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Best College Basketball Bets Today | NCAAB Picks March 16

Written by: Andrew Norton
Published March 16, 2024
8 min read
Wisconsin Badgers guard Chucky Hepburn defends against Purdue Boilermakers guard Braden Smith

Finally, it is the Saturday before “Selection Sunday!” A few major conferences, including the Big 12, Big East, and ACC, have their tournament championship games today. The Big 12 Tournament championship features the Iowa State Cyclones versus the Houston Cougars, while the Marquette Golden Eagles and the UConn Huskies will participate in the Big East Tournament championship. 

Additionally, the ACC Tournament championship includes the No. 10 seeded N.C. State Wolfpack and the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels! The Big Ten and SEC also have their respective semifinal games on Saturday. 

For this edition of our best college basketball picks, we will analyze Wisconsin versus Purdue, Mississippi State versus Auburn, and Nebraska versus Illinois. See our breakdowns for these three matchups below!

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Wisconsin @ Purdue

All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.

PICK: Purdue -6.5 (-110)

What more can we say about the Purdue Boilermakers? They have met every challenge this season with open arms and the utmost confidence, boasting a 30-3 overall record and an 11-3 Quad 1 record. They also have an 8-0 Quad 2 record, with five of those wins coming by double-digits. Further, Purdue has logged wins against Alabama, Gonzaga, Marquette, Tennessee, Arizona, Illinois (twice), Wisconsin (twice), and Michigan State (twice). 

Senior center Zach Edey is in line for his second consecutive Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year award; he will (likely) join Bill Walton and Ralph Sampson as the only players who have won the award twice or more in college basketball history. 

Lance Jones and Braden Smith have also been phenomenal in the backcourt for the Boilers, giving them genuine perimeter threats to aid Edey’s interior game. They have the personnel to roll through the 2024 NCAA Tournament and win their program’s first-ever national championship.

Still, Wisconsin will be out for revenge after losing both matchups against Purdue this season, including a home game that could have kept it atop the Big Ten regular season standings. Instead, the Badgers had a temporary free fall, allowing Purdue to create distance between them late in the Big Ten season! 

The Badgers pummeled Maryland in their first Big Ten Tournament game and then handed Northwestern a nine-point loss behind an offensive masterclass from A.J. Storr, who posted 30 points on 10-for-16 shooting from the field. But can Wisconsin topple the mighty Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday?

Don’t count on Wisconsin to be the team that pulls Purdue back down to reality. The Badgers are poor defensively, especially defending the perimeter, where they allow opponents to convert on just shy of 38% (348th out of 362 teams) of their three-point attempts. Unfortunately, Wisconsin faces the nation’s second-best three-point shooting team (41%).

Additionally, Wisconsin was able to survive without point guard Chucky Hepburn against Northwestern, but if he doesn’t play against Purdue, his absence could hurt the Badgers, especially since he is the primary facilitator (3.9 assists per game) of an offense that ranks 209th in assists per game.

Mississippi State @ Auburn

All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.

PICK: Auburn -8 (-110)

Perhaps we underestimated the Mississippi State Bulldogs in their game yesterday against Tennessee. In typical Mississippi State fashion, the Bulldogs held the Vols to just 8-for-33 (24.2%) shooting from behind the arc and 19-for-62 (30.6%) from the field. Further, they shot ten more free throws than Tennessee! 

Mississippi State’s defense has been sensational so far in the SEC Tournament, more closely resembling the dominance on that end at the beginning of the season than its recent play. In fact, the Bulldogs have held their past two opponents to a combined 33.9% shooting, but opponents were hitting over 50% of their field goal attempts and 37% of their threes in the four games before that. 

Despite first-half offensive struggles in their matchup against LSU, the Bulldogs have since caught fire. They scored 48 points in the second half against the Tigers and then 73 points (on 55.3% shooting from the field) on the Vols.

Auburn’s first SEC Tournament game was a 31-point decimation of the 15th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. While the Gamecocks might have had “tired legs” because they played yesterday, it was still blatantly clear that the Tigers are the superior team, holding South Carolina to merely 28.1% shooting from the field. 

