College Basketball Picks - ATS Predictions
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Sure the Zags had the easier schedule, but this is a team that lost just one game on the campaign and that was a meaningless game to close out the regular season. Their non-conference schedule had some top level teams with Gonzaga getting the “W” against Florida, Iowa State and Arizona. In neutral site games their defense has been outstanding allowing opponents 62.5 points on a 36.9 FG%. In the tournament they’ve improved on those allowing 61.8 points on 34.6 FG%! UNC has stepped up their play, but were all out in their last two to advance winning by a combined three points. The Tar Heels have averaged 7.15 threes per game this season but will face a defense that has allowed a ridiculously low 26.2 from behind the arc to their opponents in this tourney. The Zags will have to play all 40 minutes to get the money and that’s a risk that I’m willing to take.
This is an awfully tough game to handicap. North Carolina did play the tougher schedule, but it wasn’t by a large a margin and they did have two more losses on the season. I don’t want to overplay the defensive effort against Kansas in Oregon’s last game, but it was impressive and after digging into the schedule this is something that they have excelled at. The Ducks have played six games against teams ranked in the top 20 in FG% and they’ve gone 5-1 with the only loss being by three to UCLA. The Tar Heels don’t rank in the top 20, but their shooting is a very good 47.2 in the regular season ranking in the top 50. UNC does have the size edge and should win the rebound, but the Ducks have a large edge in 3-point game offensively and defensively. I’ll take the points and hope that Oregon Guard Tyler Dorsey continues his brilliant play.
A fellow capper told me that Gonzaga’ defensive numbers are skewed because of their weak conference schedule and that their defense just isn’t that strong. I don’t agree entirely. Sure their conference scoring defense was brilliant allowing 59.33 points per game and that the number fell in non-conference games, but the key stat to me is the opponent’s scoring versus their seasonal average. The Zags played 11 games on a neutral court and their opponents in those games scored under their seasonal average in 9 of the 11 contests and in the two that an opponent scored over their average it was by extremely low margin with Santa Clara surpassing their scoring average by 1.2 points and Northwestern by 1.9. South Carolina has also been fantastic defensively on neutral courts, so I will call that a draw. The big edge in this match is on offense. The Zags have the second best FG% in the nation hitting 50.9 percent from the field and are a very respectable 59th from behind the arc and if the Gamecocks have a weakness on defense it is defending the three. It’s a big line for what is expected to be a low scoring game, but I don’t believe the pressure defense of South Carolina will work against them similar to their fail against Duke and Gonzaga has the defense to keep most teams in the low 60’s.
Kentucky has won 14 straight games and the credit has to go to their defense that has held ten straight opponents to 75 or fewer points per game. This comes after a seven game stretch back in late January into early February where they allowed 79 or more points in five of the seven games going 4-3 straight up and a disastrous 1-6 against the spread.
This game is a tough game to handicap. If you give more weight to the overall play of both teams then Florida would be the easy call. The Gators have more experience on a neutral court, they split the season series crushing the Gamecocks at home and losing narrowly on the road. It must be noted that in the four point road loss the Gators went 0 for 17 from three point land and shot a terrible 53.6% from the charity stripe. Neither is likely to repeat itself today.
The Bulldogs have not performed like a #1 seed so far this tournament as they are 0-2-1 ATS in the first three tournament victories. In all three scenarios, the Zags were spotting far more points than required and for many accounts were considered lucky better than good. However, the defensive numbers of the Zags argue otherwise. Gonzaga owns the fifth-ranked scoring defense and the second-ranked defense in terms of lowering opponent field goal percentage. In addition to this, the Zags play small ball and own the second best field goal shooting team in America. The metrics in itself the Bulldogs are readily capable of generating a cover against a Xavier team that will be a step down in competition as they come in by way of the mutated Big East. A conference Xavier struggled mightily in. In addition, the Musket Men are accommodating in the field goal department as their defense ranks 230th in opponent field goal percentage. This is an avenue that the Zags can exploit successfully and often. The stock is high on Xavier after they rattled off some upset victories of tournament regulars (Maryland and Arizona) but they are now stepping up against arguably the best team in the country and they are on Gonzaga’s radar after a few close calls of their own. This will be the difference maker.
