College basketball schedule today has 129 games
By comparison, this is a little light for a college basketball Saturday with 129 games, but that’s what we’ve got as we look ahead to the start of conference tournaments this week. It will be blasphemous to some, but I prefer conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. There is a lot of basketball all day, every day, and we have data points to refer to instead of teams randomly tossed together into a bracket.
But, before we get to that point, let’s examine this big Saturday slate and hopefully find some winners. (Tracking sheet)
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Here are some thoughts on the February 25 card (odds from DraftKings):
Ball State has numerous advantages over Eastern Michigan in this MAC West matchup on Saturday. The Cardinals only won 91-90 in overtime in the first meeting, but there are a lot of things in the box score of that game that I don’t expect to happen again to benefit the Eagles in the rematch.
First, EMU went 15-of-31 on mid-range jumpers in that first meeting. Second, EMU shot 10-of-20 from 3. This is a good mid-range jumper team, but I’m always going to look to pick against teams that rely on that kind of shot going in. They are not a good 3-point shooting team, firing away at just 31.4% for the season. Since going 10-of-20 in that game against Ball State, the Eagles are just 23-of-93 over their last five games.
In losses to Toledo, Akron and Kent State, the Eagles had .920, .792 and .752 points per possession. They did well against Western Michigan last time out, but that’s a worse team than Eastern Michigan. Ball State is clearly one of the better teams in the MAC.
Ball State was 20-of-28 at the rim in that first meeting. Also, Eastern Michigan pushes opponents to take a 3 on 42.5% of shots and the Cardinals are a top-25 team by 3P%. Ball State also gets to the rim at a good rate with a shot share of 38.9%. Eastern Michigan ranks in the bottom 10 in FG% on Close Twos per Bart Torvik.
Eastern Michigan also likes to push the pace, which should give Ball State the chance to win comfortably by margin here.
Pick: Ball State -7.5
Duke has home revenge on the brain after losing to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg back on Jan. 23. They may get it, but this Hokies team should be able to keep this one close in Durham. Virginia Tech has been quite good offensively in ACC play except for two games against Clemson. Since losing 51-50 to Clemson back on Jan. 21, Virginia Tech has scored at least 1.012 points per possession in all but one game and at least 1.113 PPP in all but two games.
Virginia Tech converts at a 62.1% rate at the rim and ranks above the national average in 3P% at 35.4%. The Hokies mostly ignore mid-range jumpers, but do make them at a high rate when they do take them. I also like that the Hokies take excellent care of the basketball with a TO% of just 15% on offense. They’re not giving away any extra possessions and have a very efficient offense.
Duke’s offense is a lot less efficient. While Virginia Tech ranks in the top 25 in 2P%, Duke is 176th in the nation in 2P%. They’re also outside the top 200 in 3P%. I don’t view them as an efficient offense and that makes it tougher to blow teams out, especially teams that are able to take good shots on offense.
Duke has had some blowout wins in league play over the dregs of the league, but Virginia Tech is a very formidable foe. The 13-of-26 we saw from Duke against Syracuse two games ago was a huge outlier and is one of two games with double-digit made 3s. Because of VA Tech’s good shot selection and Duke’s pedestrian shooting numbers, I think the Hokies can keep this one close.
Pick: Virginia Tech +7
Not enough is being said about Eastern Washington, who is 16-0 in Big Sky Conference play heading into this game against Idaho State. The Eagles might have been in a lookahead spot if they didn’t have a perfect record to keep, as they host Montana State in a big home tilt on Monday.
Even if they are peeking ahead a tad, this is a big statistical mismatch. The Eagles won the first meeting by 13 back on Jan. 26. EWU has a 63.8% FG% on Close Twos, which is bad news for an Idaho State team that ranks in the bottom 40 with a FG% against of 63.4% on those types of shots. The Bengals are also 320th in shot share against on Close Twos, so Eastern Washington should get inside a lot for those high-percentage shot attempts.
One thing that has made the Eagles really successful is that they force the opposition into a lot of 3s and defend them well. Eastern Washington’s 3P Rate against is 43.8% and opponents are only making 32.2% of those shots. Idaho State is below the national average at 33.1% from 3. They also don’t get to the rim with a shot share on Close Twos of 31.3%, which is 322nd in the nation.
Eastern Washington should get more high-percentage shot attempts here and I wouldn’t expect much from the Idaho State offense. The Eagles have scored at least 1.01 points per possession in every conference game, including 1.208 in the first game against Idaho State. I expect them to handle their affairs here.
Pick: Eastern Washington -5
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