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We are fewer than 30 days away from the beginning of March, which is filled with make-or-break games, including conference tournaments and the 2024 NCAA Tournament.
For now, Tuesday night’s slate provides us with two top-five teams and their respective matchups. The fifth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers and the third-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels look to add to their already impressive resumes against South Carolina and Georgia Tech, respectively. Find our best college basketball picks today for these two games below!
Date: Tuesday, January 30
Time: 6:30 pm EST
Moneyline: South Carolina N/A | Tennessee N/A
We are running out of adjectives to describe Dalton Knecht, the former Northern Colorado star who was highly-touted in the transfer portal, and for good reason.
Knecht started his collegiate career at a JUCO before transferring to Northern Colorado and, now, Tennessee, where he is the star guard for the fifth-ranked team in the nation. It is a remarkable story, especially considering he is currently a lock to be drafted in the first round of the 2024 NBA Draft.
However, given what he has done this season, that should not come as much of a surprise. During the 2023-24 campaign, Knecht has posted almost 20 points and five rebounds per game on a tremendously efficient 49/40/80 shooting split.
Knecht’s recent string of games has been even better, though; he has averaged 32 points and six rebounds on roughly 55% shooting from the field and 47% from behind the arc. In that stretch, the Volunteers are 4-1, with two of those wins coming on the road, which is not an easy accomplishment in the SEC. Now, they are merely one-half of a game behind Alabama for first in the conference.
It hasn’t just been Knecht’s great play that has catapulted this team to No. 5 in the A.P. Poll; they have several other highly talented players on both ends of the floor, including Josiah-Jordan James, Zakai Zeigler, Jonas Aidoo, Jordan Gainey, and Santiago Vescovi. Vescovi, James, Aidoo, and Zeigler are returners from last season’s team that made a deep run in the 2023 NCAA Tournament despite not having the latter player due to a torn ACL. Meanwhile, Gainey joins Knecht as the two key transfers for this Tennesee squad.
What is so impressive about this season’s Tennessee team is their evolution on the offensive end of the floor while also being able to maintain their defensive intensity. The Volunteers still rank second in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, similar to the 2022-23 team; however, their adjusted offensive efficiency has skyrocketed from 64th to 18th.
If the numbers don’t tell the whole story, perhaps this will: Santiago Vescovi finished last year as Tennessee’s leading scorer but is merely the fifth-leading scorer this year. Everyone in the Volunteers’ rotation has drastically improved their individual offensive talent!
Tennessee isn’t an elite shooting team, but it crashes the O-glass well (22nd in offensive rebounding percentage at home) and avoids turnovers (10.8 turnovers per game.) With Knecht’s offensive volume increasing but still maintaining his efficiency, this Volunteers’ offense will be in great shape.
However, this won’t be an easy game by any stretch of the imagination. South Carolina might not be ranked in the A.P. Poll and might sit in 54th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, but it has a 17-3 record through its first 20 games.
Further, the Gamecocks just knocked off No. 6 Kentucky by 17 points on their home floor! Their only blemishes are five-point losses to Clemson and Georgia and an uncharacteristic beatdown at the hands of Alabama, one of the best offensive teams in the country.
The Gamecocks might have lost G.G. Jackson to last year’s NBA Draft, where he was selected in the second round. Still, they brought back enough talent (Meechie Johnson and Jacobi Wright) and brought in enough talent (B.J. Mack, Ta’Lon Cooper, and Myles Stute) to be a more complete and well-rounded team.
Does South Carolina have enough to compete with the Volunteers on the road?
The Gamecocks might have a chance of playing Tennessee close on their floor, but not vice versa. The Volunteers force opponents to shoot the third-lowest eFG% (39.9%) in the country at home, and that number isn’t adjusted for strength of schedule, which they rank sixth in on KenPom.
Additionally, South Carolina leans heavily on three-point output to score, which historically has not been a good decision against the Volunteers on their home floor. This season, they allow opponents to shoot merely 25.4% from behind the arc.
Further, Tennessee not only hasn’t lost at home (10-0), but it also has won its last five home games by 16 or more points, including a recent 20-point beatdown against Alabama, one of the best offenses in the nation. The Volunteers held the Crimson Tide to just 71 points on 19% shooting from deep; they also committed 22 turnovers, an absurd amount at the collegiate level.
Back Tennessee here. It is 6-3-1 against the spread in front of its fans this season.
Date: Tuesday, January 30
Time: 7:00 pm EST
Moneyline: North Carolina N/A | Georgia Tech N/A
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook. Head over to DraftKings Sportsbook to place your bets.
After last season’s monumental letdown, the North Carolina Tar Heels have hit the reset button and added a ton of outside talent to their two key returners: R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot. Of course, they had to hit the portal hard after Caleb Love opted to transfer to Arizona. And hit it hard, they did.
North Carolina added Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram, Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan, and Louisville transfer Jae’Lyn Withers, which certainly makes up one of the most impressive portal classes in the nation. The Tar Heels also added reclassified five-star point guard Elliott Cadeau, who has continued progressing exponentially throughout the 2023-24 campaign.
Regarding the hottest teams in the nation, North Carolina has to be at the top of that list. It has won ten consecutive games after dropping back-to-back bouts against the No. 1 UConn Huskies and No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats. The Tar Heels have secured wins against Clemson, N.C. State, No. 11 Oklahoma, and Wake Forest, but what has been even more impressive is that all those wins came by double-digits.
North Carolina hasn’t just been winning games but decimating opponents.
An area of emphasis for head coach Hubert Davis has been on the defensive end of the floor, where the Tar Heels were exposed time and time again last year. Davis has helped take this team from being a poor defensive squad to an elite one, ranking fourth in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. They are in exceptional company, only trailing Houston, Tennessee, and Iowa State in that metric.
North Carolina also boasts a top-15 offense, which is not surprising because it averages the 16th-most points, ranks 47th in offensive rebounds per game, and ranks 32nd in unadjusted offensive efficiency.
Conversely, Georgia Tech has had a mediocre season, ranking 134th in adjEM and sitting in second-to-last place in the ACC through its first nine games. Tech has lost four straight games at McCamish Pavilion, a concerning trend for any team regardless of conference. Can the Yellow Jackets snap out of it in this game against the Tar Heels?
Snap out of it? No, because they just aren’t that good. But keep the game within relative striking distance? Yes.
Georgia Tech has a poor record in ACC play, but it tends to keep games close, especially on its home floor, where it would have covered this line in all ten games at McCamish. Obviously, North Carolina is a different beast than most of the teams that the Yellow Jackets have played; however, they did knock off Duke and Mississippi State (32nd in KenPom’s adjEM) while at home earlier in the season.
The better the opponent, the better Georgia Tech plays at home. We don’t need it to win; we just need it to keep the game close.
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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