One thing any handicapper knows is that a team is not as good or as bad they looked in their previous game, but one thing is certain no team is playing better than the Jayhawks in this tournament. Their opening two games weren't against the toughest teams beating a completely overmatched UC Davis by 38 points and a Michigan State team that had tailed off in the last month of the season by 20. Where they did impress was in their total beat down of Purdue in the Sweet 16.. The Boilermakers did lose 11 games on the season, but were beaten by double digits just once, losing by 12 to Michigan before getting crushed by 32 by the Jayhawks. As I’ve touched on before, Oregon has some problems on defense in the paint without Chris Boucher and while Michigan didn’t use that weakness to their advantage, Kansas certainly will. This is a real big line for a game matching two quality opponents. The Ducks like the Boilermakers rarely lose by extended margins, but I believe that they’ll suffer the same fate.
Aside from a two-game stretch when they gave up 83 points to Ohio State and 84 to Michigan State the Badgers have played excellent defense. Including those two matches they’ve held the opposition to 66 or fewer points in 13 of their 17 games. On a neutral the numbers reflect the same defensive discipline allowing 62.1 points over their nine games. The Gators can also play superior defense allowing 65 or fewer points per game in regulation time in five of their last seven games and 62.9 points PPG on a NC.
I could make a legit argument for each of these teams winning the game making choosing a side in this match a risky proposition. The total though does offer some value. UCLA did put up 79 points against a good Cincinnati defense in their latest, but Friday’s opponent Kentucky is much more athletic. UK has won 13 straight games after starting the season 18-5 and the main reason for that is their improvement on defense allowing just 66.7 points per game over the streak. These two put up 189 points in their earlier match-up back in early December, but I’m confident that both defense have improved and I expect both teams to have a tough time getting out of the 70’s.
I wrote a 600 word analysis to support my play, but my dog ate it before I could submit it. So, here goes a short version. The Gamecocks and Blue Devils had combined for 137 points over the first 38 minutes of their match then exploded for 32 points in the last two minutes! That game aside South Carolina has been playing great defense allowing 64.8 points per game and has performed well in neutral court games allowing 63.5 PPG in the four non-Duke games. Baylor is known for their defensive play holders of the 20th ranked scoring defense. They be facing a club that was on fire in their first two games of the tournament. but that’s not their norm in recent SEC games where they tallied 66 or fewer points in four of their last conference matches.
Butler is a sharp 5-1 in neutral court games this season and that record wasn’t built on some wins over cupcake teams. Their nonconference schedule on neutral courts included victories over Vanderbilt by five, Arizona by four and Indiana by five. The one loss was to a very hot Xavier in the Big East tournament by five in a game that was tied going into the last minute. .On the season they also added home wins over Northwestern, Cincinnati and Villanova and beat Seton Hall and Villanova on the road. Butler has lost only one game by a margin over this game’s line making UNC appear to be grossly overvalued in this spot.
Kansas was shorthanded for their Big 12 Tournament opener missing their excellent guard Josh Jackson who was suspended for one game. They lost that game 85-82 to TCU but the good news for their supporters is the Jayhawks appear to have used that to motivate themselves back to back blowout victories to get to the Sweet 16. They’ve shot an outstanding 70 of 128 in their 54.6 from the field and outboarded their opposition 78-49 in the two matches. That’s all good, but Purdue represents a bigger challenge than their first two opponents. The Boilermakers have tasted defeat in just two games in their last dozen contests falling to Michigan by four in overtime on a neutral court and to the Wolverines on the road back in late February. The OT loss in the Big Ten tourney to the Wolverines was the first and only loss that the Boilermakers have suffered this season on a neutral court. I think this game will come down to who can shoot the three better and on paper the advantage goes to Purdue. Kansas is a great team, but they weren’t dominant against the Cyclones another team that can shoot the three splitting the two home and away games and who just lost to Purdue by four.. Another common opponent is Michigan State who Kansas beat by 20 in their latest who were swept by the Boilermakers losing by 17 and 11.
