Three Man Weave and I are back with our two favorite bets from Tuesday’s college basketball slate, plus a special guest pick!
Duke at Louisville
3MW’s Pick: Duke -8
Oddsmakers just can’t seem to post a line big enough to account for Duke’s level of dominance at the moment.
Less than 72 hours ago, the Blue Devils waltzed into John Paul Jones arena and bombarded Virginia with an avalanche of threes (Duke finished 13/21 from downtown) to seize sole possession of first place in the ACC standings. Given the high-profile nature of this marquee matchup, the opening line bounced around in the hours leading up until tip off before ultimately closing with Virginia as a 2-point favorite. Even on the road against a surefire top-3 team in the country, the oddsmakers spotted the young Blue Devils only a bucket against the experienced and revenge-seeking Cavaliers—yet another data point that proves how much respect the oddsmakers have for Duke this season.
Some will be quick to caveat this performance by citing Duke’s unconscious long-range shooting, an uncharacteristic feat for the 285th-best three-point shooting team in the nation. It’s a fair critique, but Duke still led this game wire-to-wire and came away with a double-digit road victory, despite UVA knocking down 10 of 24 from behind the arc itself.
So, when the opening line for tonight’s showdown at the KFC Yum! Center was initially posted at Duke -6.5, I couldn’t call my bookie fast enough. Yes, I’ll concede this is a classic letdown spot against a formidable Louisville opponent who will be all-in with a chance to move within a half-game of Duke in the league standings. Also, it’s unheard for a top-15 team in kenpom.com’s overall rankings to get this much of a cushion at home, no matter who the opponent is.
Here’s some historical context to put in perspective how high this line is tonight: Dating back to the 2007-08 season, a top-15 team has hosted another top-15 team roughly 450 times. In those matchups, the highest point spread the oddsmakers have ever spotted the home team is 5.5 points, which last happened in 2012 when Kentucky was downed by Indiana in the famous Christian Watford buzzer beater at Assembly Hall (Kentucky was favored by 5.5). In other words, the current line of Duke -8 is a whopping 2.5 points higher than the biggest closing spread recorded in the past decade for a top-15 team at home.
All that said, the trump card to those aforementioned concerns is simple—this Duke team is simply a different beast. Not only do the Devils have a roster that resembles a young NBA team, but they appear to be wired in a way that makes them immune to lapses in effort—look no further than this gem of quote from RJ Barrett after the win at Virginia.
“We love road games. That’s why we wear black, because it’s their funeral.”
Here’s the scary part. Duke’s historical greatness has yet to peak, thanks to the recent ascension of Cam Reddish’s confidence. While he looked lost in the wilderness as the forgotten third banana to Williamson and Barrett just over a month ago, Reddish has started to come into his own as of late. The spike in offensive production and efficiency are obvious proof points, but Coach K was quick to call out his impact on the other end of the floor as the real bright spot in his emergence.
It’s that side of the ball where Reddish will be the X-factor tonight, given he’s the odds-on favorite to draw the Jordan Nwora assignment on defense. Nwora’s deceptive quickness, confident handle and sniper-esque accuracy from deep make him a handful for most traditional forwards to cover. While he’s cooled off a bit in his last three conference games, Nwora is the secret sauce to Chris Mack’s offense. Nwora is especially lethal as a pick-n-pop screener on the perimeter with a lightning-quick release and the ability to attack over ambitious close-outs off the dribble.
At 6’9″ with the lateral mobility of a traditional guard, Reddish projects to be a crippling kryptonite to Nwora. Mack almost never plays a traditional two-big lineup—Malik Williams and Steven Enoch essentially tag team the 5 position—so Reddish and Nwora will have plenty of time to get acquainted with one another this evening. This smaller lineup also limits Louisville’s size advantage up front, as the defensive glass has been Duke’s lone vulnerability this year. Given how reliant the Cardinals’ perimeter-oriented offense is on knocking down jumpers, a cold shooting night could produce long rebounds and subsequent fast-break opportunities for Duke’s devastating transition attack.
