Our top 4 top picks, including Butler vs. Xavier (Wednesday, March 9)
We’re firmly in college basketball conference tournament mode with 15 tournaments taking place across the country today, starting at 11 a.m. ET and running until 10:30 p.m. ET.
With so much action going on, our staff are diverting their attention through a whistleblower window. The first up? Four best bets for the first roster, which kicks off with Syracuse vs. Florida State in the ACC Tournament at 12 p.m. ET.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. We also have choices from Big Sky, Mountain West, and Big East to round out our top picks. Then our staff will return this afternoon for their favorite bets for the early and late night sets.
After all, it’s March. Let’s have a little fun.
Wednesday College Basketball Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups our college basketball team is targeting from today’s roster. Click on the team logos for any of the matches below to jump to a specific bet covered in this article.
ACC: Syracuse vs. Florida State
Oh, Florida State, what could have been.
Ravaged by injuries, the Seminoles saw their season fall apart early. I have to give credit where the credit is due after writing them off after losing to Boston College 71-55, to make it a three-game winning streak against Virginia, Notre Dame and NC State.
This team still has a fight and gets to play some of its best balls – the exact opposite of Syracuse, who enters this one on a four-game losing streak.
Nothing about Florida State really screams “elite” on paper, but nothing really has to do against the Syracuse defense. Normally in a tournament format, the Cuse zone is deadly and can power a run, but not this year. Not when it’s so bad. Not when he ranks 216th nationally.
Losing Malik Osborne for the season is a killer, but Florida State still has enough variety to attack Syracuse with Caleb Mills, Matthew Cleveland and Anthony Polite serving as capable double-digit scorers.
If the Seminoles can limit star Buddy Boeheim – who had a year off from last year – and limit their turnovers, then they should end up in the next round with a date with Duke, who seems more vulnerable than ever.
Take: Florida State +1 (Play at -2)
Big Sky: Idaho State vs. Portland State
By matt cox
Idaho State and Portland State travel to Boise to kick off the Big Sky Championship. Note the early tipping time in this one, folks. Amazingly, this is actually the second game of the day at Idaho Central Arena — that’s right, Idaho and Sacramento State announced at 9:30 a.m. local time (Under, anyone?) .
The angle of this special morning is largely injury-related. Based on the stagnation of the front-row movement in this game, few are aware of what could be two gargantuan omissions for the Portland State roster.
Burgeoning transfer guard Damion Squire did not play in the Vikings’ regular season finale loss to Eastern Washington due to an injury sustained against Idaho the previous game. The Vikings perimeter rotation took another hit when Michael Carter III sprained his ankle in the first half in that same EWU game.
That could potentially leave PSU without two of its top three guards for a critical win-or-go home tilt with the Bengals. Granted, it’s entirely possible for the two to dress up, but their prognosis seems ominous.
Squire and Carter are essential in defensive coverage for the Vikings, as they are the base of the pressure all over Portland State’s court. This havoc bothered the ISU last meeting when Portland State snuck past the Bengals in overtime.
Without everyone on deck, the Vikings could be challenged to exert the full force of their pressure, allowing Idaho State to settle into an offensive rhythm.
Take: Idaho State +4.5 (Play to +4)
Mountain West: Air Force vs. Utah State
The Air Force finished the regular season with just four league wins, but the Falcons were competitive in many games.
Wyoming needed a buzzer-beater to beat them, then won by just eight in the second meeting. The Air Force was in single digits in games with Colorado State, Boise State and Nevada as well. He also shared two meetings with Utah State during the regular season.
The Falcons have one of the slowest offenses in the entire country, and when they can avoid turnovers, they’ve shown signs of skill on offense this season.
Air Force has major size issues and doesn’t rebound well at all, but Utah State is pretty poor at grabbing offensive rebounds and doesn’t really apply much ball pressure to flip opponents in the half court.
The Falcons execute a morphing zone defense and throw lots of different looks at opposing offenses to get them out of rhythm. They also defend the perimeter quite well, a major key against Ryan Odom’s wide-spaced Aggies offense who likes to shoot from the perimeter.
While Utah State could get away with that, there won’t be many possessions for the Aggies to get a margin. If it’s a comfortable lead late in the game, you might see Utah State slow down knowing they’ll be playing the next day.
I’ll take the Falcons at +14 or better.
Take: Air Force +14.5 (Play up to +14)
Big East: Butler vs. Xavier
Butler +5.5 ML Butler +200
Motivation is one of the hardest things to gauge in conference tournaments. In theory, each team playing in a conference tournament has a path to cut the nets and play in the NCAA tournament. In practice, some teams look verified, while others are playing their best basketball of the season.
This is especially tricky when considering teams with a chance of winning a general bid for the NCAA Tournament. Some take the challenge head-on. Others shrink from the moment.
This opening round game features a Xavier team that is squarely on the bubble.
Xavier has been in a tailspin lately, losing seven of his last nine to close out the regular season. The Musketeers will struggle to figure things out before their post-season dreams are shattered.
They’ll face a Butler team that has nothing to play for or nothing to lose, from the Bulldogs’ perspective. Butler lost five straight and 8 of 10 to end the season, but the Bulldogs were competitive. Butler took Providence to overtime and sweated Seton Hall a win at Newark.
I trust LaVall Jordan to get his guys ready for this game more than I trust Travis Steele to pick up the pieces of Xavier’s tattered season on the fly.
I like Butler to cover, but I’m also going to try my luck on the moneyline.