College Basketball Best Bets: The Buckeyes’ Skid Stops Here

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Three Man Weave and I are back with our four favorite bets from Wedneday’s college basketball slate.

La Salle at Fordham

3MW Pick: La Salle +2.5

A pair of teams itching to end multi-game losing streaks will face off in the Bronx tonight in a battle between two current residents of the A-10’s basement. While the Explorers raised a few eyebrows with their conference-opening win at UMass two weeks ago, they’ve now dropped four in a row with three of those defeats coming on their home floor in Philly. The Rams, on the other hand, still have a big fat donut hole in their conference win column but have competed wire-to-wire in their last four contests, including a three-point home loss to SLU and a three-point loss at George Mason last week.

Underneath the surface of those recent commendable performances by Fordham, head coach Jeff Neubauer has scrambled to patch together a consistent and reliable rotation. So far this year, Neubauer has shuffled the lineups more often than a blackjack dealer, with one of the few constants being prized freshman point guard Nick Honor. Even with a proven veteran ball handler in Antwon Portley back this season, Honor’s white-hot start to the year quickly earned Neubauer’s trust and the corresponding freedom to run the offense at his discretion. Honor stepping into the spotlight with minimal hesitation early on was a major sigh of relief for Neubauer, who was left with a crater-sized a hole at point guard this summer when Joseph Chartouny grad transferred to Marquette. To contextualize how consistent Honor was for the first two months of the season, he scored in double figures in every single one of the Rams’ non-conference games, all while protecting and distributing the rock with the care and poise of a fifth-year senior.

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However, since conference play ramped up a few weeks ago, it’s clear that some of Honor’s initial brilliance may have been aided by playing a cupcake-filled non-conference schedule—per, Fordham played the second-easiest non-conference schedule in the entire country, a large reason why the Rams jumped out to a gaudy 9–4 record. While his last outing against George Mason was superb, Honor’s struggles against VCU, Duquesne and SLU are indicative that he may be hitting that inevitable freshman wall. This minor rut has been ill-timed with Neubauer’s aforementioned continuous lineup juggling, an issue that was recently compounded with forwards Ivan Raut and Jesse Bunting both missing small chunks of time.

So, while Fordham appears to be a team in flux at the moment, La Salle looks like it’s finally beginning to gel. The nightmarish 0–10 start to the season was likely a byproduct of the choppy transitionary period needed to master first year head coach Ashley Howard’s system, which mirrors the same style as his former boss Jay Wright at Villanova. While the initial learning curve was steeper than most probably anticipated, recent signs indicate that the veteran Explorers may be slowly starting to grasp Howard’s principles. La Salle gave VCU all it could handle in Richmond back on Jan. 9, despite missing one of its lone interior rim protectors, Miles Brookins, who returned to the lineup last game against Rhode Island.

That specific game against VCU is the basis for why the Explorers’ should fare well tonight on the road. The key is simple: value the basketball. While VCU’s defense is much more hectic than Jeff Neubauer’s tricky zone traps, the intent of both defenses is the same—force turnovers and generate easy offense going the other way. Last year, the Explorers swept the season series against Fordham, coughing up the rock just 23 times total in their two regular season matchups. While the veteran backcourt tandem of Pookie Powell and Marquette transfer Traci Carter have been uncharacteristically shaky with the rock this season, Powell’s success against Fordham last year and the recent test against VCU’s havoc should prevent them from being overwhelmed by the unpredictable pressure Neubauer will likely throw at them.

The Explorers are primed for a second-half turnaround and Wednesday’s advantageous matchup offers the perfect launching pad to ignite that reversal.

San Jose State at Wyoming

3MW Pick: Wyoming -6

It has been a trying season in Laramie, to say the least. The Cowboys have been completely gutted by injuries, probably more so than any team in the country. Here’s a full list of players who have participated in every game: Justin James, A.J. Banks. That’s it, two guys! And Banks has gone from playing single digit minutes (two or three in some games) to starting and playing 35–40 minutes per game. Times have gotten so desperate that coach Allen Edwards has: 1) pulled the redshirt off Trace Young on Dec. 29 and immediately started (and played him 24-plus minutes) in six straight games, and 2) has taken walk-ons from the Cowboy football team simply to have practice bodies. Currently, four scholarship players are in the medical ward, another is suspended and yet another (Jordan Naughton) is playing through a groin injury. The team sits at 4–14 overall and 0–5 in the Mountain West, having tumbled a stunning 174 spots in’s rankings since the start of the year.

(Deep breath). Okay, now that all of that is clear, why on earth would we support taking Wyoming as a six-point favorite?

Well, for one, the Cowboys are finally in the friendly confines of the Arena-Auditorium (aka the Dome of Doom), playing a winnable game against a San Jose State team that has lost all five conference games by 18-plus points. While it doesn’t fit the exact definition of a “get right” game since half their players will continue to be hurt, the Cowboys should still find some respite in actually being the better team. Also, Wyoming has one of the biggest home-court advantages in the country, mostly due to the massive elevation (7,220 feet above sea level, highest in the country).

Second, Wyoming will have the best player on the court. Senior forward Justin James was an easy choice for preseason first team all-conference, and although his efficiency has suffered due to the MASH unit around him, he’s still an incredibly versatile talent who can score, create for teammates, and grab-and-go off the defensive glass. At 6’7 with ball skills, he’ll be a matchup nightmare for a Spartans team that lacks athleticism on the wing.

Additionally, SJSU’s conservative, packed-in defensive style (and frequent zone possessions) won’t exploit Wyoming’s lack of ball-handlers, instead allowing the Cowboys to move the ball unopposed around the perimeter until a shot opens up. Wyoming has struggled mightily on offense, but it’s been marginally more productive against zone (44th percentile in the country, per Synergy), than it has been against man (25th percentile).

