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It is February, which means we are inching closer to March Madness. However, this Saturday slate will give us a little taste of what we are in store for in the coming weeks, as there are three top-ten matchups!
You can find our No. 7 Duke Blue Devils vs. No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels here (Interlink the matchup preview here!)
Find below our other best college basketball picks for these two games: Penn State versus Indiana and No. 4 Houston versus No. 8 Kansas!
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Date: Saturday, February 3
Time: 12:00 pm EST
All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.
The 2023-24 Big Ten preseason media poll had the Penn State Nittany Lions finishing in 13th (out of 14) place in the conference; they lost a lot of talent at the end of last season, including their top-five scorers: Jalen Pickett, Seth Lundy, Andrew Funk, Camren Wynter, and Myles Dread.
Penn State made the 2023 NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed; it decimated the No. 7 seed Texas A&M Aggies and then narrowly lost to the second-seeded Texas Longhorns for a trip to the Sweet 16. The Nittany Lions didn’t have much size on that team but were an elite shooting team, particularly from behind the arc, where they shot just shy of 39%. This year is the exact opposite. Penn State ranks 307th in 3P% this season after finishing last year with the seventh-highest percentage as a team in the nation.
However, Penn State has done a solid job staying competitive, winning four of its ten conference games thus far, featuring home wins versus the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Michigan Wolverines, and a double-digit road win against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
The Nittany Lions have been able to lean on sophomore Kanye Clary for offensive output; Clary has taken a massive second-year leap, skyrocketing his scoring average from just over three points per game to just shy of 19 points per game. VCU transfer Ace Baldwin Jr. is the other big offensive weapon for Penn State, but his efficiency, or lack thereof, is concerning for a secondary scoring option. D’Marco Dunn and Puff Johnson, two UNC transfers, are also solid additions but can’t take this team to relevancy beyond an occasional Big Ten win.
Meanwhile, injuries have cursed the Indiana Hoosiers for the second consecutive season. Last year, the Hoosiers lost their starting point guard Xavier Johnson in a non-conference December game against the Kansas Jayhawks; he missed the reason of the 2022-23 campaign, leaving Indiana shorthanded. Had Johnson been healthy for the remainder of the season, there is no telling how good they could have been. Indiana knocked off the Purdue Boilermakers twice and entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed.
Unfortunately, it lost to the Miami Hurricanes, a team that eventually made the Final Four, in the Round of 32. Johnson, a super senior last season, was given a medical red-shirt so he could return to IU for his sixth collegiate season. Unfortunately, Johnson has missed a large portion of this season with a foot injury and has been unable to get into a groove with his new teammates.
Further, “X” suffered an elbow injury on a hard drive to the basket in the Hoosiers’ last game against the Iowa Hawkeyes, which they narrowly won on their home floor. Johnson has not been the only Hoosiers player unable to stay healthy; Kel’el Ware has also missed a handful of games due to sickness and an ankle injury. In that game against Iowa, the Hoosiers’ best offensive weapon, sophomore forward Malik Reneau, suffered a sprained ankle. His status for this matchup is uncertain, but it would be fair to assume that he will have to miss this bout against the Penn State Nittany Lions.
This Indiana team is struggling with all the injuries it has suffered this season and the departures from last year’s team (Trayce Jackson-Davis, Miller Kopp, Race Thompson, and Jalen Hood-Schifino). For one, the Hoosiers don’t have any three-point shooters they can rely on to knock down shots consistently.
Trey Galloway, the senior “Swiss Army Knife” combo guard, shot 46% from behind the arc last season but has been unable to tap into that during the 2023-24 campaign, knocking down only 27% of his attempts. Indiana’s top three perimeter shooters by percentage (Malik Reneau, Kel’el Ware, and Gabe Cupps) have attempted a combined 79 threes, which averages out to only 3.76 per game, meaning each player barely attempts more than one per game. As a matter of fact, IU ranks 355th (out of 362 teams) in three-point attempts per game (15.4), with roughly only 25% of those attempts coming from players who shoot better than 34.8%. Yikes.
The paint duo of Reneau and Ware has held the Hoosiers’ season together, but without Reneau for this game, can they still hold off Penn State?