Free Pick Gonzaga lost one game this season. A meaningless match against BYU in their regular season finale. They have eight wins over tournament teams this season knocking off St. Mary’s three times, Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona and their two tournament wins over South Dakota State and Northwestern. WVU is playing exceptionally well right now and wouldn’t be a shock to me to win this outright, but the Zags are a perfect 9-0 on neutral courts and have the defense that can keep the Mountaineers in check (62.2 PPG 38% FG% on NC). Gonzaga came out flat in the second half against Northwestern after opening up an 18 point first half lead and that should help them to keep to task for all 40 minutes in this contest.
Xavier shot the lights out in their opening two tournament games and could easily hang a mid-70’s score on Arizona in this match. The Gaels really slowed the game down against the Wildcats and they were still victorious putting up 69 while not playing their style of game. Arizona’s defense has traveled well putting an average of 75.8 points per game in their 10 neutral site matches and should return to at least in this game.
The Ducks haven’t had forward Chris Boucher since their March 10th game against Cal and while they didn’t lose any offense with F Dillon Brooks picking up some extra minutes they did lose his defense in the paint. Oregon hasn’t been able to put anyone on the floor to make up for Boucher’s 79 blocks on the season and that’s reflected in the stats with the Ducks allowing 77.3 points per game in the three matches since losing Boucher. It’s a small sample size but that’s close to a 12 point difference from their seasonal average of 65.9 PPG! The Wolverines have been an offensive juggernaut on neutral courts scoring 78 points per game on a spectacular 51% field goal average. Michigan needed overtime against Purdue to reach this number, but the 73 points scored marked the seventh straight game that they have reached into the 70’s in scoring.
Overall Mississippi’s dossier in route to this NIT Quarterfinal perhaps maybe a bit more of a sell than Georgia Tech’s. The Rebels made their way here taking down two teams they were favored to lose against when they ousted Monmouth and Syracuse from the NIT with authority. In doing so, the Rebels’ stock has gone through the ceiling. They own outright wins as a 1.5 and 7.5-point underdog and now they get a home game against a basketball team that has struggled mightily on the road this season. With this being said, the Jackets are a trendy selection on the Money Line. The public is aware that this team offers value as an outright given the price they are offered at with respect to the fact they own the sixth-ranked defense in America according to Pomeroy analytics. On paper, both teams have played similar schedules in terms of strength and have more or less fostered the same results in tight games. Mississippi is an offense-first team as they rank 275th nationally in scoring defense and 276th in defending the three. They are also 221st nationally in giving up rebounds. All these factors make Ole Miss a tough team to back against a physical and scrappy team like Tech (even if they are in Oxford) when you factor in laying points.
The Mavericks have played a much tougher nonconference schedule playing Minnesota, Arkansas and Texas. They didn’t embarrass themselves in those matches losing to Minn on the road in their second game of the season, losing by four to Ark on the road and beating Tex by 9 on the road. Texas-Arlington is 13-0 overall as a host going a very profitable 6-2-1 in those matches. Lay the points.
Boise State beat a decent Utah team to get to this game, shooting a solid 29 of 64 from the field against the Utes. The Broncos offense has been extremely efficient over their last five games allowing 78.2 points per game on 49.8% shooting, but that can be said of their defense that has allowed 75.4 points over the five game stretch. Illinois’ overall scoring has been lacking at times, scoring a per game average of 70.8 points overall. At home that’s a different story with an average of 75.2 PPG.
The Redbirds are an impressive 16-0 at home this season and that included a big 14 point win over Wichita State. Unfortunately that is the only quality opponent that they hosted. As I have said before, you can’t punish a team because of their schedule. UCF has gone just 5-6 on the road this season with not one quality win over a quality opponent. Illinois State likes to extend the margin as proven by their last four victories where they have won by 11 or more in all four matches.
I don’t think the Bearcats have the offense to keep up with the Bruins who have averaged 90.6 points per game overall this season and 84.1 on neutral courts. Cincinnati’s shooters were on fire in their opener against K State shooting a ridiculous 62.8% from the field and 45.5% from behind the arc. If they can come up with anything near that they have a chance at the upset win making a wager on the total and added play.