Wagering on a Wyoming team that has been one of the worst ATS squads in the entire country (3–14 this year) won’t give anyone warm and fuzzy feelings, but the Cowboys are finally in a spot that sets up for success. Plus, they’re finally using a consistent rotation—the same seven guys have led them in minutes for six straight games. It’s not a glamorous bet, to be sure, but Wyoming should finally find some positivity in the midst of a lost season.

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Purdue at Ohio State

Meyer’s Pick: Ohio State +.5 first half

Ohio State has lost its last four games, though three have come against ranked teams (home vs. Michigan State and Maryland along with at Iowa). The defeat at Rutgers is a sore spot, but the Scarlet Knights toppled Nebraska at the RAC as well on Monday. Meanwhile, Purdue is on a three-game win streak, including cruising against rival Indiana last Saturday. And because of all of this, you have Ohio State as a home underdog here, something you wouldn’t have expected a week or two ago.

So why have the two teams gone on diverging paths in conference play?

For Purdue, it’s been turnovers. The Boilermakers have a turnover rate of 15.8% (21st, per KenPom) on offense this season, while forcing opponents to commit turnovers on 20.9% of their possessions (76th). Those marks have both improved when facing Big Ten foes, to 14.8% on offense and 23.1% on defense, both ranking first in conference play. Besides not turning the ball over, the Boilermakers also excel at attacking the glass after misses, posting a 34.6% offensive rebound rate (second in Big Ten play). So since they rarely turn the ball over and are good at getting second chances, the Boilermakers often put up more shots than their opponent, which is certainly a big advantage.

Ohio State is on the other end of the spectrum with turning the ball over, as the Buckeyes give the ball up on 19.2% of offensive possessions, which ranks 12th (out of 14) in conference play. They also constantly get into foul trouble, particularly star big man Kaleb Wesson. Big Ten opponents have a 51.3% FT rate vs. Ohio State, which is the highest mark of any team in the conference.

Before you run to bet on Purdue, let me explain why we’re taking the other route to start this one.

Simply put, if Ohio State wants to boost its tournament hopes, this is a game it needs to win. After this game, the Buckeyes play back-to-back road games at Nebraska and Michigan. So if Ohio State falls here, there’s a good shot it starts 2–7 in conference play. So I expect to see major urgency and high-intensity play to start, similar to the home game vs. Michigan State, where the Buckeyes led 43–36 at the half. Ohio State hasn’t played since Friday, giving Chris Holtmann plenty of time to devise a strong gameplan.

Additionally, Purdue has won just one of its five true road games this season, an overtime win at Wisconsin. In three of those contests, the Boilermakers have trailed by double digits at the half. It won’t get any easier here, as Purdue sports a 2–13 all-time record at Value City Arena.

Luther Muhammad is the team’s best on-ball defender, and expect the majority of his night to be consisting of following around Carsen Edwards. Wesson will need to be a beast, and can’t get into foul trouble, especially with forward Kyle Young out due to a leg injury. Ohio State can’t match Purdue’s frontcourt depth, but Wesson can certainly take over a game in the paint. Senior guards C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods are going to have to hit big shots as well, especially if they get open looks if Purdue tries to double Wesson down low.

You always have to factor situation when betting college basketball, moreso than other sports. It’s always tough to win on the road, especially when the home team is desperate for a win. I’ll take the Buckeyes to get off to a fast start in a major battle for them.

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DePaul at Marquette

Meyer’s Pick: DePaul +4.5 first half

Is it just me, or does it seem like most Big East games come down to the wire? Anyway, here we have a battle of two teams that have been playing well of late, with Marquette on a five-game winning streak and DePaul gaining the upper hand in three of its past four games (including road wins at Seton Hall and St. John’s, though the latter was without Shamorie Ponds).

Basketball has been revolutionized by teams taking a lot more outside shots. DePaul is taking the opposing approach, putting up a 33.9% three-point attempt rate this season (and that number has dropped greatly to 26.4% in conference play, per KenPom). While led by a pair of talented senior guards in Eli Cain and Max Strus, the Blue Demons are at their best when big men Femi Olujobi and Paul Reed are incorporated frequently into the fold. Over the past three games, Olujobi has scored 72 points while Reed has notched three double doubles.

They could cause serious damage here if they can get Marquette’s Theo John (7.4 fouls committed per 40 minutes) and Ed Morrow (6.2) into early foul trouble. The Golden Eagles are obviously known for their outside shooting and propensity to get hot quickly, thanks to human flame-thrower Markus Howard. But DePaul can throw them for a loop with its physical style if it controls the interior earlier on.

With the absence of guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, DePaul is playing with a pretty tight rotation. So it’s not a surprise to see DePaul run out of gas late. The Blue Demons have led at halftime in four of their six Big East games (and in a fifth they trailed Seton Hall by just one at the break), yet they’re 219th nationall in second-half scoring margin (-1.5), a number that has ballooned to -7.6 in road games. Their leads at halftime aren’t just a Big East trend either, they’re 28th in first-half scoring differential (+6.5) on the season, which even tops Marquette (+5.4). Speaking of the Golden Eagles, they’ve been down at the half in four of their six Big East games.

This is the type of résumé booster that DePaul could use to put itself on the bubble. Strus and Cain have never sniffed an NCAA tournament in their time with the Blue Demons, and this is one of their best shots to get into the conversation. I’m not saying they are going to win this game, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them atop the scoreboard early on.

Overall Record: 25-20-1

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