This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Saturday once again brings another loaded college hoops slate. Steve Peralta previews some of the action and shares his best bets for the evening.
N.C. State at North Carolina
NC State has played great basketball over the past month, winning five of its last six conference games. At this rate, the Wolfpack will likely make the tournament field in March, although a closer look reveals they still have a few important things to improve upon. First, NC State isn't scoring as efficiently as it might seem based on its recent results. During conference play, the Wolfpack rank ninth in offensive efficiency among ACC teams and rank 12th in effective field goal percentage. Additionally, NC State hasn't been good at outside scoring, barely making 30 percent of shots from behind the arc against ACC foes, not ideal when facing a tall team like North Carolina. Second, NC State's defense has been solid, but it has a couple of glaring issues when looking beyond efficiency numbers. The Wolfpack have had major trouble stopping teams inside the paint, allowing the worst free-throw attempt rate in the ACC since conference season started. This is an awful trait against any team, but it's made substantially worse in this matchup because North Carolina has the highest offensive free-throw attempt rate in the conference. Similarly, NC State is allowing ACC opponents to make 53 percent of shots inside the arc, while North Carolina is making over 54 percent in conference play, the second-highest percentage in the ACC. Based on these two issues, it's clear that the Wolfpack cannot stop inside scoring, playing right into the Tar Heels' hands.
North Carolina has had a relatively easy ACC schedule thus far, although it's about to heat up starting with Saturday's matchup. By now most college hoops fans know this team pretty well, mostly the same team that made a run at a championship a season ago. The Tar Heels have had a few disappointing outcomes this season, but this team has already shown us what it's capable of on any given day. They already defeated Ohio State and Michigan, and earlier in the season they matched Alabama for four overtime periods before finally losing by two points. One other important note to consider: North Carolina beat NC State by double-digits in both games last season, which is still relevant considering several prominent players from last year's teams will once again be on the court for Saturday's matchup. The line isn't exactly short, but considering the advantages mentioned and the most recent history between these teams, I'll take the Tar Heels at home.
College Basketball Best Bet: North Carolina -5.5
USC at Arizona State
Since the conference season started, these two teams have played at an even level, with similar strengths and weaknesses. Both teams rank top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency among Pac-12 teams during conference play. Both teams have also primarily won with their defense for most of the season, specifically with interior defense. USC is holding opponents to under 42 percent on shots inside the arc, the second-lowest percentage allowed among all D1 teams. Arizona isn't far behind, allowing under 43 percent on two-point attempts, the seventh-lowest percentage. This is important for both teams because neither has been great with long-range shooting this season. Both are making under 30 percent of shots from behind the arc against conference opponents, which isn't too far off from their shooting numbers from the non-conference season, so it's safe to say we shouldn't expect them to go up significantly. USC has the lowest three-point attempt rate in the Pac-12 against conference competition, seemingly self-aware in this area.
All in all, we've got two defensive-minded teams, extra stout in the paint, with neither team having much success in long-range shooting. Given this matchup, a low-scoring game seems like the most probable outcome. I'm betting on the under.
College Basketball Best Bet: Under 138.5
Oregon at Stanford
Like any other college basketball team, Oregon has had its share of poor performances this season, but ultimately this team is still capable of making a run, as it demonstrated when it crushed Arizona just a week ago, 87-68. The Ducks gave the Wildcats their worst loss of the season and then performed the same feat in their next game on Jan. 18, when Oregon defeated California by a score of 87-58, giving Cal its worst loss of the season. Going back a week before that, on Jan. 7, Oregon defeated Utah by double-digits in Salt Lake City, another performance that speaks to the ceiling of the Ducks. It's hard to count out Oregon as long as they still have head coach Dana Altman on the sideline, as he's led the Ducks to a winning conference record in each of the last 11 seasons.
Stanford, on the other hand, has been trending downward all season, and the decline has only accelerated since the conference season tipped off. During conference play, Stanford has the second-worst defensive efficiency in the Pac-12 and ranks last in effective field goal percentage allowed. The bigger problem, arguably, is its interior defense, allowing conference opponents to make 58 percent of shots inside the arc, the second-worst percentage allowed in the Pac-12. This is the last thing you want against Oregon, which is making 59 percent of two-point attempts during conference play, the highest percentage in the Pac-12. These defense numbers are awful, but the bottom line is that the Cardinal hasn't been competitive against better opponents all season long. In fact, Stanford has had 11 opportunities at earning a quality victory, and it has failed in every single instance, per KenPom.
Comparing these two teams side-by-side, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that they're not close to being on the same level. Oregon has proven it can win a challenging game several times this season, while Stanford has yet to do it a single time. Stanford's only conference win was a home matchup over lowly Oregon State, effectively the worst team in the Pac-12. Strange things can happen on the road, and Oregon is far from perfect, but given a short line, I'll take the Ducks in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Oregon -3
Saturday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Saturday:
- North Carolina -5.5
- USC at Arizona State - Under 138.5
- Oregon -3
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