NCAA College Basketball Sports Betting Picks for Thursday & Friday Games

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A strange year for college basketball has produced some strange scheduling for teams trying to navigate a season played during a global pandemic.

A number of conferences have scheduled back-to-back games at a single site in consecutive days. Some, like the Mountain West Conference, gave teams a day in between games.  Some of the results have been head-scratchers.

On New Year’s Eve, Boise State won its seventh straight game, pummeling lowly San Jose State 106-54. Two days later, the Broncos needed an Abu Kigab jumper with two seconds left to escape with an 87-86 victory over the Spartans.

And that wasn’t even the weirdest two-games series that week.

Colgate, the Patriot League favorite, didn’t even begin its season until a few hours before Kigab’ heroics. The Raiders showed no rust, racing to a 26-7 lead over Army, en route to a 101-57 win. Colgate shot 65% from the field, including 29-of-38 from 2-point range.

The next afternoon, the Raiders found themselves trailing the Black Knights by 11 at halftime. Army survived a second-half surge by Colgate and won a shocker, 75-73. Colgate hasn’t lost since.

While San Jose State’s and Army’s second-game reversals were extreme, they were also part of what appears to have become a trend — or a couple of trends.

Between Wednesday and Sunday, there were 88 games played as part of back-to-back games between two conference foes on consecutive days at a single site. For our purposes, we’ll be looking at 86 of those because Detroit and Youngstown State were pick em in their first of two.

Teams that covered the spread in the first game found the return matches more challenging. They were 22-21 SU but just 17-25-1 ATS in the rematches. Favorites that failed to cover in the first games were 10-6 straight up and 9-7 ATS in the second. Those numbers include a couple of perplexing results.

Bryant was cruising atop the Northeast Conference standings before losing back-to-back games at previously 3-9 Fairleigh Dickinson. Even stranger, Winthrop, a 12.5-point favorite, squeaked by UNC Asheville 84-80 on Thursday to run its record to 16-0. But the Eagles fell 57-55 the next evening. Combined scores in these rematches rose from 135.2 points per game to 140.7.

The strongest trend might involve teams that won big in Game 1. Those that posted double-digit victories the first night were just 2-9-1 ATS the next. Five of the 12 teams lost outright.

And in most cases, the differences were drastic. Some examples:

  • South Dakota beat Omaha by 32 on Friday and four on Saturday. The Coyotes were favored by eight and 10.5, respectively.
  • Binghampton routed New Hampshire by 21 on Saturday while getting 6.5 points. New Hampshire covered Sunday’s 4.5-point spread, 71-65.
  • UC Santa Barbara beat UC Davis 72-51 as an eight-point favorite and 89-86 while favored by nine.
  • The average swing in the 12 games was 17.4 points.

Sportsbooks bumped the point spreads by an average of one point in favor of the first-game winners.

There is a month left in the regular season, plenty of time to watch these numbers.

Here are this week’s picks. The numbers for the spreads are based on game predictions at KenPom.com.

Thursday 2/4 NCAA Games

Belmont -12 at Eastern Illinois: The Bruins have flown mostly under the radar, despite the fact that they haven’t lost — a shocking 13-point home loss to Samford — in nearly two months.

It’s a down year for the Ohio Valley Conference — Belmont is the only team among the top 150 at KenPom — and Eastern Illinois struggled, nonetheless.

The Panthers have lost eight in a row since an upset of Murray State, and six of those losses came by double digits. Belmont’s shooters will be tough on Eastern Illinois’ 287th-ranked defense. BELMONT 

 BYU -18 at Portland, total 144: The Pilots don’t play much defense, and they don’t spend a lot of time trying to.

Portland’s defensive possessions average just 15.9 seconds, the 10thshortest in Division I. BYU hoisted 63 field goal attempts and 12 free throws in a 95-67 win over the Pilots in Provo, Utah, two weeks ago. Portland gave up 70 and 30 to Gonzaga in a 116-88 home loss Jan. 9.

Portland won’t be able to slow down the Cougars here. BYU and OVER

Friday 2/5 NCAA Games

Jacksonville at Bellarmine -7: What happens when a Division II power ascends to a lower-tier D-I conference? Well, look at Bellarmine.

The Knights, who won the 2011 Division II national title and made four Final Fours over the past decade, started the season 3-5 (although that included excusable losses to Duke and Notre Dame). They’re undefeated since and 5-1 ATS over that stretch. Bellarmine’s only point spread loss came in the dreaded second game of a back-to-back on Saturday at Kennesaw State.

Although they’re ineligible for the NCAA Tournament in their first year at this level, the Knights are tied for first in the Atlantic Sun.

Bellarmine is not a defensive force, but that won’t be a killer against the Dolphins. And the Knights’ shooters (they’re 23rd nationally in KenPom’s effective field goal percentage) should have a big advantage against the Jacksonville defense. BELLARMINE

Last week: 1-1

Season: 21-8-4

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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