Saturday’s Best Bets

Saturday College Basketball Expert Picks

With the college football regular season officially over and Bowl season yet to take off, the betting market will likely start to pay more and more attention to the college basketball landscape. Action on the hardwood can get a little scarce at time as we approach the holidays, but it won't be long before 2020 is here and the insanity that  is conference play across the country gets into full swing.
It's never too late to start really diving into this sport though, and with about a month's worth of data as 10 or so games are in the book for every program right now, easing into the CBB waters now could end up paying huge dividends come February and March. With that in mind, here are two plays on Saturday that I've isolated as ones that hopefully get us to the pay window.

New Mexico State at New Mexico (7:05 p.m. ET)

Best Bet #1: New Mexico

Rivalry game here as there is no love lost between these two schools that have decided to play a home-and-home the past few years. 2019 is no different, as it was New Mexico who came away with a hard fought 78-77 win on the road on November 21st. That was the first outright win for the Lobos in this rivalry in six tries, as it was the first time they covered the spread in that span as well.
Now although the point spread move from New Mexico closing as a 4-point dog to a 5-point favorite does seem like a big jump based off a one-point road win, it is not something I fear in this spot. Yes, recent history and the fact that this was a one-point game just a few weeks back will lead some to backing the Aggies and the points, but that result should be easily repeatable for the Lobos back at home.
For one, New Mexico got, and hit, pretty much whatever they wanted to inside the arc, as the team went 24-for-37 from the floor from two-point range. Sure, a 64% shooting number from that game likely isn't repeatable, but the coaching staff knows what works and won't hesitate to go back to the well. That aggressiveness allowed the Lobos to get 24 shots from the charity stripe up as well. Under the general assumption that home teams do tend to get a few more calls in the sport, that only bodes well for New Mexico here.
At the same time, the Lobos understand that they'll have to defend the three-ball as that's what the Aggies preferred in the first meeting, and while a 7-for-33 night from distance is likely only to see positive regression, the amount teams gain in the college game in that regard tends to be minimal, not to mention when they are on the road the second time as well. If the Aggies get behind by a decent margin early, they could end up becoming “three-happy” with their shooting, and if they aren't falling, that only will see the deficit grow.
Should the Lobos knock down a few more of their own shots from distance (4-for-15) in the first meeting, this game will turn into a route. The last four times the home team was listed as a favorite of -4.5 or more they've come away with dominant SU and ATS wins, and Saturday's game should be no different.

Saint Mary's (CA) at California (10:35 p.m. ET)

Best Bet #2: Saint Mary's

California is coming off a nice 69-63 win over Fresno State earlier this week, but the Bulldogs went into that game without one of their starters in Noah Blackwell, and over the course of 40 minutes his absence was felt. Now the Bears face a much more consistent (and better) team in Saint Mary's, and this is probably where that type of luck runs out for California.
To start, Saint Mary's is coming off their second loss of the year (78-68 vs Dayton) and catching a team of the Gaels caliber off a loss is never ideal. The other time it happened this year saw Saint Mary's fail to cover the number, but an 18-point win as -19.5 favorites isn't something you can really hold against them in this type of spot. Furthermore, if the Gaels are going to win a game outright, they are going to do it big, as outside of a season opening OT win over Wisconsin, every one of St Mary's other eight victories this year have come by at least eight points. That's a pretty good stat to consider backing the Gaels here given that the spread is -7.
For a Cal team that struggles to score the basketball – four of their last seven games have seen 54 or less points scored – going up against an angry Gaels defense that's looking to rebound isn't ideal either. Saint Mary's only allows 61.9 points per game as it is, and that number actually drops to 60.5/game on the road. Yes, a small sample size of road games has something to do with that, but that's not exactly the case for California's defense at home that gives up 67/game.
That right there is the ground work for where this spread is, and with one side looking for redemption (Saint Marys) and the other side coming off a bit of a high (California) I'll lay it with the better team on the better side of that motivational angle as well.