Matt Cox’s College Basketball Betting Picks for 12-16
So much for the lull of Finals Week…
In the wake of last night’s 35-game schedule, another hefty slate awaits us this evening. There’s no shortage of Hump Day hoops to dissect, but we homed in on a tasty twofer – one side and one total – for your consideration:
Mercer +4 (#667) at Georgia State
This is a classic internal tug of war for a handicapper: trust the number or trust the spot? The former shows value for Mercer, a surging So-Con squad who’s racked up impressive wins against Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and, tonight’s opponent, Georgia State. That’s right, the Atlanta Panthers seek vengeance after the Bears trounced them by 17 on November 30th. In that regard, the spot edge seems to lie with the Panthers, a classic revenge situation with the prior outcome fresh in their minds.
However, holes exist in the spot-over-price argument in this specific situation. Georgia State has been off for 11 days, a dynamic that might usually swing the pendulum in the Panthers’ favor. But, this is no ordinary season. At this juncture, any game experience is worth its weight in gold and any long layoff is a dangerous sieve through which offseason rust can manifest. Georgia State’s last tilt was nearly two weeks ago on December 4th – though, it was an impressive outing in which the Panthers controlled Charlotte wire-to-wire (who just beat Davidson by double digits last night). Still, the Panthers have been sitting idle for two weeks feeling good about themselves, while Mercer was able to hit the hardwood twice during that span (Sunday, most recently). Those additional 80 minutes of basketball are precious in what feels like a trial-and-error period of the young season.
Bear in mind the line closed Mercer +3 in the initial meeting between these two. Mercer played host in the first leg but will now take the easy 90-minute drive up to Atlanta from Macon. If we assume a conservative home court value estimate of 1.5-2 points (I might contend it’s lower in this particular case), we would expect tonight’s line to be Mercer +6 if both teams had played to their preseason expectations. However, Mercer is shattering those expectations and tonight’s opening line (+5) shows the oddsmakers have accounted for part of the Bears’ strong start. However, I’d contend the books are still behind the eight ball in capturing Mercer’s true value. Mercer is playing like the better team right now, plain and simple, and hold a substantial edge in the interior with GSU’s frontline badly banged.
TCU at Oklahoma State UNDER 136 (#696)
On the surface, 134 doesn’t seem like a lot of points for a game featuring a run-and-shoot offense in Oklahoma State, led by generational talent Cade Cunningham. The Pokes are playing at the 62nd fastest pace in the country right now, per KenPom.com and boast the nation’s 37th shortest offensive possession length.
However, we are still in the fetal stages of the season. I’ll concede Oklahoma State is playing relatively faster than prior years under Mike Boynton, likely influenced by ‘the Cade effect’. But tonight’s showdown with TCU is the Big-12 conference opener, which may act as a road bump to these speed-obsessed Pokes.
There’s also an opponent-specific edge: the Horned Frogs’ painfully slow pace. After waving goodbye to two stellar point guards at the end of 2019 campaign, TCU played at snail’s pace last season. Jamie Dixon has stuck to that methodical pace so far this year, only once surpassing 67 possessions in TCU’s first seven games. Look no further than the first game of the year against Houston Baptist, one of the most frenetic teams in America, when TCU suffocated the tempo to a slow-motion, 64-possession affair. After catching fire from downtown against Texas A&M on Saturday, bet on TCU’s shooters hitting iron instead of net tonight in what should be a conference opening crawl with the Pokes.