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Can the 24th-ranked Florida Atlantic Owls bounce back after a horrible loss on the road to Charlotte? Will Michigan State turn its extraordinarily disappointing season around with a road win against the shorthanded Fighting Illini? See below our best college basketball picks for Florida Atlantic versus Tulane and Michigan State versus Illinois!
Date: Thursday, January 11
Time: 7:00 pm EST
After a massive double-overtime win against the now-No. 8 Arizona Wildcats on December 23rd, the Florida Atlantic Owls have since stumbled, dropping two of their next three to relatively poor competition. Charlotte and FGCU were the two teams that knocked off the Owls, and they rank 119th and 270th, respectively, in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin.
On the other hand, FAU ranks 21st in adjEM and boasts the tenth-highest adjusted offensive efficiency in the nation, shooting just shy of 37% from three-point land and 50% from the field overall as a team.
The Owls made the Final Four last season as a No. 9 seed and returned virtually all of their key players. They brought back Johnell Davis, Vlad Goldin, Alijah Martin, Nicholas Boyd, Giancarlo Rosado, Bryan Greenlee, Jalen Gaffney, Tre Carroll, and Brandon Weatherspoon. That means nine of their top ten players came back for another season.
It is hard to find excuses for this Owls team, as they have the talent to play with any team in the country. Perhaps they are just bored of the mid-major teams they are playing and underestimate them. Either way, they will need to become more consistent on a nightly basis if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament this season.
Tulane is a tricky team to bet on or against this season. The Green Wave are 10-4 on the season, with losses to North Texas (63rd in KenPom adjEM), George Mason (93rd in KenPom adjEM), Mississippi State (24th in KenPom adjEM), and Bradley (90th in KenPom adjEM).
The common denominator with those opponents is that they play slowly, with all four ranking in the bottom half of KenPom’s adjusted tempo metric. Further, North Texas is 360th out of 362 teams in adjusted tempo, while George Mason is 329th.
That play style is a disadvantage for Tulane (17th in adjT), as it likes to play at a lightning pace. The Green Wave thrive with speed, but FAU does not typically play that way, as it ranks 209th in adjusted tempo. Further, Tulane is 361st (out of 362 teams) in offensive rebounding percentage, which is extremely beneficial for the Owls because they are not a great defensive rebounding team (191st in the nation.) Second-chance points will not be a problem for FAU.
Look for FAU to bounce back in this spot. We are getting the Owls at a discount as a similarly skilled Mississippi State team steamrolled the Green Wave by 30 points earlier in this season.
Date: Thursday, January 11
Time: 9:00 pm EST
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook. Head over to DraftKings Sportsbook to place your bets.
Do you want to know just how tough the Big Ten is? It is tough enough that a team with a 9-6 overall record and a 1-3 conference record is only a 3.5-point road dog against the No. 10 team in the nation.
Regardless, Michigan State has had a disastrous first half of the 2023-24 regular season, arguably worse than any college basketball expert could have predicted. Despite returning most of their rotation from last season’s team, the Spartans have underperformed to the highest degree after being the fourth-ranked team in the nation in the preseason.
Michigan State boasts a 9-6 record, suffering losses to Nebraska, James Madison, and Northwestern along the way. The Spartans got a quality win over No. 14 Baylor but dropped other games against top-tier teams like No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 8 Arizona, and No. 11 Duke. Who would have thought this talented team with a Hall-of-Fame coach would struggle this much?
The Spartans brought back Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard, Mady Sissoko, Malik Hall, Jaden Akins, and Tre Holloman while also signing consensus five-star forward Xavier Booker and high-flying Coen Carr. That makes up five of the top six scorers from last season’s Sweet 16 team. This MSU team is supposed to be elite at every aspect of the game, but they just aren’t. Yet.
Michigan State is unranked right now, as it has six losses in its first 15 games; however, it sits in 17th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, with a top 25 adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation.
The Spartans have some strengths, including their recent (last three games) three-point shooting (43.9%) as a team; they got off to a slow start shooting from deep at the beginning of the season but have turned that around in the past few weeks. Additionally, MSU has been consistently impressive in defending the three-point line, allowing opponents to shoot just 29.7% from behind the arc.
The Spartans need to continue improving on the glass; however, they rank 49th in the nation in total rebounding rate over the past three games, which is an overall positive trend. Free throw shooting (69.9% on the season) has been another struggle, but the Spartans have improved there recently, too (77.4% in the past three games).
Meanwhile, Illinois has hardly blinked a metaphorical eye since the loss of its leading scorer, Terrence Shannon Jr., who is suspended indefinitely after being charged with a crime. The Fighting Illini have won two of their past three games and nearly beat the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers on their home floor after climbing back from a 21-point deficit to make the game close.
Shannon’s offensive production seems to have been distributed amongst Marcus Domask, Quincy Guerrier, Coleman Hawkins, and whoever else steps up on any given night. Recently, that has been Justin Harmon (20 points versus Northwestern) and Luke Goode (16 points versus Purdue).
Illinois plays up-tempo basketball and is extremely efficient on the offensive end of the floor; KenPom has it ranked seventh in adjO in the nation. The Fighting Illini aren’t the best three-point shooting team (35%, 111th in the nation), but they rebound their missed shots about as well as any team in the country (41.1% offensive rebounding rate in their past three games).
So, can the Fighting Illini hold off the Spartans?
It should be a very physical game, but the Fighting Illini are built for physicality, with four of their starters standing between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-10. Illinois is a better rebounding team, especially on the offensive glass, while Michigan State has been inconsistent in pulling down defensive rebounds throughout the season.
Additionally, the fact that the Spartans rank 342nd in the nation in Rim & 3 Rate (per ShotQuality) is deeply concerning, considering they are playing a team that contests the three well and allows the lowest non-blocked two-point percentage to opponents in the nation. Points won’t be easy to come by for Sparty in this one.
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