College Basketball Betting: Four Teams Peaking at Right Time
The postseason is on the horizon – indeed, the Horizon League itself begins tournament play this Thursday! That means teams want to be playing their best ball of the year, so I decided to take a look at four Big Dance-bound squads that appear to be peaking at the right time.
Flying in the face of the “Fran’s February Fade” narrative, the Hawkeyes have surged over the past two weeks, boosting their Adjusted Efficiency Margin by 3.71 points over that span, per KenPom.com – the most of any power conference program. Iowa lost four of five starting in late January, but Fran’s fellas now find themselves on a four-game winning streak, and they finally got a vintage CJ Fredrick performance against Penn State on Sunday.
Fredrick, who played just 25 combined minutes in that “lost four of five” stretch, tallied 18 points against the Nittany Lions, and perhaps more impressively, he maintained his insane turnover-free run, as he has yet to cough the ball up even once in 300 Big Ten minutes. That’s right, he’s now at an incredible 27-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in league play, and coupled with his 50% clip from downtown, he’s a model of efficiency for an offense that is itself a model of efficiency.
When Fredrick plays, Iowa elevates from “terrific” to “laughably elite” on the offensive end. Per Hoop Lens, the Hawkeyes clock in at 1.20 points per possession; that number is a comparably pedestrian 1.12 PPP when he’s on the bench.
The Fightin’ Fredettes have vaulted into solid NCAA Tournament status of late, filling in the peripherals of their resume via a couple of Q2 wins at Pacific and at Pepperdine. BYU has also blown out Portland and Loyola Marymount plus kept the final Gonzaga margin to 11, and that’s helped the Cougars vault from 49th in KenPom at the start of February into the top 20 today.
At various times this year, Coach Mark Pope has given legitimate minutes to 12 different guys, so it makes sense that it took a while for the team to mesh. Recently, he’s all but removed lumbering forward Kolby Lee from the rotation, instead starting two more versatile options in Gideon George and Caleb Lohner in each of the last four games. That has coincided with BYU’s surge, and the Cougars appear to be firing on all cylinders as the postseason creeps closer.
Considering BYU’s combination of immense size (7th nationally in effective height) and potent perimeter shooting (36.1% for the year, 66th nationally), the Cougars could be a headache come tournament time.
When forward Darius Days went down with a knee injury during the second half of the Tigers’ loss to Texas Tech at the end of January, it felt like LSU was in deep trouble. A 16-point loss at Alabama did nothing to quell those concerns, especially with a bevy of difficult games on the schedule in February.
Instead, Days shockingly missed just one game, returning with a renewed aggression on the offensive end. In the five games before his injury, Days posted the following point totals: 11, 4, 4, 11, an 11. Head coach Will Wade was struggling to get him involved, and when he did get shots, Days missed them. The knee injury seemed to fix his stroke, though, as he’s scored 14+ in the three games since returning, shooting 60% from the field and 53% from beyond the arc.
When the Tigers get an efficient and assertive Days, they’re almost impossible to stop. He makes it impossible to send additional defenders at the “big three” of Cam Thomas, Trendon Watford, and Javonte Smart, twisting opponents into pretzels as they are forced to pick their poison. With all four weapons trending up as March approaches, the Tigers are a scary bunch – even with yet another sieve-like defense.
The Terps made a name for themselves early in Big Ten play by pulling off several seismic road upsets. Few challengers ever win at Wisconsin or Illinois or Minnesota, but the Terrapins did all of that in one season, easily filling in the “Q1 wins” portion of their resume.
But a brutal schedule left Maryland with an unsightly 10-10 overall record as we hit Valentine’s Day, casting doubt as to whether the Terps would even hear their names on Selection Sunday. An impressive four-game winning streak has silenced those whispers, capped by Sunday’s triumph at Rutgers, adding yet another needle-moving road performance to the Maryland CV.
The surge has come largely as a result of a highly switchable defensive lineup. Mark Turgeon’s top six players stand between 6-5 and 6-8, and that versatility disrupts opponents’ offensive flow as they try to screen and attack mismatches. The Terps are also the best defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten during conference play, a somewhat stunning accomplishment given their lack of a true big while facing off against monstrous frontcourts night after night.
Maryland still has some offensive limitations, but an interchangeable lineup, a staunch defensive identity, and a clear ability to perform well away from College Park could have foes fearing the Turtle over the next few weeks.
Follow BettorIQ contributor Jim Root @2ndChancePoints.