This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 are once again featured front and center on Thursday's college hoops slate. Steve Peralta highlights a few notable matchups and shares his best bets of the day.
Michigan at Northwestern
Michigan has lost five of its last seven games and now sees its season slipping away. Following its 30-point victory over Pittsburgh way back on November 16, Michigan was 3-0 and ranked No. 22 in KenPom's overall efficiency standings. The Wolverines got walloped by Arizona State in the next game and have steadily been sinking in KenPom's efficiency standings ever since, now ranked all the way down at No. 67. Michigan is arguably playing its worst basketball of the season, failing to cover the spread in six of its last seven games. Additionally, the Wolverines have struggled substantially on the road, losing four of five road conference games, with every loss by six or more points.
Northwestern, meanwhile, is having its best season in several years and has a realistic chance at finishing the season with a winning conference record. Northwestern reached this point mostly thanks to a stout defense, ranking 26th in KenPom's defensive efficiency ratings, but its real key to recent success has been its scoring ability. The Wildcats have improved quite a bit on offense since the conference season started, recording the third-highest offensive efficiency rating in the Big Ten, in addition to posting the highest free-throw attempt rate and second-best turnover rate.
Looking at the bottom line, these two teams have been trending in opposite directions throughout the entire season. Michigan has won just a single true road game, winning at Minnesota back on December 8, easily the worst team in the Big Ten this season. Northwestern, on the other hand, has already proven itself several times this season, winning games at Michigan State and at Indiana, for example. Michigan still has plenty of talent to keep the game close for a bit, but ultimately I'm betting the better team will rise to the top when it's all said and done. I'm taking the Wildcats in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Northwestern -3.5
Stanford at Utah
After starting the conference season at 0-7, Stanford finally has signs of life, riding a four-game winning streak heading into Thursday's game. The win streak looks nice on paper, but a closer look reveals that Stanford still has a lot to prove. During this recent four-game span, Stanford played all four games at home and played three of its easiest matchups of the season: Oregon State, Chicago State and California. In the middle of those games, Stanford also defeated Oregon, a decent win, but also its first and only quality victory of the season. Prior to that game, Stanford had lost all 10 of its opportunities at securing a quality win, per KenPom. Stanford's biggest issue has been its defense. During conference play, the Cardinal have the second-worst defense efficiency in the Pac-12, and they also have the second-worst effective field goal percentage allowed and two-point field goal percentage allowed.
Utah, in contrast, finds itself at the other end of the conference standings, tied with UCLA and Arizona for the most wins in the Pac-12. This might be surprising if you only saw the Pac-12 preseason media poll, where Utah was picked to finish 10th in the conference, but in hindsight, Utah's current standing makes sense after it crushed Arizona, 81-66, back on December 1. Utah has played especially tough at home, going 4-1 against league competition. Furthermore, in its four home wins against Pac-12 teams, Utah defeated each opponent by double-digits, averaging an 18-point victory in those four games. Utah's best trait is its suffocating defense, ranked No. 22 in KenPom's efficiency standings. This is key because Stanford can't rely on its defense, and so if it can't score then it doesn't stand much of a chance.
Utah already handled Stanford without too much trouble when these two teams first played in Palo Alto on New Year's Eve, and there's not much reason to think the outcome will be different in the rematch in Salt Lake City. I'm taking the home team.
College Basketball Best Bet: Utah -6.5
Washington at UCLA
Washington hasn't been very efficient in the scoring department, but thanks to its quick style of play, it's still averaging 67 points through five road conference games. On the other end of the court, Washington allowed the same five road opponents to score an average of 73 points per game, not exactly great, but Washington is playing at the second-fastest tempo in the Pac-12 since the conference season started, so the games are naturally higher-scoring. I should also note, even at home, Washington has played inconsistently and poorly on defense on many occasions against conference competition. While playing at home, the Huskies allowed 80 points to USC, 78 points to California and 95 points to Arizona.
Unlike Washington, which is playing below average on both ends of the court (among Pac-12 teams), UCLA is playing at the highest level. The Bruins have had the best defensive efficiency rating and the third-best offensive rating in the Pac-12 since the conference season started. When looking at its recent box scores, one might notice UCLA's point totals are on the lower side, although it's important to note that the Bruins have unequivocally played its toughest stretch of defensive opponents. Thursday's matchup against Washington marks UCLA's easiest defensive opponent since Jan. 1, the last time UCLA played Washington. Every other opponent between now and then ranks much higher than Washington in KenPom's defensive efficiency standings. Considering the Bruins finally have a softer defensive opponent in front of them, they will almost surely take advantage.
The first time these two teams played back on New Year's Day, Washington only put up 49 points, but it's worth noting that Washington somehow made just eight percent of its shots from behind the arc, going 2-for-25. Had Washington shot closer to its season average on three-point attempts, it would've made about six more, pushing the game total to 141 points. Shooting percentages aside, Washington loves to push the pace, and UCLA has shown its capable of scoring extremely large amounts of points throughout the season. The spread is a bit high for my liking, one way or the other, but ultimately I'm trusting UCLA's offense will put up enough points to help us hit the over.
College Basketball Best Bet: Over 136
Thursday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Thursday:
- Northwestern -3.5
- Utah -6.5
- Washington / UCLA - Over 136
For up-to-date information on the latest college basketball odds and props from multiple sportsbooks, check out the College Basketball odds page on RotoWire.
If you're in Ohio where legal betting just launched, check out Ohio sports betting promos. With Massachusetts set to launch March 14, residents can pre-register now for many Massachusetts sports betting promos as well.