Happy Monday! March has started off with a bang and we are prime for a hell of an ending. Before the big boys take the court later in the week, we have some mid-major tournaments that have just as much value. We have a small slate today but I have extracted the five best investable opportunities to pad your bankroll going into the latter of the week. Go here for the latest March Madness odds.
Youngstown St vs. Northern Kentucky
Horizon League Semifinal – 7:00 pm ESPNU & ESPN+
Regular Season Result: Dec. 1 NKY 77-73, Feb. 4 YOUNG 74-56
Spread: Youngstown State -3
Total: O/U 137
Both teams enjoyed a win and cover on their home floor in the two regular-season meetings. In the most recent meeting, Youngstown was dominant! Winning by 18 and doing whatever they wanted inside. After a poor offensive performance in round one, Youngstown is poised to explode tonight. Here’s why.
Our postseason journey continues tonight as we take on the Norse in the Horizon League Championship Semifinals!
— YSU Men’s Basketball (@YSUMensHoops) March 6, 2023
Youngstown is elite offensively, ranking inside the top 50 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Their offense struggled against Detroit early but found its groove in the second half. Northern Kentucky plays at a slow pace (357th in tempo) and wants to grind the game out. It’s going to be important for Youngstown to dictate the pace.
Ball security while playing at a good pace is extremely important here. Northern Kentucky does a good job of turning teams over, ranking top 15 in turnover percentage defense. Without turnovers leading to easy baskets, the Norse offense will rely heavily on the three. The penguins defended the three (31%) well in both matchups.
The major key as to why I like the Penguins here is the offensive advantage they have. They are top 35 in three-point percentage which is the big weakness of Northern Kentucky’s defense. With their first-day struggles and the nation’s 326th-ranked three-point defense on the court, this sets up perfectly for the Penguins.
The Norse are 2-5 against the spread as an underdog and do not match up well with this offense. Despite not covering their last three games, the Penguins are 16-13 against the spread as a favorite. Keeping the turnovers down and defending the three are the paths to victory for the Penguins.
When laying this sort of a number, I always look at free throw shooting. Down the stretch, if it’s close, the Penguins rank top 20 in free throw shooting. This helps with the potential late free throws needed to ice the game. Look for a comfortable win as the Penguins advance to the Horizon championship on Tuesday.
Bet: Youngstown St -3
Cleveland State vs Milwaukee
Horizon League Semi Final – 9:30 pm ESPN2 & ESPN+
Regular Season Result: Dec. 1 MIL 68-64, Feb. 25 MIL 81-72
Spread: Cleveland State -3
Total: O/U 147.5
Cleveland State was swept in the regular season by Milwaukee but is the third time a charm? I think so. Milwaukee used strong second halves to come from behind in both games. They trailed by five in the most recent game and scored fifty in the second half. One would think that the Vikings have made necessary adjustments to actually sustain their good first halves.
The Vikings don’t shoot the ball well from deep (323rd three-point percentage) but make up for it with their defense. They rank top 60 in turnover percentage defense and in the last meeting forced Milwaukee into 23 turnovers. This is something that will need to be sustained in order to cover this short number. Milwaukee plays with extreme pace (17th average offensive possession length) and ranks 347th in turnover percentage offense.
Last meeting, Milwaukee lived at the foul line. 35% of their points came at the line. It is important that the Vikings defend without fouling if they want to cover this short number. Along with their stellar defense, the Vikings will be able to limit what Milwaukee does best offensively which is shooting the three. The Vikings are top 70 in three-point defense and are in line for some positive shooting regression from their offense.
The Vikings’ offense has to shoot better from deep. They are a combined 7/38 (19%) from three in both matchups and although they struggle from deep, even at their average (30%) the outcome will be different with just a few more makes. Defense to easy baskets along with positive shooting regression looming is why Cleveland State will cover and advance.