As we’ve seen far too frequently on ESPN’s in-game cutaways and highlight reels, no team in America turns missed shots and turnovers into points faster than Duke. If Coach K can emphasize the importance of keeping the Cardinals off the free-throw line and avoiding any foul trouble, Duke should silence the rowdy Louisville crowd and cruise to yet another easy win in a hostile environment.
Marquette at DePaul
Meyer’s Pick: DePaul +3
Holy letdown spot.
Marquette squeaked by Villanova on its home court Saturday, and the Golden Eagles celebrated like they just won the Big East Tournament after their final defensive hold.
Now Marquette has to turn around and travel south to face DePaul. The Blue Demons are 5–6 in Big East play and already lost to the Golden Eagles by 10 on Jan. 23 in Milwaukee, so it’s tough to envision Marquette getting up for this one after notching its biggest win of the season.
The Golden Eagles have been vulnerable on the road, where they’ve lost two games by over 20 (96–73 at Indiana, 89–69 at St. John’s). Their most recent contest away from home was their most impressive, a 76–58 victory over Butler on Jan. 30. Marquette won its other three conference road games by a total of 10 points (including a miraculous OT win over Creighton). In fact, that last road game against Butler was the only conference road game the Golden Eagles have led at halftime.
DePaul has the advantage down low in this one, thanks to Paul Reed and Femi Olujobi, who combined for 33 points and 18 rebounds in the first meeting. The Blue Demons have had big success when they’ve controlled the boards, posting a 13–3 record in games where they outrebounded their opponent. One of the three losses did come to the Golden Eagles (DePaul had the 37–34 edge in rebounds then), but this is the type of physical battle that can be tough to overcome if you’re not fully mentally into it. With that shiny No. 10 ranking next to Marquette’s name, DePaul will certainly be aiming for that signature win at home, just like it did when it beat Marquette last season in Chicago.
Marquette is certainly the better team here, but do I think the Golden Eagles are as good as their top-10 ranking suggests? They feel more like a borderline top-25 team to me, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some regression with their success in close games (7–1 in games decided by five or fewer points). Betting against Markus Howard is never fun, but this letdown spot is too good to pass up.
And now our bonus pick, which comes from SI’s college basketball producer and resident Big Ten fanatic Molly Geary!
Purdue at Maryland
Geary’s Pick: Maryland +2.5
This line has moved from a pick ‘em to Purdue -2.5, which is likely because of the Boilermakers’ eight-game win streak but is interesting considering Maryland is a top-20 team on kenpom.com and at home in a tough environment. Both of these teams are notably better than they were the first time they met, which came way back on Dec. 6. In that one, the Boilermakers gutted out a two-point win and the Terps’ offense went cold in the final minutes.
It’s not worth over-analyzing how things went two months ago in West Lafayette, but one thing that could potentially carry over is Maryland’s defense on Carsen Edwards. Anthony Cowan and Darryl Morsell limited the junior star to 20 points on 15 shots in that one, and Edwards comes into Tuesday night having gone a combined 3 of 17 from three in his last two games (Ryan Cline, however, is red-hot, having made 16 of 31). If the game comes down to the perimeter, the Terrapins will look to counter with freshmen Eric Ayala (47%) and Aaron Wiggins (41%), and potentially Cowan, who is streaky from deep but can get going in a hurry. Overall, the teams are nearly even in three-point shooting during Big Ten play (Maryland leads the conference at 39.7%), but Purdue ranks 12th out of 14 teams in defensive three-point percentage and last in defensive three-point rate.
The battle down low is intriguing, not least of which because Purdue freshman Trevion Williams has now emerged as a starter after playing just one minute against Maryland in December. He and Matt Haarms will have their hands full with Bruno Fernando, who has shown an increased ability to pass out of double teams but is turnover prone. Purdue has not been great defending post-ups either, as the Boilermakers rank in the 48th percentile in terms of PPP, per Synergy. Maryland, on the other hand, runs post-ups on 10.9% of its offensive possessions and sits in the 83rd percentile in scoring out of them. Another area where Fernando and the Terps could really do damage is on the offensive boards. Per kenpom, Purdue ranks 12th in defensive rebounding rate in Big Ten play, while Maryland is third on the offensive side. In what should be a raucous atmosphere at the Xfinity Center, give the edge to the home side to cover.
OVERALL RECORD: 41-36-1