Welcome to the second edition of our college basketball best bets column. Pat went 3-1 in the first edition, and Alex went 0-2-1, but is primed for a bounce back week. We’re finally into conference play nationwide, and while it can be tough to pick games when teams know each other so well, all you have to do is read below to find some winners.
Pat: Syracuse (-2) at Notre Dame
For someone who has seen the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone so much, Mike Brey has had little success beating it over the years. When his teams have been able to beat the Orange, they’ve done so by shooting the lights out of the ball from beyond the arc, something that this squad struggles to do, hitting just 34.7% from beyond the arc on the year. To make matters worse, the Irish will be without senior guard Rex Pflueger (torn ACL) who was one of the better shooters (38.9% from deep) and playmakers (team high 4.3 assists) on the team. With a thin bench and below average shooting, facing one of Jim Boeheim’s most athletic Syracuse squad in years is a good spot to fade the Irish at home.
Alex: Kentucky (-4) at Alabama
The Kentucky Wildcats are starting to find their form again as they have secured back to back road wins against a tough Louisville team and a talented UNC team (played at MSG). The Wildcats have an athletic and balanced attack led by star freshman guard Keldon Johnson, who leads the team with 16.4 ppg. Other players such as PJ Washington and Reid Travis have been contributing at a high level lately, which has allowed the team to dominate the paint and has opened up perimeter opportunities. Look for the Wildcats to play a physical game and dominate the paint early against a smaller Crimson Tide team.
Pat: Butler (-3) vs. Creighton
This pick is based on value, as it’s a perfect example of taking an undervalued team facing an overvalued team. Butler has had an embarrassing week, as they got destroyed by 34 points at Florida last Saturday and fell at home to Georgetown in their Big East opener on Wednesday. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, are coming off an impressive road win on Providence in their conference opener. Creighton was 0-2 on the road before that win, and Butler was a perfect 7-0 at home prior to Wednesday’s loss. This spread should be 4-5 points higher, but Vegas is factoring a typical gambler’s recency bias into this number, creating the perfect spot to take Butler.
Alex: Kansas (+1.5) at Iowa State
The Jayhawks have owned the Big 12 conference under veteran coach Bill Self. After coming off of a home win against a top 25 ranked conference opponent in Oklahoma, the Jayhawks are seeking a road victory against a new-look Iowa State team. The Cyclones are now at full health with guard Lindell Wiggington and center Solomon Young back. However, they will have their hands full with Kansas big men Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike. Both bigs have been extremely efficient this year and the Jayhawks as a whole have been shooting 48% from the field. In order for the Jayhawks to steal a win on the road from a solid Cyclones team, they need to control the tempo of the game and get into their half-court set.
Pat: Virginia/Florida State under 130
Two elite defensive teams meeting up for their conference openers is a recipe for an absolute dog fight. While the Seminoles have looked impressive offensively in recent weeks, they will almost certainly struggle to score the rock against the Cavaliers’ number one scoring defense in the nation (allowing just 54.1 ppg). On the other side of the ball, Virginia ranks just 170th in scoring and Leonard Hamilton’s club is long, athletic, and hungry for a win. They can make it very tough for the Cavs to score as well, and the winner of this game might not hit 60.
Alex: UNC (-8.5) at Pittsburgh
The Tar Heels have been off to a good start this year and have faced many tough teams such as Michigan, Kentucky and Gonzaga. Even though the Tar Heels were only able to pick up a win against Gonzaga, they look to get a strong start in ACC conference play. Over the past few seasons the Pittsburgh Panthers have struggled in conference play and finished with an 0-18 record last season. The Tar Heels have a potent and balanced offense that averages the 3rd most points per game in the NCAA. This offense is led by Pittsburgh graduate transfer Cameron Johnson (16.4 ppg), who looks to have a big day against his former team. The key for the Tar Heels to cover this relatively large spread is to play with more consistency on defense and to limit their turnovers.