This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
The final Saturday of the regular season is upon us, and the college hoops slate doesn't disappoint. Steve Peralta breaks down three blockbuster matchups and presents his best bets for the day.
Duke at North Carolina
Duke enters Saturday riding a five-game win streak, which is nice, but it's also had the benefit of a favorable schedule over the past couple of weeks. Duke has played at home in four of the last five games and has faced three teams with losing conference records in that span. While most college teams have stark home and away splits, Duke's are particularly exaggerated. The Blue Devils finished the regular season with a perfect 16-0 record at home, but they also went 3-6 in true road games, a far cry from its flawless results in Durham. The only teams that Duke beat on the road this season were Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Syracuse — three teams that reside in the bottom half of the ACC standings with 10-plus conference losses. Duke has more than enough talent to pull off the upset, obviously, but it's hard to trust them whenever they play away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.
North Carolina, meanwhile, has won its last three games, including a critical eight-point victory over Virginia a week ago. The Tar Heels don't need any extra motivation when it comes to playing their arch-rival, but they also find themselves on the bubble with just a small handful of opportunities remaining, so they will surely empty the tank and do whatever it takes to win. And aside from the location advantage, the Tar Heels have an edge over the Blue Devils in a couple of other categories as well. First, North Carolina is the best rebounding team in the ACC, recording the highest defensive rebounding rate and second-highest offensive rebounding rate during conference play. Duke only comes in at sixth in the ACC in defensive rebounding, so North Carolina should see at least a few put-back opportunities. Second, Duke's offensive numbers are fine overall, but they're awful in the turnover department. The Blue Devils have the second-worst offensive turnover rate among all ACC teams during league competition, substantially worse than the Tar Heels, which have the fourth-best turnover rate in the conference in the same time frame.
Ultimately, despite North Carolina's up-and-down season, this is still the same nucleus of players that reached the NCAA tournament final a year ago. The Tar Heels might not make another magical run to the national championship, but they're still a formidable team with a talented and deeply experienced group of players. Given a short line, I'm taking the home team in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: North Carolina -3
Connecticut at Villanova
After going through a disastrous January, UConn is seemingly back on track, going 8-2 in its last 10 games. That said, it's worth pointing out that five of its 10 games over that span came against the four worst teams in the Big East. The Huskies are undoubtedly a great team and seem poised to make a run later in March, although it's easy to forget about the vulnerabilities it displayed just over a month ago when it lost six of eight games at one point.
Villanova is among the hottest teams in the Big East, having won six of its last seven games. During this span, Villanova has won at Xaver, versus Creighton and at Seton Hall — matchups that aren't easy any way you look at it. Villanova has covered the spread in six of its last eight games, further emphasizing its improved play over the past month. The most obvious reason for the turnaround is the return of star senior guard Justin Moore, an essential player for the Wildcats ever since he set foot on campus. Moore had started 80 of 82 games since the start of February 2020, his freshman season, but unfortunately missed the first three months of the current season due to a significant injury suffered in last year's NCAA tournament. Moore is now fully healthy, as he proved in the upset win at Xavier on February 21, when he scored 25 points en route to earning KenPom's MVP honors for his performance.
When looking at how these teams stack up against each other, Villanova has two notable stats going in its favor. First, UConn's best offensive attribute is its rebounding ability, recording the highest offensive rebounding percentage among all D1 teams, per KenPom. This is usually a sizable advantage for the Huskies in almost every game, although Villanova has the second-highest defensive rebounding percentage in the Big East during conference play, so the Wildcats are well-equipped to neutralize this edge. In fact, UConn only collected five player offensive rebounds in the first matchup against Villanova on December 28, 2022, tied for the fewest amount of player offensive rebounds that UConn has had in any single game this season. The other stat that favors Villanova is free-throw attempt rate. The Huskies have had severe issues with committing fouls all season long, ranking No. 333 in defensive free-throw attempt rate among D1 teams and posting the worst defensive free-throw attempt rate in the Big East during conference play. This plays right into Villanova's hands, as the Wildcats have the third-highest offensive free-throw attempt rate in the conference while recording the highest free-throw percentage in the nation, making 83 percent of its shots from the charity stripe.
UConn got the better of Villanova when these two teams met in Connecticut at the end of December, but the Wildcats are now back at full force and playing their best basketball of the season. It's tough to bet against a team like UConn, but I like our chances with the home team. I'm taking Villanova.
College Basketball Best Bet: Villanova +2.5
Arizona at UCLA
This matchup is about as close as it gets. Both teams are fighting for a one seed, and both compare dead evenly against each other. During conference play, Arizona ranks first in the Pac-12 in offensive efficiency, while UCLA ranks first in defense. On the other side, Arizona ranks fifth in defensive efficiency, with UCLA ranking fifth on offense.
Looking closer at each team's resume, UCLA ranks a few spots higher in NET and KenPom rankings, but Arizona has arguably had the more impressive year. According to KenPom, UCLA only played in four challenging games during the non-conference season, going 2-2 in those games, while Arizona played in five such games, going 5-0, defeating the likes of San Diego State, Creighton, Indiana, and Tennessee. The Bruins ended up taking home the Pac-12 regular season title, but the Wildcats are still right on their heels when it comes to overall team strength and potential.
In the first matchup between these two teams back on January 21, Arizona defeated UCLA by six points, 58-52, and the Wildcats didn't even play that well, relatively speaking. Arizona made just five three-point shots, tied for its second-fewest in any game this season, and committed 17 turnovers, tied for its second-most in any conference game, so it's hard to imagine the Wildcats playing any worse.
UCLA is incredibly difficult to beat at Pauley Pavilion, so Arizona might not win, but I'm betting they'll keep it close. A potential one-seed hangs in the balance, and both teams have played outstanding basketball over the past couple of seasons. Considering how close these teams compare to each other, I'm taking the points in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: Arizona +5
Saturday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Saturday:
- North Carolina -3
- Villanova +2.5
- Arizona +5
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