The college basketball season continues to march on as many teams across the country continue to kick off their conference schedule with many other teams starting to end their non-conference slates.
The Thursday Night college hoops slate looks to be the lightest schedule of a loaded week of games, but despite the smaller slate of action, there are still enticing games to jump in on.
Here are the plays I am backing tonight, including a pick from tonight’s Big 12 heavyweight matchup between 5th ranked Kansas and 14th ranked Texas Tech.
#5 Kansas at #14 Texas Tech
Spread: Texas Tech -3.5
Total: O/U 135.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, ESPN
The game of the evening takes us to Lubbock, Texas where 5th ranked Kansas meets 14th ranked Texas Tech in the Big 12 conference opener for both schools. Each team enters tonight’s contest with matching 6-1 records, with the Jayhawks playing the tougher schedule to date.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk has rattled off six straight wins after their opening loss to #1 Gonzaga, headlined by victories over #9 Creighton and a Kentucky team still finding their way, while Texas Tech lost their lone test of the season 64-53 to then #17 Houston and has wins over teams with a combined 9-20 mark to begin the new year.
While each team enters tonight’s game boasting offenses averaging 75 points per contest, the two teams are likely to play at a much slower pace tonight and defense will almost surely be the focal point of each team.
Texas Tech enters tonight’s Big 12 opener with the best defensive unit in the country, and Chris Beard’s crew has landed in the Top 10 for defensive efficiency in each of his four seasons in Lubbock. Their defensive numbers are downright beautiful through the first seven games of the schedule, as the Red Raiders are forcing turnovers on 30% of their opponent’s possessions and are holding teams to just 25% shooting from downtown.
The Jayhawks are not lacking for defense either. So far this season they stake claim to the 6th overall defensive unit in college basketball and have held their opponents to just 29% shooting from three-point range.
This has all the makings of an all-out slugfest tonight and what else would you expect from two of the best teams in college basketball?
Kansas Players to Know
While Kansas lost a lot of talent when it watched Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike leave for the NBA, Bill Self has once again restocked his cupboard of talent this time with highly-touted freshman Jalen Wilson.
Wilson leads the Jayhawks in scoring with 15.3 points per contest and is shooting the three-ball at a 38 percent clip. Junior Ochai Agbaji (14.1 ppg, 46% 3PM) and Christian Braun (11.9 ppg, 44.4% 3PM) give Self even more range from outside, while 6-10 junior David McCormack is Kansas’ best rim protector and fourth Kansas starter currently averaging double digits in scoring at just over 10 points per game.
The most important player this evening, however, is likely to be that of senior Marcus Garrett. While Garrett is not the most dangerous scoring threat on the floor (8.6 ppg), he is Self’s best perimeter defender and a complete pest for the opposition to deal with.
Why will he be so important? Well, that’s a wonderful segue into the next section!
Texas Tech Players to Know
The Red Raiders’ best player of the young season has been that of former Georgetown product Mac McClung (14.1 ppg, 33.3% 3PM). McClung is the catalyst for the entire Texas Tech offensive attack, and how he’s able to handle the relentless defense from Marcus Garrett will tell us a lot of how this matchup figures to go.
If Garrett can lock down McClung in the same manner he’s locked down many other guards across college basketball, the onus to score will fall on the shoulders of sophomore Terrance Shannon (11.8 ppg) and junior Kyler Edwards (11.3 ppg, 38% 3PM).
Edwards is currently the teams’ most consistent shooter from long range, but collectively Texas Tech is a very poor outside shooting team (35% 3PM, 104th overall). And they’ve been poor against teams that they are noticeably far inferior to the talent Beard has on the floor.
The Red Raiders are also a smaller team, with no one in Texas Tech’s regular rotation being taller than 6-8 (Beard has a 7-1 freshman center who has only seen action in garbage time), but Kansas also has a roster comprised mostly of smaller players so their disadvantage in the frontcourt will not be as pronounced in this matchup as it could be further down the road.
Kansas-Texas Tech Prediction & Best Bet
With Baylor looking like the clear favorite to win the Big 12, this matchup will go a long way towards figuring out who the second-best team in the conference is. Both Kansas and Texas Tech should reside in the Top 15 of the polls for the majority of the season, and each team will once again be a very difficult out in March.
Tonight, however, is a total toss-up in terms of who will come out victorious. If I had to pick a winner I would lean with the oddsmakers here and take Texas Tech as home favorites, but I feel like the temperature of this game screams “under” as Texas Tech’s smothering defense should slow down the Jayhawks bevy of outside shooters, while Kansas’ tough perimeter defense will make offense for the Red Raiders hard to come by.
