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Conference season is well underway, and below, there are some exciting matchups between top teams in their respective leagues. A few of the best teams in the nation are looking to widen the gap between themselves and other conference opponents, and this is the time to do it! Check out our best bets for February 2nd below, featuring our favorite picks from Houston versus Wichita State, Oregon versus Arizona, and Santa Clara versus Gonzaga.
When: 9:00 PM EST
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The Houston Cougars, arguably one of the three best teams in the nation, have an AAC game against the Wichita State Shockers, a squad that can often compete with them. However, this season, that will not be the case. Houston boasts an impressive 20-2 record and ranks first in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin.
What interests me about the Cougars is that they have lost two games at home, but none on the road, an unusual trait for a basketball team at any level. Houston has dropped an awful game to Temple and a hard-fought game against the formidable Alabama Crimson Tide team, currently ranked fourth in the country.
Houston is also an excellent covering team; it has covered in just shy of 64% of its games. Again, the Cougars are even better on the road, covering in seven of eight games in the 2022-23 season.
Now, we move on to the Wichita State Shockers, a team that had a handful of awe-inspiring years, including in 2014, when they entered the NCAA Tournament with a flawless record. Under former head coach Gregg Marshall, the Shockers were building a dynasty as a great mid-major, similar to what Houston and head coach Kelvin Sampson are doing. Unfortunately, that did not last, as Marshall resigned after multiple allegations of verbal and physical abuse from former players surfaced.
Since then, Wichita State has not done that well, and this season is no different. The Shockers are 11-10 (3-9 against the spread at home) and are currently in seventh place in the AAC. They rank 206th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, a mark that screams blowout against a top defense in the nation.
This game shouldn’t be close, and it is challenging to see the Shockers eclipsing 45-50 points in this spot. First, they rank 334th in the nation in 3P% (three-point percentage), an absolute necessity to even remotely compete with a team like Houston, who has arguably the second-best perimeter defense in the country.
Further, Houston has far-and-away the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the nation. Wichita State sits at 231st in defensive rebounding percentage, an unacceptable rank against the Cougars. Even if Houston isn’t shooting well, it won’t matter, as it will just crash the offensive glass until someone does score. The Shockers are entirely outmatched.
When: 10:30 PM EST
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A conference rematch between two teams, the Oregon Ducks and Arizona Wildcats, who are both still very much in the running for a Pac-12 regular season championship, takes place on Thursday.
The last time these two teams faced each other, the Ducks ran away with a 19-point home win over the Wildcats, who had only dropped two games before that. Since that loss, Arizona has flipped a switch, winning four-straight games, including against the No. 9 UCLA Bruins.
The Wildcats lean heavily on their starting frontcourt, Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis, for offense and rebounding; they have arguably the best power forward and center duo in the nation. Ballo and Tubelis combine for roughly 36 points and 19 rebounds. If one of them is having an “off” game, the other undoubtedly takes over.
Even Arizona’s backcourt is solid; it features Kerr Kriisa, Courtney Ramey, Cedric Henderson Jr, and Pelle Larsson. Kriisa and Ramey can get hot from deep, but they struggle with efficiency inside of the arc, which has caused some trouble this season.
Meanwhile, Oregon can only be described as streaky and inconsistent. Just nine days before dusting the Wildcats by nearly 20 points, the Ducks scored merely 41 points in a 27-point blowout loss to Colorado, a team that is 4-8 in Pac-12 conference play.
Still, Oregon is one of those thorns in the side of Arizona. The Ducks have two seven-foot centers who are more than capable of playing with Ballo and Tubelis. Very few teams have the necessary size to hang with the Wildcats, but the Ducks are one of those teams.
While I fully believe Arizona will squeak out a win, the Ducks should keep it close, as they match up well.
When: 11:00 PM EST
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Gonzaga seemed like a surefire favorite to win the NCAA Tournament after Drew Timme declared he would play for another season of college basketball.
Unfortunately, this season has not quite gone according to play, although there have been some bright moments. Can the Bulldogs turn this mediocre, by their standards, season into one filled with promise once March rolls around? Only time will tell.
This Bulldogs team has the offensive firepower to beat anyone (seventh in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency), but it is on the defensive end where they struggle (80th in adjusted defensive efficiency), which is unlike most Mark Few-coached teams.
As a matter of fact, Gonzaga has had a team that has ranked in KenPom’s top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency in five of the past six seasons. For the first season in many years, the ‘Zags might not even have the best team in the West Coast Conference, with Saint Mary’s playing an incredibly high level of basketball.
Meanwhile, Santa Clara has been competitive this season due to the terrific play from sophomore guard Brandin Podziemski. Podziemski, an NBA Draft prospect, leads the Broncos in points, rebounds, assists, and steals; he shoulders an unreal amount of responsibility.
Podziemski is not the only capable scorer for the Broncos, though. Carlos Stewart and Keshawn Justice combine for 29 points per game. Santa Clara is a top-heavy basketball team that is uncomfortable playing more than six players, especially in a competitive game against a team like Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s. In an ideal world, the Broncos would stick to their starting five.
Santa Clara has the size and skill to keep up with Gonzaga, but only when it has its starting five on the floor. Luckily, the Broncos aren’t going to turn to their bench unless they are in foul trouble. The Bulldogs won by merely five points in their first matchup, despite getting 18 more free-throw attempts and eight fewer foul calls. Further, the Broncos shot just 31% from three.
Santa Clara won’t beat Gonzaga on the road; however, the Broncos should keep it within 14 points.
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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.More info on Andrew Norton
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