NCAA Basketball: Best Bets for Saturday Conference play games

Dec 31, 2016; Omaha, NE, USA; Creighton Bluejays center Justin Patton (23) attempts a shot against Villanova Wildcats forward Eric Paschall (4) at CenturyLink Center Omaha. Villanova defeated Creighton 80-70. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 31, 2016; Omaha, NE, USA. NCAA Basketball; Creighton Bluejays center Justin Patton (23) attempts a shot against Villanova Wildcats forward Eric Paschall (4) at CenturyLink Center Omaha. Villanova defeated Creighton 80-70. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Best Bets returns in the midst of NCAA Basketball conference play.

Last Week: 2-1

Overall: 9-7

Check out past editions of this feature: Week one, two, threefour, and five.

The sixth edition of Best Bets kicks off with a bit a momentum over the past three weeks. I am a combined 6-3 against the spread and I am looking to make sense of a topsy turvy start to conference play this season.

Look around the top of standings throughout the Power 5 leagues and you’ll see some interesting names: Notre Dame, Florida State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Minnesota all share or are within one game in their respective leagues.

So, be careful today when looking to lay some money down. You’ll have your pick. There are 30 games happening on Saturday just in the Power 5 conferences. Here are a couple rules to live by when choosing where your wallet should go.

Be wary of road teams. It is hard to win on the road in conference play, no matter the opponent. If they’re ranked and the home team is not, I would stay away unless the line is obvious. Case in point was this Thursday in the Purdue/Ohio State game in Columbus. The Boilermakers were favored by four over the Buckeyes and objectively more than four points better than the Buckeyes this season. Purdue ended up eeking out a one point victory, but the Buckeyes won the spread.

Careful of double-digit lines. Most conference games are close, unless you play Kentucky. With that in mind, be careful of giving up points, especially if it is a conference road game. More often than not, take the points and make money. An example of this was last weekend in the North Carolina/Georgia Tech game. The line was North Carolina (-14) on the road. The Yellow Jackets won by 12. Take the points in most instances.

Don’t get too upset crazy. Yes, there have been a lot of upsets so far in conference season. However, trying to pick crazy upsets to make yourself look smart or ahead of the game will lose you a ton of money. Stay disciplined. Remember the other two rules and bet on games that you have a reasonable amount of comfort in. College basketball is, by nature, unpredictable. That doesn’t mean your betting has to be that way though.

With that, let’s look at our picks for this weekend’s slate of games.

Dec 27, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo reacts against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the second half at Williams Arena. Michigan State defeated Minnesota 75-74 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 27, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo reacts against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the second half at Williams Arena. Michigan State defeated Minnesota 75-74 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State (-5) vs. Penn State

Guess who’s coming on in conference play? Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Michigan State has won four in a row and sits at 3-0 in the Big Ten. Miles Bridges is back and dunking on people and freshman Nick Ward has emerged as a force in the paint.

Today, they travel to the Palestra in Philadelphia to square off against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State is using one of their eight conference home games to face Michigan State in Philadelphia in a cool move by head coach Pat Chambers.

Sparty is a five-point favorite in what should be a charged atmosphere, so that seems like a tricky play. However, Penn State is a disappointing at 9-7 this season. They looked to be turning the corner at Michigan this past Wednesday, but blew a 14-point second half lead to lose in Ann Arbor. Their overall record is the tied for the worst in the Big Ten.

With these numbers in mind, I am taking the Spartans to handle the Nittany Lions this afternoon. I think it will be close early on and probably into the second half. The atmosphere from the Palestra will motivate Penn State to come out and play well. However, as the game goes on, Michigan State will eventually take control. Expect this one to be a 8-10 point win for the Spartans as they continue to come together and improve in conference play.

Pick: Michigan State (-5)

Dec 20, 2016; Tempe, AZ, USA; Creighton Bluejays center Justin Patton (23) and guard Maurice Watson Jr. (10) talk during the second half against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Wells-Fargo Arena. Creighton won 96-85. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 20, 2016; Tempe, AZ, USA; Creighton Bluejays center Justin Patton (23) and guard Maurice Watson Jr. (10) talk during the second half against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Wells-Fargo Arena. Creighton won 96-85. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

10 Creighton (-4) at Providence

I know, I know, I said not to take road teams in the first slide and I am taking a road team here. Remember, unless the line is obvious, stay away. I think this line is obvious.

It is perplexing that a top 10 team can only be favored by four on the road against a team that is 11-5. Maybe Vegas is seeing something I am not, but this one seems like easy money.

Creighton is going to score wherever they play. They’ve proven that all season in averaging 88 points per game.

Providence, on the other hand, really struggles to put the ball in the hoop. The Friars come into this game averaging just 69 points per game. They’ve scored over 70 points just once in their last four games (1-3).

The Bluejays are not world beaters on the defensive end, but their offense functions as their best defense. Teams cannot keep up.

I think this happens today. Creighton is one of the best teams in the Big East and a legitimate conference title contender. A four-point win on the road against a bottom-third team in the Big East seems doable. Expect Creighton to take this one by 8-10 points.

Pick: 10 Creighton (-4)

Mar 11, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson reacts from the bench in the second half against the Tulane Green Wave during the AAC Tournament at the Amway Center. The Tulane Green Wave won 72-69. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 11, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson reacts from the bench in the second half against the Tulane Green Wave during the AAC Tournament at the Amway Center. The Tulane Green Wave won 72-69. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

22 Cincinnati (-3) at Houston

The nightcap on Best Bets is an intriguing match up out of the American Athletic Conference. SMU and Cincinnati appear to be the class of the conference this season, but teams like Houston are knocking on the door as well.

Kelvin Sampson’s Houston Cougars can really score the basketball. A top 25 KenPom offense goes up against one of the stingiest defenses in all of college basketball tonight. When “best defenses” are talked about in college basketball it is usually Virginia and Louisville. Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati teams should definitely be on that list.

The Bearcats will be tested tonight by a Cougar team that is 12-3 overall and 3-0 in conference play. Junior guard Rob Gray Jr. is one of the best guards in the conference, averaging over 20 points a game. Damyean Dotson (former Oregon player) is averaging 15 and seven and Devin Davis (former Indiana player) is at 10 and six. This trio can score with anyone and bring the toughness one needs to beat the Bearcats.

I like Houston and the points in this one. Mick Cronin will have his team ready to play, but I think Houston is good at home. Take the points here and watch two potential sleeper teams in March.

Pick: Houston (+3)

Check back next week for a recap of how we finished this week and our overall record. Meanwhile, enjoy a fascinating set of games!

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