I will be taking the under and looking for windows to bet the game live. If you love defensive basketball, this will be the matchup for you.
Prediction: Texas Tech 68, Kansas 64
Best Bet: UNDER 135.5
#9 Creighton at St. John’s
Spread: Creighton -6.5
Total: O/U 157.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, FS1
If two Big 12 teams shooting sub 40% percent on the evening isn’t your thing, the Big East has a game for you.
9th ranked Creighton (4-2 overall, 0-1 Big East) looks to bounce back from an 89-84 home loss to Marquette when it pays a visit to conference foe St. John’s (5-3 overall, 0-2 Big East) tonight.
The Red Storm are also looking to bounce back from a recent skid, as they have dropped their first two conference games of the season, most recently a 97-94 OT loss to Georgetown this past Sunday.
The scoreboard should light up all evening as St. John’s plays at a blistering pace (14th overall tempo in the country per KenPom) under coach Mike Anderson, while Creighton has the 5th most efficient offense in college basketball, shoots nearly 60 percent from the floor and is averaging 85 points per game.
Neither team figures to play much defense tonight, hence why the total is pushing the 160 range, but that should keep the game entertaining, to say the least.
Creighton Players to Know
As we’ve discussed at length in recent pieces highlighting Creighton, the Bluejays have a treasure trove of three-point shooters that they unleash on their opposition seemingly from start to finish.
Greg McDermott’s Bluejays have five players averaging double-figures in scoring and all five players can shoot the three, each shooting better than 34% from distance. The catalyst of their offensive attack falls on the shoulders of senior guards Denzel Mahoney (16.2 ppg, 42.1% 3PM) and Mitch Ballock (10.7 ppg, 38.6 3PM). Marcus Zegarowski is the teams’ best distributor and is also a sniper from long range (13.8 ppg, 34.1% 3PM), and Christian Bishop is a 6-7 forward that is shooting the three-ball at a 50 percent clip.
It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the team that has a roster of outside shooters is not exactly a team that also believes in relentless defense. The Bluejays enter tonight’s game with the 249th overall three-point defense and are outside of the top 160 in forced turnover percentage and offensive rebounding.
Teams also average about 17 seconds a possession when going against the Creighton defense (265th overall in college basketball), indicating that an open shot is not hard to come by when playing against the boys from Omaha.
St. John’s Players to Know
Mike Anderson is slowly rebuilding the Johnnies after the disastrous Chris Mullin regime, and while they struggle shooting the three (231st overall in NCAA), they have a stable of athletes that can shine in Anderson’s torrid style of basketball.
The main component of the Red Storm attack is sophomore guard and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Julian Champagnie. Champagnie is averaging nearly 21 points a game with eight rebounds chipped in, and he’s been especially dependable from the free-throw line where he’s converted on nearly 87 percent of his free throws.
Junior tandem Vince Cole (12.5 ppg, 35.5% 3PM) and Greg Williams Jr. (12.1 ppg, 36.8% 3PM) give the Johnnies their best role players and threats from outside, while 6-10 junior Isaih Moore (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is Anderson’s most dependable rim protector down low.
As could be expected with Anderson’s frenetic style of basketball, St. John’s is downright miserable on defense when they are unable to force a turnover. While the ’40 minutes of hell’ mantra does have St. John’s forcing turnovers on 25% of their opposition’s possessions (28th overall in NCAA), and the 8th best steal rate in the nation, when they do not force a turnover it typically ends in an easy bucket for the other side.
St. John’s boasts the 250th ranked three-point shooting defense and gives up a basket on 56% of their opponent’s possessions (285th in NCAA). That could post a great number of challenges for a team that happens to be facing one of the best offensive teams in the country.
Creighton – St. John’s Prediction & Best Bet
Everything about this matchup screams a prime bounce-back spot for the Bluejays. Despite the two recent setbacks to Missouri and Marquette, Creighton still very much remains as one of the most dangerous teams in all of college basketball.
St. John’s is gradually improving under Mike Anderson, but this is just a bad matchup for them all around. I am taking Creighton to cover the spread and also sprinkling some on the over as, despite the eye-popping 157.5 number, I think that’s kind of low for these two teams.
Prediction: Creighton 87, St. John’s 78
Best Bet: Creighton -6.5; OVER 157.5