The college basketball season got off to a great start with the return of tantalizing non-conference matchups and holiday tournaments around Thanksgiving. Then in mid-December, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 started spreading, leading to pauses within programs and game cancellations for the second-straight year. As of today, more than 190 men’s Division 1 basketball games have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19.
UConn is one such program, and head coach Dan Hurley said it’s taking a toll on him and his team.
“Pausing again and that feeling of being isolated and away from your team and the season and your purpose, starts to weigh on you,” Hurley said in a press conference from his home yesterday.
Another thing to watch for is how leagues will handle conference matchups that were postponed. It may cause teams to play several more games than they’re used to in a one- or two-week span. So a team that faces a COVID-related shutdown may be at a disadvantage come February or March.
That is a discussion for the future, however, as we are about to take a look at tonight’s best bets for NCAAB men’s college hoops.
Iowa Hawkeyes vs. (23) Wisconsin Badgers
The Bet: Wisconsin -2.5
Iowa shook off a three-game losing streak last month and has now won four-straight contests, but they visit a Wisconsin team that’s coming off a 74-69 upset win at No. 3 Purdue on Monday.
The Badgers (11-2, 2-1 Big Ten) dropped an early-season game at home to Providence and then lost at Ohio State last month but have otherwise looked good, especially on defense, allowing 63 points per game. In the win over the Boilermakers, Johnny Davis had a monster game, scoring 37 points and grabbing 14 rebounds–both season highs, as he’s averaging 22 points and seven boards per game.
Iowa (11-3, 1-2 Big Ten) has the better offense, averaging an impressive 87 points per game but allowing 70 per contest. They pass the ball well, averaging seven more assists than the Badgers and are led by Keegan Murray’s 24.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
But in five games against power-conference teams, the Hawkeyes have only scored over 80 once, and they are 2-3 in those games. The teams are evenly matched, but given that it’s taking place in the Kohl Center in Madison, we like Wisconsin–who has covered in seven of their last 10–to find a way to get the job done.
San Francisco Dons vs. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
The Bet: Under 130
We have to take Gonzaga out of the mid-major category given their consistent success, so after doing that, we’re left with Loyola-Chicago topping the list of teams from non-power conferences. They made a Final Four run a few years ago, made headlines with the centenarian Sister Jean cheering them on, and just keep winning. The Ramblers (9-2) own wins this year over Arizona State, DePaul, and Vanderbilt, and their only two losses came against Auburn and Michigan State (both currently top-10 teams) on a neutral floor. But the Dons (13-1) have also quietly built up a nice resume this year, also beating Arizona State and logging wins over Davidson, UNLV, and Fresno State.
This non-conference matchup between two of the better mid-majors this year is actually a rare benefit of COVID-19. Both teams were fed up with postponements and cancellations within their conference and agreed to this game just three days ago. It will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is about an equal distance of traveling for each team. The Ramblers haven’t played in nearly a month, last winning at Vanderbilt on Dec. 10. San Francisco has played a bit more frequently, having two games since Dec. 22.
Loyola-Chicago is a good shooting team, ranking first in Division 1 in effective field goal percentage and fourth in three-point efficiency. San Francisco isn’t as effective on offense but is better in rebounds. Scoring-wise, they are putting up and allowing around the same amount of points.
For us, it comes to the Ramblers being the more tested team. They have competed well with top-25 teams, while this will be the Dons’ toughest battle to date. USF prefers to play at a slower tempo (one game this year didn’t break 100 combined points), and the Ramblers have gone under the over-under total in each of their four games this year against top-100 teams. Add to all that the potential of a slow start for Loyola-Chicago due to not having played in almost a month, and we like the under here.
(7) USC Trojans vs. California Golden Bears
The Bet: California +5.5
USC returns from their long COVID-related layoff to visit a California team that’s playing an improved brand of basketball after a rough start to the season.
The seventh-ranked Trojans (12-0, 2-0 Pac-12) are unbeaten but haven’t faced a strong test, as they played one power-conference team outside of their league in November or December–a 67-53 win over a struggling Georgia Tech team. USC then had a game with Oklahoma State canceled and conference matchups with Arizona State, Arizona, and Stanford postponed. They return to action tonight having not played in nearly three weeks, as the win over the Yellow Jackets was on Dec. 18.
It will be a tall task to ask USC to get back on track in a conference game on the road against the Bears (9-5, 2-1 Pac-12), who have won five-straight games after a 4-5 start. Four of those losses were on the road or at a neutral site, so after a season-opening loss to UC San Diego at home, Cal has ranked up nine-straight home wins.
USC is the better offensive team, scoring 76 points per game as opposed to Cal’s 67, but both are allowing around 61 per game. If Cal’s defense is on point, they could force the Trojans into a slow start after their long layoff, and if USC is playing from behind or even for most of the game, we like the Bears with the points at home.