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Best College Basketball Picks Today | NCAAB Picks February 17

Written by: Andrew Norton
Published February 17, 2024
8 min read
Iowa State Cyclones guard Keshon Gilbert

Saturday slates in the middle of conference season are always enthralling, and this slate is no different. We will cover our best college basketball picks for several games, including the Texas Tech Red Raiders versus the No. 10 Iowa State Cyclones, the No. 4 Marquette Golden Eagles versus the No. 1 UConn Huskies, and the No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats versus the No. 13 Auburn Tigers. Find our in-depth analysis for these games below!

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Texas Tech @ No. 10 Iowa State

All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.

PICK: Iowa State -8 (-105)

Some college teams are simply unbeatable on their home floor. The Iowa State Cyclones seem to fit that bill this season, registering a 14-0 record at Hilton Coliseum, winning by an average margin of +28.4, which ranks third in the nation behind only Arizona and Houston. 

The Cougars standing at first in that statistic should be no surprise, as they are KenPom’s highest-ranked team in his adjusted efficiency margin metric. However, even Houston fell victim to the Cyclones’ elite play at home. Iowa State has knocked off not only No. 3 Houston at Hilton but also the No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks.

Effectively, the Cyclones shift from being solely a defensive juggernaut on the road to an unstoppable force on both ends at home. For example, as a team, their shooting percentage skyrockets from 43.7% (on the road) to 50.7% (at home.) 

Similarly, their three-point percentage leaps from 28.6% to 40.4%, giving ISU a team shooting split of 51/40/73 at Hilton. Improvements at the free-throw line for Iowa State have also been evident, as it has shot the 27th-highest percentage (82.1%) in its past three games, which is substantially higher than its season average of 69.6%. This is massive for a team that draws 20 fouls per game from opponents at home!

Iowa State is a well-balanced team, not relying too heavily on any one player to provide offensive output; it can be any player on any night. A perfect example is Tamin Lipsey, who, before the Cyclones’ last game against Cincinnati, had a six-game stretch of averaging merely nine points per game on roughly 35% shooting from the field. 

Lipsey bounced back against the Bearcats, scoring 15 points, but what matters is that the team found a way to keep winning while he was struggling. Keshon Gilbert, Tre King, and Curtis Jones can be thanked for Iowa State winning six of its past seven games despite having a tough stretch of games.

Any Iowa State fan or huge college basketball fan knows the team is relatively top-heavy. The Cyclones only have seven players who play at least 13 minutes per game; however, the most efficient lineup in the country belongs to them. Per EvanMiya, Iowa State’s five-man lineup of Keshon Gilbert, Tre King, Milan Momcilovic, Tamin Lipsey, and Robert Jones ranks first in adjusted efficiency margin nationally, even ahead of Purdue, Houston, Kansas, and Duke’s starting lineups. 

Iowa State is tied for first place in the Big 12, along with the Houston Cougars, who also boast an 8-3 record in conference play; however, the Cougars will get a rematch against ISU on their home floor in the coming weeks, giving them an advantage. Iowa State must secure a win in this game to provide itself with the best chance to knock off Houston for a Big 12 title.

Meanwhile, the Texas Tech Red Raiders have also had an exceptional season, holding a 7-4 record in the Big 12 (tied for second place) thus far, including wins against No. 25 Oklahoma, No. 6 Kansas, No. 19 BYU, and Texas. The Red Raiders are only 2-4 on the road in conference play, but they beat the Sooners and Longhorns in their two victories, which are not easy wins. Further, they played No. 12 Baylor to six points and TCU to seven on the road. This team is competitive no matter where they play.

Like Iowa State, the Texas Tech Red Raiders are a well-balanced offensive squad, with five players averaging double-digit points. They rank 12th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom, and 24th in three-point percentage. Interestingly enough, they are second in the country in three-point shooting percentage on the road, knocking down close to seven percent more of their attempts.

Another important note is that the Red Raiders rank 16th nationally in opponent three-point percentage over their past three games, with two of those games coming against Kansas and Baylor (first in 3P%.) Can they replicate their perimeter performance defensively against the Cyclones?

The Red Raiders are fresh off their biggest win of the season, a 29-point slaughter of the Kansas Jayhawks on their home floor. This is a typical letdown spot for Texas Tech against a Cyclones team that is 12-2 against the spread on their home floor. 

The stakes are high for the Cyclones to win this game; they are in contention for a Big 12 regular season championship and every game matters. With Tamin Lipsey seemingly breaking out of a slump in their last game against Cincinnati, Iowa State should have no issues keeping up offensively, especially on its home floor. 

No. 22 Kentucky @ No. 13 Auburn

All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.

PICK: Auburn -8.5 (-112)

Talent has scarcely been an issue in the John Calipari era at the University of Kentucky, and the same could be said this season; however, the Wildcats are highly susceptible to volatile outcomes, as we never really know which team will step on the floor every night. The Wildcats have suffered three home losses in their past five games, dropping games to Florida, No. 8 Tennessee, and Gonzaga. This can make Kentucky a tough team to bet on or against consistently.

Kentucky’s offense is not the issue; it ranks seventh in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin metric, behind only Alabama, Purdue, Connecticut, Arizona, Baylor, and Illinois. The Wildcats have many talented scoring options, including Rob Dillingham, D.J. Wagner, Antonio Reeves, Reed Sheppard, Adou Thiero, and Justin Edwards. 

Kentucky ranks third in the nation in three-point percentage and tenth in overall field goal percentage while turning the ball over merely ten times per game. While the Wildcats are not a strong offensive rebounding team (211th in offensive rebounding percentage), they have improved much over their past three games, ranking 41st nationally in OREB% in that span.

