Jim Root's college basketball Saturday best bets: Count on Iowa State
Seton Hall +1 over Creighton (-110)
Seton Hall has ripped off four straight wins, but it must be acknowledged that the schedule has been softer than a freshly fluffed set of pillows. The Pirates have beaten DePaul, Butler, and Georgetown all at home, and they won at Xavier.
I think the Pirates can get a win in Omaha, though, especially with Creighton down point guard Ryan Nembhard. The Bluejays’ star freshman is out for the season after fracturing his wrist, and the on/off numbers without him are alarming.
Per Hoop-Explorer.com, Creighton is +13.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (adjusted for competition). Without him, that drops to +2.6 per 100. Even without Nembhard, Creighton is certainly no slouch – look no further than beating UConn at home on Wednesday. I think his absence catches up to the Bluejays in his second full game out, though.
I do not expect this line to flip, but I would take Seton Hall at -1 if it does.
VCU +2 over St. Louis (-110)
Sometimes, you just need to ride the hot hand. Right now, that means VCU. The Rams have won eight straight games and 11 of their last 12. Frequently, they are not just winning – they are winning big. In that 12-game stretch, they are 8-4 against the spread, helping them surge toward a possible at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, all they have to cover this one is win outright.
That possible big dance invitation is just one of the huge motivational angles for the Rams. They are also one game back of Davidson for the Atlantic 10 title, and those Wildcats could drop an incredibly difficult road game at Dayton. VCU has everything to play for here.
The matchup history is also overwhelmingly tilted towards VCU. The Rams have beaten Saint Louis in nine of their last 10 meetings, and Mike Rhoades’ deep, athletic teams frequently frustrate the Billikens.
Those attributes should once again bother a SLU team that can have some turnover issues. VCU ranks 3rd in the entire country in forced TO rate, and point guard Ace Baldwin’s matchup with Yuri Collins specifically could be a boon for the Rams.
I love this VCU team and continue to think the Rams are undervalued in the market. Since Ace Baldwin came back from injury on December 8th, they are 14-6 against the number – this is a recurring trend. I would bet them all the way to -1 here, as I fully expect the Rams to win outright.
Iowa State +12 over Baylor (-110)
This handicap is all about the “buy low, sell high” angle.
Iowa State could not have played worse last time out, tallying a pathetic 36 points in a home loss to Oklahoma State. The Cyclones shot a putrid 28.3% from the field, and they turned it over on 25% of their possessions. It’s difficult to play that bad offensively for an entire game.
Meanwhile, Baylor has been on a mini-tear despite being short-handed. The Bears beat Kansas at home and then won at Texas, two monster efforts to climb back to the top of the conference standings. In the first matchup, Iowa State hung around and nearly won despite shooting 1-for-14 from deep. Baylor also had LJ Cryer (questionable) and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (out for the season) for that game.
Granted, Baylor has plenty to play for: the Bears clinch at least a share of the Big 12 title with a victory. Still, I do not think the Bears – who have lost at home twice in league play – run away and hide against a feisty underdog with something to prove.
And Iowa State is just that: the Cyclones have been double-digit underdogs twice this season. In those games, they won outright against Memphis and then lost by just one at Kansas. When dialed in, this defense is extremely difficult to blow out.
I would take this down to +11, though perhaps a half-unit is worthwhile at +10, if it comes to that.
Jacksonville +6.5 over Jacksonville State
No, this is not a cross-town rivalry as the school names seem to indicate. The visiting Dolphins hail from Jacksonville, Florida, while the host Gamecocks are in Jacksonville, Alabama.
Still, this should be a hotly contested – and extremely slow – game. The first meeting, also at Jacksonville State, was exactly that. Only 57 possessions, it was a war of attrition that ended with the Gamecocks winning by six, 64-58. The Dolphins held a 49-48 lead with 5:30 lead before surrendering an 11-0 run down the stretch. Still, they covered, and a six-point loss would be acceptable here.
I believe it will be closer than that, though, with the Dolphins having every chance to win outright. First-year coach Jordan Mincy has proven to be a terrific game-planner, particularly on the defensive end, and he should have his team prepared for JSU’s four-out, spread attack.
From a matchup sense, the risk is how many threes the Dolphins allow (344th in defensive 3PA rate). Jacksonville State has a lethal collection of gunners, ranking 5th in the entire country in 3P%. Mincy is too smart to let the Gamecocks win via their strength, though. Expect the Dolphins to extend their defense quite a bit more than normal.
One month ago, Jacksonville closed +7.5 in this exact matchup. I would have loved to get +7 again, but I still think this one has value down to +6.