Bet: Cleveland State-3
BYU vs. Saint Marys
West Coast Conference Quarterfinal – 9:00 pm ESPN
Regular Season Result: Jan. 28th SMC 57-56, Feb. 18 SMC 71-65
Spread: Saint Marys -6.5
Total: O/U 131.5
If there was one team that could stand in the way of the rematch between Gonzaga and Saint Marys, it is BYU. They always seem to play Saint Marys tough and that continued this year as they covered both meetings and were competitive throughout. BYU has covered five straight in this series and won two outright. Getting over two possessions is something that I just can’t pass up.
up next: semifinals👊 pic.twitter.com/DNvCzsrGOl
— BYU Men’s Basketball (@BYUMBB) March 5, 2023
From a matchup perspective, both teams are elite defensively. Familiarity will play a major factor also with both teams knowing one another’s tendencies on offense. BYU wants to run while the Gaels want to grind you out in the half-court which is why they are outside the top 350 in adjusted tempo. In both meetings, each team had its say in the pace. In the first meeting, it was more BYU while the second favored the Gaels.
Although the Gaels won both games, BYU had a better chance at the upset in the 57-56 loss versus the 71-65 loss. The Cougars have covered four straight while the Gaels have failed to cover in 3 of their last five. If BYU can take care of the ball (312th TO percentage offense) and play at their pace, I like them not only to cover but win outright. Gaels rank 271st in free throw percentage which keeps the backdoor open for us down the stretch.
Bet: BYU +7
Sacramento St vs. Weber St
Big Sky Quarterfinal – 10:00 pm ESPN+
Regular Season Result: Jan. 21 Weber St 50-48, Feb. 16 Weber St 52-49
Spread: Weber St -2
Total: O/U 127
If you like good offensive free-flowing basketball, this is not the game for you. Both of these teams do not do a lot of running and rely on their half-court offense. Sacramento State is 354th in adjusted tempo while Weber State is a tad faster at 284th. In both meetings, the total went under by a wide margin. Going 18/50 from the field (Sac St) and 2/12 from three (Weber St) will do it every time.
Weber St has the better of the two defenses but stylistically it is just hard for either side to score. Tempo does not always correlate to unders but average possession length plus tempo is a better indicator. Sacramento State is outside the top 360 and Weber St is outside the top 240 in average offensive possession length. This lets us know that each offense will take its time and run a ton of clock per possession.
The total went under in both meetings and the first one did not even get to 100 combined points. Oddsmakers adjusted in the second matchup but it still was not enough as only 101 total points were scored. I don’t see either of these teams getting to 60-62 points which is what’s needed to get over this number. Limited possessions, strong three-point defense, and familiarity are on our side here and I believe this finishes 57-54.
Bet: UNDER 127
San Francisco vs Gonzaga
West Coast Quarterfinal – 11:30 pm ESPN2
Regular Season Result: Jan. 5 Gonzaga 77-75, Feb. 9 Gonzaga 99-81
Spread: Gonzaga -14.5
Total: O/U 160.5
The early season woes have been put behind Gonzaga and they are firing on all cylinders right now. San Francisco played them tough in the first matchup but in the rematch, it was all Gonzaga. While the spread is a little high to lay in my estimation, the total is where we are going to attack. It’s up five points from the close of their previous meeting but the way both offenses have been playing as of late, I think we can still get over it.
Both teams love to run and rank top 120 in adjusted tempo. Gonzaga will have no problems scoring on this Dons defense that they’ve averaged 88 points against this season. The tempo gives us more possessions and with the efficiency of both offenses, I can see an extremely high-scoring game. The total soared over in the previous matchup and with the success, the Zags have been having offensively, I think they could hit triple digits themselves here.
Gonzaga’s last five games have gone over, including totals of 167 and 170.5 in back-to-back games. In the Dons’ last five games, they are averaging 80 points per game. While I don’t see them scoring 80 on the Zags’ defense, all we need is 65-70 points. Gonzaga’s offense has been on fire and I see no signs of them slowing down from their 96.6 points per game average in their last five games.
Bet: OVER 160