shots from behind the arc, the 17th-highest percentage among all D1 teams. With so much balance and so few weaknesses, Indiana matches up well against most teams, including Saturday's opponent.
Purdue was flying high for most of the season, climbing to a 22-1 record at one point, but the Boilermakers have since come back down to Earth. Purdue has now lost three of its last five games, providing evidence that it's still vulnerable despite the nearly flawless start to the season. Purdue does many things well, obviously, although it's also egregiously awful when it comes to turnovers. Defensively, Purdue doesn't do much to cause turnovers, ranking No. 331 among all D1 teams in defensive turnover percentage, per KenPom. Similarly, during conference play, Purdue has the worst offensive turnover rate in the Big Ten, including the worst offensive steal rate. Turnovers are clearly a severe problem that cannot be overlooked, as this is part of what doomed Purdue in its previous matchup against Indiana, as the Boilermakers lost the turnover margin 16-8.
Considering this is an intense rivalry game, it's no surprise that all three of the previous matchups came down to the wire. Last season, each team successfully defended its home court, winning by a single possession each time. Indiana again won at home in the first matchup this season between these two teams, defeating Purdue 79-74 on February 4. Not much has changed between now and then, so I'm betting Indiana will once again keep the game close. I'm taking the points.
College Basketball Best Bet: Indiana +7
Saint Mary's at Gonzaga
Saint Mary's has had many great seasons over the past decade, winning at least 28 games on several occasions, although this year's team is on track to be the best one yet. The Gaels currently rank eighth in KenPom's adjusted efficiency standings, a ranking they've held on to for most of the past couple of months, and it's also a ranking that would be the team's highest in coach Randy Bennett's 22-year tenure.
It's true that the West Coast Conference might not offer quite as many challenges compared to the high major conferences, but that hasn't stopped the Gaels from putting up impressive numbers and winning their most difficult games. The wins at Santa Clara and at BYU were nice, but the best performance came on February 4th when Saint Mary's defeated Gonzaga in overtime, 78-70. Defeating the Bulldogs is never easy, but the Gaels are well-equipped to stop them. During conference play, Saint Mary's defense ranks first in the WCC in defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage allowed, defensive rebounding rate, three-point field goal percentage allowed, two-point field goal percentage allowed, and defensive block rate. Suffice it to say, the Gaels are among the best defensive teams in the country. On the other end of the court, the Gaels are also highly proficient, posting the second-highest offensive efficiency rating in the WCC. This is key because Gonzaga's defense is far from the best, ranking 86th in the country in efficiency.
It's tough to bet against Gonzaga, but this year's squad is far from perfect. The Bulldogs lost by 19-plus points to Texas and Purdue, and then more recently lost at home to Loyola Marymount. It's certainly possible Gonzaga might pull away in the second half of Saturday's game, but ultimately I'm betting that Saint Mary's will stay in the game thanks to its elite defense and extremely slow pace of play. I'll take the points.
College Basketball Best Bet: Saint Mary's +5.5
San Diego State at New Mexico
San Diego State is once again having an excellent season, although it's not without its flaws. The Aztecs have the third-worst offensive turnover percentage in the Mountain West since the conference season started, while also making 50 percent of its two-point field goal attempts, the second-lowest percentage in the league. San Diego State enters Saturday's game on a five-game winning streak, although it played with fire in its two most recent road games, narrowly defeating Utah State by two points before beating Fresno State, 45-43. The Bulldogs are by far the worst offensive team in the Mountain West, so San Diego State is liable to get run out of The Pit if it doesn't play better in Saturday's game.
New Mexico, meanwhile, was looking like a shoo-in for the Big Dance come March, but the Lobos have recently gone through a rough patch, losing six of its last eight games. The recent pile of losses doesn't look great, but it's worth pointing out a couple of things. First, New Mexico lost a pair of heartbreaking games to Nevada during this stretch, two results that easily could've been flipped. Second, star guard Jaelen House missed the games against Air Force and Wyoming due to injury, so it's possible those outcomes might've been different as well had House been healthy enough to play. Earlier in the season, New Mexico had won at Saint Mary's, the eighth-best team in the nation according to KenPom's adjusted efficiency standings, and won at San Diego State, giving us a team that knows how to play up to its toughest opponents.
Beating San Diego State won't be easy, but New Mexico already did it earlier in the season so there's no reason to think it can't do it again. Additionally, I'm not typically much for motivational angles, but the Lobos' March Madness aspirations are now on the line, with a loss possibly sealing their fate. Considering the stakes involved at this point in the season, New Mexico will likely be fired up playing at The Pit. I'm taking the home team in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: New Mexico +3
Saturday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Saturday:
- Indiana +7
- Saint Mary's +5.5
- New Mexico +3
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.
If you're in Ohio where legal betting just launched, check out Ohio sports betting promos. With Massachusetts set to launch March 14, residents can pre-register now for many Massachusetts sports betting promos as well.