Best Bets: New Year, Same Great Matchups

By Ryan Coleman

I took a bit of a nice holiday break, but now I am back and better than ever to tackle this phenomenal slate of Saturday basketball games. There are three games in which ranked opponents will square off, two undefeated records on the line and plenty more to cover so let’s get right to it.

Florida State at Louisville
1:00 pm central, ESPN2
Line: Louisville -6.5
O/U: 133.5

The Pick: Louisville -6.5

This is going to be a true test for Louisville as Florida State’s size and aggressiveness will be tough for the Cardinals to go up against. It will be especially important to understand if Louisville can truly play if Jordan Nwora cannot play to his full potential, as I imagine he will be limited. But this game is at the KFC Yum! Center where Louisville hasn’t lost yet, and I don’t expect them to today. Furthermore, FSU’s performances away from home have not been stellar. Both of these defenses are elite but the Cardinal’s offense is significantly better, and it should show in this game.  

Iowa vs. Penn State 
1:00 pm central, BTN Network
Line: Penn State -2.5
O/U: 154

The Pick: Iowa +2.5

Iowa and Penn State are both pretty inconsistent, so it is tough to predict how this one will play out. Iowa has a better strength of schedule and still has a solid record to show for it, handling Syracuse and Iowa State on the road while beating Cincinnati and Texas Tech along with it. Iowa’s offense is one of the best in the nation and we have seen what a good offense in Ohio State could do to Penn State. While this game is in Pennsylvania, it isn’t technically a home game for the Nittany Lions as the game is being played at The Palestra, which might benefit Iowa. Penn State’s interior defense may be elite, but Iowa can still shoot the ball well and boasts solid ball control along with better than average offensive rebounding rates, providing many opportunities for the Hawkeyes to score each time they get their hands on the ball. I’m taking Iowa on this one.    

Villanova at Marquette 
1:00 pm central, FOX 
Line: Marquette -2.0
O/U: 150

The Pick: Villanova +2.0

Do you smell that? It kind of smells like a trap game? It is a little odd that Marquette is favored as Villanova is a team with an elite reputation who recently defeated Kansas and Xavier while Marquette just got pounded by Creighton four days ago. Villanova notoriously depends on the three-ball in every game, but the Golden Eagles’ 3p% defense only ranks 79th in the country, not bad but definitely not great. This is going to be a shootout and indeed a close game but Villanova will pull off a cover.   

Auburn at Mississippi St. 

3:30 pm central, SEC Network

Line: Auburn -1.5O/U: 138

The Pick: Auburn -1.5

This matchup almost seems like a trap game too as Mississippi State has been off the radar basically this entire season. They hold a 9-3 record but their best win is against Kansas State and they have lost to New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech. Auburn has yet to lose but their best win isn’t all that great either in the form of N.C. State. This game will be another exciting one– Auburn has an up-tempo pace which may tire the Bulldogs and leave them in the dust as Mississippi State is the 308th slowest tempoed teams in the nation. Both teams are solid on the offensive glass but for every missed offensive rebound the bulldogs have, the Tigers should be able to easily run in transition. It may be a little too close for comfort, especially considering Auburn is a pretty terrible free throw shooting team, but they should win and cover along the way. 

San Diego State at Utah State 
9:00 pm central, CBS Sports Network
Line: Utah State -2.5
O/U: 129

The Pick: SDSU +2.5

San Diego State’s perfect record is on the line and Utah State is indeed a worthy matchup, that’s probably why they are favored. But the Aggies just lost to UNLV by 17 and that team is not good. SDSU has shown they can play away from home, beating BYU on the road and Iowa and Creighton at neutral sites. The Aztecs defense is quite elite and should shut down Utah State’s attempt to score but there may be a hidden kryptonite here. Utah State depends mightily on getting to the free throw line and SDSU is not the most disciplined team when it comes to fouling. This game will come down to the Aztecs being able to stay out of foul trouble and hitting their threes and I believe they can do it, especially against an inconsistent and struggling team in Utah State.      

LSU at Tennessee
11:00 pm central, ESPNU
Line: LSU -1.0
O/U: 136.5

The Pick: Tennessee +1.0

These close spreads are making my decisions quite tough but I am truly expecting a load of phenomenal games today. Both teams are 8-4 with some bad losses and good wins. The biggest X-factor for this game is the fact that LSU, while quite efficient, depends too much on interior scoring, and the Volunteers will be their toughest defensive matchup in the paint they’ve seen all season. Tennessee will be disruptive and considering LSU isn’t the best perimeter shooting team, it may be hard for them to come by points. I’ll take the Volunteers in this one. That said, it will be important to see if Tennessee can find an offensive rhythm as they continue to adjust to life sans Lamonte Turner. 

West Virginia at Kansas
3:00 pm central, ESPN+
Line: Kansas -9.5
O/U: 141

The Pick: West Virginia +9.5

This game features two elite defenses facing off in an exciting Big 12 matchup. Kansas has been comfortable at home this season as they defeated Colorado with ease and have cruised by their other opponents but West Virginia is an entirely different beast. WVU is coming off a win against an elite Ohio State team and there is almost nothing a team can do to prepare for their pressure defense. The Mountaineers can rotate their bench in and tire out a semi-shallow Jayhawks team. West Virginia also boasts elite interior defense, which is where Kansas scores most of its points. I expect defense to keep this game close, and for West Virginia to cover.  

Indiana at Maryland
11:00 am central, FOX
Line: Maryland -7.0
O/U: 138.5

The Pick: Maryland -7.0

Now I have to admit, my gut feeling is telling me that this will be more of a “Maryland doesn’t show up” game more than anything else but I do have some pretty convincing numbers to back me up my actual pick. The Hoosiers depend greatly on reaching the charity stripe but Maryland is quite discipline at avoiding fouls and boasts a solid interior defense. Indiana has also struggled of late as their last five games their point differential has been -16, barely escaped from UConn, Nebraska and Notre Dame while losing to Wisconsin and Arkansas. Maryland hasn’t been great recently either to be fair, but with five days of rest after facing Bryant and being able to stay home, I expect Maryland to come out and, hot take I know, do well in the first half, leading them to a victory along with a cover. 

Oregon at Utah
4:00 pm central, Pac-12 Network
Line: Oregon -5.0
O/U: 144.5

The Pick: Nope

I’m sorry, I really thought I could find some standout stat that would lead me in one direction or another but I genuinely have no idea what to expect for this game. Both teams are coming off short rest and while Oregon is definitely the better team, they did not look great against Colorado and they have been needing to travel around as well. Utah is one of the more inconsistent teams in the country, beating Kentucky but losing to Coastal Carolina and Tulane. This may be my only game where I advise to run for the hills and completely avoid and I genuinely am sorry. I just can’t bring myself to pick either side of this or and over/under. 

Season Total: 84-52-2

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