Tomorrow, we will officially have our 68-team NCAA Tournament bracket. But before Selection Sunday kicks off, we have championship Saturday. Fifteen teams will cut down the nets, capture their conference crowns and lock up an auto-bid to go dancing.
For this piece, though, our staff will offer up three best bets for the non-title games in college basketball on Saturday. That means we’re touching on the Big Ten, SEC, Ivy League, AAC and Atlantic 10 below.
Saturday’s Conference Tournament Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from today’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
Indiana vs. Iowa (Big Ten Semifinal)
Since the 12-minute mark in the second half of their game against Michigan, the Hoosiers have been the best team in the country.
I’m ready to back them one more time.
The Hawkeyes’ offense has been a machine. Iowa scored 112 points against Northwestern – a Big Ten tournament record – and 84 points against Rutgers. Iowa scored above 1.5 PPP in the former matchup and above 1.3 PPP in the latter.
However, the Indiana defense is serious. Indiana held both Michigan and Illinois to under 1.00 PPP. Those two teams finished fourth and fifth in the conference in defensive efficiency.
Moreover, I think Indiana has some solid matchup advantages on the defensive end. Iowa was first in the Big Ten in off-screen frequency and third in finishing at the rim frequency, per ShotQuality. Well, Indiana paced the conference in SQ PPP allowed at the rim and was second in off-screen SQ PPP allowed.
On the offensive end, Trayce Jackson-Davis should have no problem scoring against Keegan Murray. Murray is the best offensive player in the conference, but he was below average in post-up PPP allowed (.897, 40th percentile), per Synergy.
Moreover, I think the Iowa stock is very high right now. In the early market, Iowa is pulling over 80% of the tickets while laying a whopping six points. But ShotQuality projected the last meeting between these two as just a two-point Iowa win, and Indiana is pulling over 65% of the early handle.
I don’t know who wins this game, but it’s going to be a tight-knit affair. Iowa is slightly overvalued in the markets either way.
I’ll happily take the points with the Hoosiers on Saturday.
Pick: Indiana +6.5 (Play to +5)
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (SEC Semifinal)
Every year, there are a couple of teams outside the immediate bubble picture that make a charge in the conference tournament to get right in the mix. After yesterday’s upset of top-seeded Auburn, Texas A&M has joined that group.
The Aggies are hovering right around the cut-line, and another upset victory over Arkansas would go a long way in getting Buzz Williams’ team into the dance.
I know it will be the third game in as many days for A&M, but I think there’s once again value on Texas A&M as an underdog. The Aggies are getting six here, and I have zero reason to believe they won’t be right in this game into the final minutes.
These two groups split the regular-season series, and even in the loss in Fayetteville, A&M took the Razorbacks to overtime.
Keeping Jaylin Williams off of the offensive glass will be paramount for the Aggies, and if they can do that, they will cover this number and could very well be on their way to the SEC title game on Sunday afternoon.
Pick: Texas A&M +6
Penn vs. Yale (Ivy League Semifinal)
In my preview of this tournament, I endorsed betting on Yale to cut down the nets at the end of Ivy Madness Sunday afternoon, so I have to stay consistent and take the Bulldogs here, as well.
Yale has been playing very well down the stretch, winning eight of its last 10, including a nine-point win over this Penn team.
Penn stole the first meeting between these teams, but that was in large part due to a terrible shooting night from Yale. The Bulldogs only scored 23 first-half points and shot 3-of-19 from long range. Azar Swain and Jalen Gabbidon – Yale’s two senior leaders – combined to shoot 1-of-11 from deep that day at the Palestra.
The Penn defense simply isn’t good enough to repeat that performance. Unless Penn leading scorer Jordan Dingle pulls a rabbit out of his hat, the Penn offense likely doesn’t have enough punch to make up for the Quakers’ defensive limitations.
Yale is the most experienced and most talented team. It should take care of business and advance to the title game on Sunday.
Yale should meet Princeton with an NCAA bid on the line, but the Tigers will face a Cornell team that has the tempo and the shooting to throw a wrench in those plans. I’ll pass on the riskiness of the first matchup in favor of backing the Bulldogs in the late afternoon tilt.
Tulane vs. Houston (AAC Semifinal)
Houston was sloppy against Cincinnati in its first-round AAC Tournament game and went into halftime facing a five-point deficit. But Kelvin Sampson’s squad showed what it’s capable of in the second half, outscoring the Bearcats, 42-24, in the final 20 minutes.
The Cougars defense held Cincinnati to 29% from the field and 22% on its 32 attempts from beyond the arc. After the slow start in their first game, I expect them to come out of the gates hot against Tulane.
The Green Wave survived Temple in their opening-round game. But the Owls lost their leading scorer, Damian Dunn, just after halftime. Temple was lost after that, making just 28% of its 67 field goal attempts while accumulating 14 turnovers. Yet, Tulane couldn’t put it away.
Tulane ranks outside the top 300 in both offensive and defensive rebounds. Now, it matches up with a Houston offense that snatches offensive boards at the fourth-highest rate in the country.
Houston defeated Tulane by double-digits in both matchups this season while holding the Green Wave to 37% from the field. The Cougars will come out angry after their subpar performance yesterday and are poised for a blowout victory.
Pick: Houston -13.5 (Play to -14)
Richmond vs. Dayton (A-10 Semifinal)
By Alex Hinton
Richmond avoided losing three straight to rival VCU last night, while Dayton survived a scare from Massachusetts.
Last week, Dayton went into Richmond and pulled out a two-point win. With a spot in the A-10 Conference finals on the line, I like the Flyers again.
Dayton is the better shooting team in this matchup, ranking much higher in effective field goal percentage, 2-point field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. Richmond’s defense ranks 182nd or lower in all of these categories.
Richmond’s defense sits 120th in adjusted defensive efficiency overall, while Dayton’s defense comes in at 45th in the category.
The Flyers will also have an advantage on the glass at both ends of the floor, particularly on defense. Richmond ranks 319th in offensive rebounding percentage; Dayton is 26th in defensive rebounding percentage.
Dayton will have the advantage in this matchup on both ends of the floor. I’m backing the Flyers as short favorites here.