All eyes in college basketball are going to be on the FS1 matchup between Purdue and Michigan State. Well, all eyes except for ours. There are a lot of games on Friday night in a variety of different conferences and this is a good night to familiarize yourself with some of the mid-major and low-major conferences. That’s where most of the betting value is anyway.
One such game is the matchup between Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky in Conference USA. The Hilltoppers are -6.5 with a total of 143 at Bovada Sportsbook for Friday’s night’s battle in Bowling Green. This is one of the stronger mid-major leagues in college hoops this season and these games are very important in a one-bid league.
We’ll handicap this matchup and find a play for Game 881/882 on January 8.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Eric Konkol’s team may have gotten robbed of a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament last season. The Bulldogs were 22-8 and 13-5 in conference play heading into the Conference USA Tournament. Unfortunately, COVID-19 stepped in and got that one canceled.
The Bulldogs had two overtime losses and a one-point loss among their five conference defeats. They were right there and could play with any team in the league. Unfortunately, it was not to be for a team that got a lot of contributions from seniors Mubarak Muhammed, DaQuan Bracey, and Derric Jean. It was Konkol’s best team in Ruston over five seasons and it was a shame to see it end that way.
LA Tech heads into this matchup with an 8-3 record and a 1-1 mark in conference play after splitting last weekend’s games against Marshall. The Bulldogs were 4-of-19 from 3 against Marshall’s 10-of-30 in the second game and those extra 18 points were too much to overcome. We’ll see if this weekend set in Bowling Green plays out the same way.
To this point, LA Tech’s only other losses have been against LSU by 31 and Louisiana by five. Both games were on the road, but this is a team that has played the 241st-ranked schedule per Bart Torvik. The Bulldogs are better defensively than they are offensively. They rank 73rd in eFG% defense, but 172nd in eFG% offense.
LA Tech struggles badly at the free throw line, which has been a multi-year trend, so that may not adjust or improve much. They also rank 314th in Assist Rate. Some of that has to do with making a below average amount of shots, but they just don’t spread the ball around overly well. Outside of the losses to LSU and Louisiana, though, they’ve scored at least .99 points per possession in all but one of their other games.
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Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Western Kentucky will be looking to rebound from an overtime last to Charlotte last Saturday. Prior to that defeat, WKU’s only other losses were against West Virginia and Louisville. There is no shame in either one of those losses. They even beat a Northern Iowa team that went 20-of-39 from three-point land in the season opener. Wins over Memphis, Rhode Island, and Alabama certainly stand out as impressive.
Western Kentucky hasn’t generated a lot of margin, though. Any win is a good one, but the only wins of more than six points have come against Mississippi Valley State, one of the 10 worst teams in the country, and Tennessee Tech, a bottom-50 bunch. Even the win over Charlotte in the conference play opener was only by four.
In other words, it is really tough to lay big numbers with the ‘Tops. Opponents are shooting 40.4% from 3 against them and they are only shooting 31.6% from triple land. That has been a bit part of the equation. If teams stop making so many deep shots, Western Kentucky can go on a run. They are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country and have shot 79.3% from the free throw line.
A week off may have helped WKU’s best player, Charles Bassey. The 6-foot-11 junior missed the game against Tennessee Tech and then only had 10 and 11 points, respectively, in the two Charlotte games. He’s a force on the glass and the most important cog in this offense.
Pick & Analysis
Something that really stood out about the Charlotte games for WKU is that the Hilltoppers only had seven combined offensive rebounds. The 49ers were one of the better defensive rebounding teams that they have faced this season. It limited their ability to get second-chance points.
After those games, Charlotte ranks 36th in the nation in ORB% against. LA Tech is a top-70 team in that department. If the Hilltoppers don’t get those easy putbacks or trips to the line, they are not a good jump-shooting team at all.
With that in mind, I’ll take the points with LA Tech. While writing, this line bumped up to 6.5 and even 7 at some places. I’ll look to go against the grain of the move here.