How we view this game will depend on Kanye Clary’s availability. If Clary can’t play (he missed the team’s last game due to injury), the Hoosiers are an obvious team to back. First, the Nittany Lions pose no threat from behind the arc, especially without Clary. As a matter of fact, without Clary on the floor, Penn State might be one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation. Indiana can pack the paint with 7-foot shot-blocker Kel’el Ware roaming and contesting every shot.
Even if Clary plays, the Hoosiers don’t have to go over many screens, allowing Ware to hang around in the paint and pull down defensive rebounds; he can also preserve his energy for the offensive end of the floor. Indiana ranks 62nd in the nation in opponent two-point percentage, which will only be accentuated by not needing to defend its opponents as closely on the perimeter.
Date: Saturday, February 3
Time: 4:00 pm EST
All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.
There isn’t much to say besides this: the Houston Cougars are an extremely impressive basketball team. Houston boasts a 19-2 record so far this season, with two road losses in Big 12 play (toughest conference in the nation) being their only blips.
As a matter of fact, both of those losses also came against ranked teams, including a one-point loss to No. 25 TCU and a four-point loss to No. 12 Iowa State. The Cyclones are a similar team to Houston in that their entire identity is on the defensive end of the floor; they also are one of the best home teams in the country (13-0), recording wins against the Cougars as well as the No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks!
Houston also ranks first in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin and adjusted defensive efficiency; there is such a disparity between the latter metric that the gap between Houston and the second-best defensive team is the same as the second-best defensive team and the 29th-ranked defensive team.
Houston lost a ton of talent from its 2022-23 team that entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed, as Marcus Sasser and Jarace Walker departed for the NBA Draft, where they were selected in the first round. Tramon Mark also transferred out of the program; he has been the best player for the Arkansas Razorbacks, scoring roughly 18 points per game for them!
But leave it to head coach Kelvin Sampson to still put together a contender. The Cougars had talent in abundance last season, so losing three players, albeit three of their top four, was never going to sink them for this season. Houston brought back Jamal Shead, Emanuel Sharp, J’Wan Roberts, and Ja’Vier Francis. Sampson hit the portal, too, convincing former Baylor guard L.J. Cryer and Temple guard Damian Dunn to transfer.
Houston’s bread and butter consists of offensive rebounding and defense. As alluded to above, no team comes even remotely close to being as strong as the Cougars on that end of the floor, as they hold opponents to the lowest eFG% and the eighth-lowest 3P% in the nation. Additionally, they force the eighth-most turnovers.
On the other end of the floor, the Cougars make up for average shooting with an exceptional aptitude for hitting the offensive glass; they sit in second place in offensive rebounding percentage in the nation.
Kansas has had another successful season, currently sitting in fourth place in an uber-competitive Big 12. The Jayhawks are one-half of a game outside of being tied for second place, so a win at home against the first-place Houston Cougars would go a long way.
A recent development for Kansas has been the sudden emergence of 6-foot-9 freshman guard/forward Johhny Furphy. Furphy has oozed with potential for a while, but he has finally stepped into a significant role for the Jayhawks in arguably the toughest conference in basketball. In the past five games, Furphy has averaged 15.4 points and 7.4 rebounds on a 61/52/74 shooting split.
Furphy joins stellar 7-foot-1 senior big man Hunter Dickinson and elite two-way guard Kevin McCullar Jr. as legitimate weapons for a Kansas team that has yet to reach its full potential. But can the Jayhawks hold off Houston at home and log another impressive win for their 2024 NCAA Tournament resume?
Recently, Kansas played an unranked Cincinnati team that sits at 34th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin; however, the Jayhawks only won by five points at home, and the reason they just squeaked by is blatantly obvious. Kansas got crushed on the glass, allowing the Bearcats to pull down 16 offensive rebounds. If the Jayhawks let Cincy outrebound them by double-digits, what will happen when they face a Houston team that is beyond relentless on the glass?
The Cougars don’t turn the ball over (sixth in turnovers per game) either. The bottom line is that Houston just doesn’t beat itself, whether at home or on the road. Ride with the Cougars Moneyline.
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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