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Two legitimate Final Four-caliber squads hit the road on Monday night to try and log another win in their respective conferences! Houston is one-half of a game behind Texas Tech for first place in the Big 12, while the Duke Blue Devils are in must-win mode as they are 6-2 in the ACC and trying to chase down the 9-0 Tar Heels!
Find our best college basketball picks today for the No. 12 Duke Blue Devils versus the Virginia Tech Hokies and the No. 4 Houston Cougars versus the Texas Longhorns below!
Date: Monday, January 29
Time: 7:00 pm EST
In a surprising turn of events, the Duke Blue Devils brought back nearly every key player from last season’s team, including Kyle Filipowski, Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor, and Mark Mitchell. Roach was bound to return because he will likely go undrafted when he does graduate due to his limited size and athletic ability; however, Proctor, Mitchell, and Filipowski could have been drafted in the 2023 NBA Draft, with a potential for all of them to have gone in the first round.
Instead, the trio of future NBA players returned to Duke for their sophomore seasons. Additionally, Duke signed multiple uber-talented freshman recruits, including Jared McCain, Caleb Foster, Sean Stewart, and T.J. Power. Between that core of players and fundamental senior center Ryan Young, the Blue Devils have the kind of team that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
So far, the Blue Devils are 15-4, with quality wins over No. 15 Baylor and Clemson; however, they have struggled with consistency. Duke has dropped games to Georgia Tech, Arkansas, Arizona, and Pittsburgh. The loss to Arizona, the ninth-ranked team in the nation, makes enough sense (and is justifiable), but the losses to the other three teams are head-scratching. Pittsburgh beat Duke at Cameron Indoor, and Arkansas (112th in KenPom’s adjEM) and Georgia Tech (133rd in KenPom’s adjEM) aren’t precisely powerhouses this season.
With this inconsistency, should we consider backing the Blue Devils in this spot?
Duke has won ten of its past 11 games, but its shooting on the road this season has been concerning. The Blue Devils rank 23rd in the nation in 3P% but shoot just 32.1% on the road, a pretty poor mark. Even though they don’t tend to rely on the three-point shot too much, it is concerning, especially given the fact that Virginia Tech’s perimeter defense is sound.
Here’s the beauty of this matchup for the Hokies: they don’t rely on offensive rebounding to put points on the board. Duke is one of the best teams on the defensive glass in the nation, but its overall defense is suspect. The Hokies rank tenth in the country in eFG% over their past three games, evidencing a positive offensive trend, which will play a huge factor in this game.
The Blue Devils might be winners of three of their past four games, but a one-point home win against Clemson, a home loss against Pittsburgh, a 14-point win against Louisville (207th in adjEM), and a five-point home win against Georgia Tech aren’t exactly giving us loads of confidence. Let’s ride with VA Tech at home, especially given Duke’s sporadic road play.
Date: Monday, January 29
Time: 9:00 pm EST
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook. Head over to DraftKings Sportsbook to place your bets.
After losing back-to-back road games (to No. 23 Iowa State and TCU) by a combined five points at the beginning of Big 12 play, the Houston Cougars have since rattled off four consecutive conference wins, including against No. 20 Texas Tech, No. 21 BYU, UCF, and Kansas State.
The Cougars have impressed throughout the entire 2023-24 regular season so far, answering the bell about how they would respond to the departure of three of their top four players from last year’s squad. Jarace Walker and Marcus Sasser took their talents to the 2023 NBA Draft, where they were selected in the first round, while Tramon Mark, another key piece to the Cougars’ identity over the past few seasons, hit the transfer portal.
Mark has been sensational this year, averaging just shy of 18 points per game for the Arkansas Razorbacks. It is scary to imagine how much better Houston would be if he had stayed!
Still, Kelvin Sampson and the Houston Cougars have picked up right where they left off, currently ranking fourth in the nation and first in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin. With the latter ranking, they have a substantial lead over the second-best team. As a matter of fact, the gap between Houston and Purdue (second in KenPom’s adjEM) is the same as the difference between Purdue and Arizona (fifth-ranked in adjEM.) That is a sizable advantage, to say the least!
Even though Houston lost a lot of talent from its 2022-23 squad, it brought back several players who have taken giant steps forward in their progression. The Cougars have Emanuel Sharpe, Jamal Shead, Ja’Vier Francis, J’Wan Roberts, and Terrance Arceneaux back. Former Baylor scoring guard L.J. Cryer and Temple transfer Damian Dunn have also been massive additions in filling the talent gap left by Walker and Sassers’ departure.
As is usual for Kelvin Sampson-coached teams, the Cougars are an elite defensive (first in adjusted defensive efficiency) and offensive rebounding (second in offensive rebounding percentage) team. In this spot, the Cougars go up against a Texas team that has not met its expectations for the season.
The Longhorns entered the 2023-24 campaign as the 18th-ranked team in the nation but have dropped out of the Top 25 after losing three of their past five games. Interestingly, the two wins in that stretch have come against No. 15 Baylor and No. 11 Oklahoma.
Texas currently ranks 36th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, boasting the 25th-best offense in the country. The Longhorns’ offensive output is dominated by Max Abmas, Dylan Disu, Tyrese Hunter, Dillon Mitchell, Kaden Shedrick, and Ithiel Horton, who score most of the team’s points.
Abmas, Horton, and Hunter are knockdown three-point shooters, leading the charge for a team that ranks 26th in 3P%. Texas drills roughly 40% of its attempts at home, which is elite for any collegiate team.
Unfortunately, Texas is a horrendous 3-9 against the spread on its home floor, and its strength of schedule there has been feeble, meaning it has not taken care of business as expected against (often) inferior opponents. The Longhorns are 10-2 at home but have played UIW, Delaware State, Rice, Wyoming, Texas State, Houston Christian, Texas A&M-CC, UNCG, UT-Arlington, UCF (six-point loss), No. 20 Texas Tech (11-point loss), and No. 15 Baylor.
This Texas team is hit-or-miss, but a recent home loss to UCF, a similarly-styled team to Houston (defensive focus, eighth in adjD), gives us even more pause; we will give a slight lean to Houston at -5.5.
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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