Kentucky falls short on the defensive end of the floor, ranking outside of the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency (104th.) Additionally, the Wildcats rank 320th in opponent points per game, 81st in opponent eFG%, and 163rd in defensive rebounding percentage. Kentucky already doesn’t do a great job in closing out on shooters or staying in front of opponents, but its defensive struggles are accentuated by trouble finishing possessions with a rebound. Matters could be further complicated if Tre Mitchell misses this game due to a recent shoulder injury.

On the other hand, the Auburn Tigers enter this game with plenty of momentum after destroying the eleventh-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. Auburn has two wins over ranked opponents in its past three games (lost to unranked Florida on the road), including South Carolina and No. 15 Alabama. In fact, the Tigers have won all 13 of their home games by double-digits, including both of their last two ranked games.

Auburn is led by star forward Johni Broome, who is amongst the best two-way players in college basketball; he averages 16.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game while knocking down close to 55% of his field goal attempts and 39% of his threes. Jaylin Williams (13.4 points, 4.9 rebounds) joins Broome to form one of the best frontcourts in America.

The Tigers are the only team in the country that ranks in the top ten in KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies. Much of their success on both ends can be attributed to their depth and health. Auburn has ten players who average between 15 and 25 minutes per game, and all of those players have been available for every game.

The key to this game will be the availability of Tre Mitchell, who sustained a shoulder injury early in the second half of the Wildcats’ last game against Ole Miss. If Mitchell can’t take the floor, then there’s no doubt that backing the Tigers at home is our play. Kentucky is already a poor defensive rebounding team as it is, but taking Mitchell, the Wildcats’ best rebounder, out of the equation spells trouble. 

Even more troublesome is the fact that Auburn has one of the best rebounders in the conference in Johni Broome (8.4 rebounds per game.) The Tigers sit in 37th in offensive rebounding percentage, meaning they will have opportunities for second-chance points even if they have an “off” shooting night. Further, Auburn’s three-point defense is spectacular (18th in opponent 3P%.) If the Tigers hold Kentucky to relatively modest shooting, this game won’t be all that close.

No. 4 Marquette @ No. 1 UConn

All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.

PICK: UConn ML (-285)

UConn deserves the top ranking in the A.P. Poll for apparent reasons. The Huskies are on a 13-game winning streak, all coming against Big East opponents. Further, they boast an exceptional 23-2 overall record behind the third-ranked offense (KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency.) The starting five, which consists of Donovan Clingan, Tristen Newton, Alex Karaban, Stephon Castle, and Cam Spencer, is among the nation’s best starting lineups.

The Huskies have persevered through several injuries to key players like Stephon Castle and Donovan Clingan, who ranks second in the country in EvanMiya’s Top Ten Players (BPR). Clingan doesn’t fill up the stat sheet to the extent that a player like Tristen Newton does, but his impact in the paint on both ends of the floor is undeniable.

UConn is a top-heavy team, as its sixth-leading scorer averages 5.7 points per game in 19 minutes per game. But the Huskies don’t need much offense off the bench, considering three players (Karaban, Newton, and Spencer) average 15 points per game. Spencer’s shooting prowess (49/45/91 shooting split) allows the Huskies to spread the floor, especially in the half-court, where head coach Dan Hurley can dissect opposing defenses with his complex and efficient sets.

As a team, the Huskies rank sixth nationally in total rebounding rate but could have ranked even higher if Clingan had not missed one month due to injury. However, he is back in the lineup, and UConn is clicking on all cylinders. This will be the biggest game for this team all year, as a win here against the Marquette Golden Eagles virtually guarantees a Big East regular season championship.

The Huskies aren’t the only team with a substantial winning streak in place: Marquette has logged eight consecutive wins in Big East conference play, which is quite impressive after how volatile it has been at times this season. The Golden Eagles brought back nearly everybody from last season, save Olivier-Maxence Prosper, who was selected in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft. This list of returners includes Tyler Kolek, Kam Jones, Oso Ighodaro, David Joplin, Stevie Mitchell, Chase Ross, Sean Jones, and Ben Gold. 

Unsurprisingly, those are the only players who consistently see the floor for Shaka Smart’s team this year. Under Smart, Marquette has built a program that doesn’t rely heavily on recruiting five-star players or hitting the transfer portal hard. The players that he wants are primarily on the roster already.

Tyler Kolek has been the X-Factor for Marquette’s shift from an inconsistent team to an offensive juggernaut. With Kolek at the helm and holding the ultimate “green light” on the offensive end, the Golden Eagles have soared, shooting roughly 54% from the field and 43% from behind the arc during their eight-game winning streak. That’s pretty unreal, right?

But this UConn team is a different beast. Can Marquette keep up with the red-hot, fully loaded Huskies on the road?

Frankly, this spread is well-placed, but one thing looks certain: the Huskies should win this game at home. UConn has a size advantage and is the more physical team. There’s no easier way to back up that claim than with rebounding statistics. As mentioned above, the Huskies are sixth in total rebounding rate, while Marquette is 232nd nationally. Marquette has given up an alarming 11 offensive rebounds per game to opponents in its past three bouts, which have been against Butler, St. John’s, and Georgetown. Those three teams aren’t exactly elite rebounding teams with exceptional size.

The Golden Eagles’ only chance of staying in this game is knocking down a boatload of three-pointers, which is still within the realm of possibility, especially given their recent play. Still, expect UConn to slow the game down to a snail’s pace and pick apart the Golden Eagles’ defense. The Huskies should walk away with their biggest win of the season.

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Andrew Norton

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Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.

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