Jim Root's college basketball Thursday best bets: Count on Sparty

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is hugged by guard A.J. Hoggard as fans hold 663 placards after the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Maryland, Sunday, March 6, 2022, in East Lansing, Mich. Izzo surpassed Indiana legend Bobby Knight's record for wins by a coach at a single Big Ten school with his 663rd all-time. Knight remains the leader in conference victories with 353, in 29 seasons, to Izzo's 322.

Marquette vs Creighton Under 142.5 (-110)

Line available with FanDuel at time of publishing.

I’m going against the steam in this afternoon game in the Big East Tournament. The total opened at 141 and has been bet up to 142.5, but I see this game differently than the market. It could be savvy to wait and see if it gets steamed any higher, however. A better number could be had if this steam continues. 

Crucially here, Marquette played much slower in league play than in the non-conference. From the start of the season to December 31, the Golden Eagles ranked 8th in the country in tempo, per Bart Torvik. But from January 1st to now, they ranked 57th. Add in that this is a do-or-die postseason game, I think Marquette will lean on the gas pedal less than this projection assumes. 

From a personnel perspective, Creighton is short-handed without key point guard Ryan Nembhard. He’s vital to the Bluejays’ offense, both from a ball security and a shot creation perspective. Per Hoop Lens, Creighton scored 0.98 points per possession with him on the court this year. Without him, that dropped to 0.98 PPP. 

Without a sure-handed lead guard like Nembhard, the Bluejays will have even more incentive to slow the game down. If they try to run against Marquette, they could get sloppy and feed crucial transition opportunities to the Golden Eagles’ offense. 

Of note: I would also hear an argument for betting Marquette without Nembhard. I prefer the under, but that is a viable option as well. I would take this down to 140, but again – be patient to see if it continues to rise.

Michigan State -3 over Maryland (-110)

Line available with FanDuel at time of publishing.

These two teams just played in East Lansing on Sunday, so they’re plenty familiar with each other. Michigan State got up 18-1 early in that game and eventually won by 10, surviving an admirable comeback attempt by the Terps. 

The line in that game was Michigan State -6. Giving three points for home, this line makes sense. However, I thought the -6 was too low, which turned out to be correct, so I once again think this spread is too low. 

The Spartans have not exactly been lighting the world on fire down the stretch. They have not won a game away from East Lansing since February 1, giving some pause as they play on a neutral site on Thursday. However, there have been some promising signs of late.

Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker has emerged into a key piece, hitting some clutch shots and creating for others. Over his last seven games, he is averaging 11.7 PPG and 4.7 APG. Even better, he has committed only six turnovers total in that span, previously a bugaboo in his game. Playing him alongside fellow point guard AJ Hoggard has become a dangerous lineup option for Tom Izzo. 

Walker’s emergence gives Michigan State more perimeter pop against a Maryland defense that forces teams to score over the top via jump shots. The Spartans also dominated the glass on Sunday, out-rebounding the Terps by nine. That feels sustainable, as Maryland has struggled to board with its Big Ten brethren all season. 

I wouldn’t go crazy with this one, but I would lay up to -4 if Michigan State takes money.

Be sure to check out our full game preview for Maryland Terrapins vs Michigan State Spartans

South Florida vs UCF Under 127 (-110)

Line available with FanDuel at time of publishing.

This game has several angles that scream under to me. First, it’s a rivalry in a postseason environment. That inherently should depress the pace as both teams look to value every single possession. 

To add some context to that, the historical matchup data between these two is heavy to the under as well. Both meetings this season stayed below the total, and if you go back two more seasons, five of the previous six matchups have gone under – all in low total games like this one. 

Another key factor is the severe split of South Florida’s offense versus its defense. According to KenPom.com, the Bulls are an abysmal 350th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Meanwhile, their defense check in at 83rd

The biggest reason for that heinous offense is a total lack of perimeter shooting. For the season, South Florida is shooting 24.9% from beyond the arc, a historically awful number that is easily the lowest in the country. UCF’s defense is predicated on forcing jump shots over the top.

Given the matchup, the rivalry, and the historical trends, I like the under quite a bit. I would bet it down to 124. 

North Carolina Central -2 over Maryland-Eastern Shore (-110)

Line available with bet365 at time of publishing.

I would be remiss if I did not offer you a wager from the extra board. For that, we go to the MEAC Tournament in Norfolk, Virginia. 

The largest elements to this handicap are preseason expectations and an overall higher talent level. North Carolina Central boasts transfers from Providence, Indiana State, Georgia Southern and New Hampshire in the primary rotation. Head coach LeVelle Moton has consistently won with teams full of imports.

These two split the regular season series, with each team winning on the road. Importantly, though, the most sustainable advantage shown in those games is NCCU’s edge on the offensive glass. 

For its part, Maryland-Eastern Shore has vastly exceeded expectations this year. The Hawks were picked dead last in the conference’s preseason poll, and it was not particularly close. After sitting out the entire 2020-21 season due to COVID concerns, it was hard to know what to expect.

A tremendous defense boosted the Hawks to the #6 seed, but their offensive limitations could catch up with them here. I was very high on NCCU in the preseason, and I think we see that bear out in a postseason environment. I would lay up to -3 with the Eagles. 

Make sure you read the rest of our picks for Thursday’s big college basketball matchups!

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