Mississippi State and Auburn split games this season, with the Bulldogs winning by six on their home floor and the Tigers securing a 15-point home victory of their own. However, this matchup is highly advantageous for the Tigers.

Johni Broome is among the best two-way players in the nation. He is capable of protecting the rim (2.3 blocks per game) as well as anybody in the nation, and he could give Tolu Smith III serious issues on that end of the floor. 

Additionally, Auburn has multiple guards who can harass Josh Hubbard on the perimeter, forcing him to take tough, contested shots all night. The Tigers have held opponents to the second-lowest effective field goal percentage and 19th-lowest three-point percentage of any team in the nation.

Luckily, Auburn can mitigate the Bulldogs’ biggest strength (three-point defense) because it doesn’t rely on perimeter shots to put points on the board. The Tigers rank 34th in team points from two-pointers and attempt only 23 threes (125th in the country) per game.

Auburn has been one of the best teams against the spread this season, logging a 20-12 ATS record, and we expect the Tigers to cover once more.

Nebraska @ Illinois

All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.

PICK: Nebraska +4 (-110)

Nebraska had no issues handling the Indiana Hoosiers, knocking down 12 of its 20 three-point attempts on its way to a 50-point first half. The Cornhuskers also held the Hoosiers to merely 27 points in the first 20 minutes on a putrid 25% shooting from the field. Head coach Fred Hoiberg and the Cornhuskers had the perfect game plan: pack the paint and force Indiana to knock down threes, which it has proven incapable of all season long.

It is one thing to have a game plan going into a matchup and a completely different thing to execute it to such perfection. Nebraska’s attention to detail on both ends of the floor and the elite shooting display the Cornhuskers put on in their first Big Ten Tournament game bodes well in this spot.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Fighting Illini squeaked out a narrow three-point win against the red-hot Ohio State Buckeyes, a team that entered the game with six wins in their past seven games. The firing of head coach Chris Holtmann was a surprisingly positive catalyst for the Bucks, but Illinois stopped them in their tracks.

In that game, Illinois was fortunate in the fact it drew 27 fouls while only committing 13 itself. That type of disparity in fouls is not common and likely won’t happen again. The Fighting Illini will need to shoot the ball much better, too, as their shooting split of 42/27/66 won’t cut it against this sharpshooting Nebraska team that is fresh off a confidence-building Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal win.  

Still, Illinois got a masterclass offensive performance from Terrence Shannon Jr., who finished with 28 points, three rebounds, and three assists against the Bucks. Dain Dainja also stepped up off the bench for Illinois, posting 18 points and eight rebounds. Dainja’s minutes and output have been sporadic all season, as he has not been a consistent part of the Fighting Illini’s rotation. 

However, if Dainja gets more minutes and can play similarly to yesterday, that would be a huge addition to an already-loaded Illinois frontcourt attack that features Coleman Hawkins, Quincy Guerrier, and Marcus Domask!

So, what can we expect from this enthralling matchup between two of the best Big Ten teams?

Much like their matchup earlier this season, which went into overtime and ended in a three-point Illinois win, we can expect this game to be a tight one. The Fighting Illini slaughtered Nebraska on the glass, outrebounding it by 17 boards. 

This should not come as much of a surprise, considering Illinois ranks seventh in total rebounding rate this season. Illinois also took 16 more free throws in that game due to the Cornhuskers’ struggles to defend without fouling and secure defensive rebounds. 

However, the Fighting Illini still barely held off Nebraska in that game, and the Cornhuskers have been a miserable road team this season. Illinois’s three-point defense has also been suspect at times, and the Cornhuskers aren’t scared to let it fly from deep (29th in three-point attempts per game.) 

If Nebraska carries its momentum (and rebounding and defensive efforts) forward from the IU game yesterday, it has a terrific chance of not just covering but winning, too. 

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Andrew Norton

148 Articles

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.

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