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Must-Win Game for Stanford to Keep NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive vs. Washington State

The early bird gets the worm for college basketball Sundays because there aren’t a lot of late games to pick from. The best games on the card are in the 4 p.m. hour with Maryland vs. Ohio State and Butler vs. Creighton, but my body felt the need to catch up on some much needed shut-eye after a long week that included the release of my 2020 MLB Betting Guide.

So, our choices are pretty limited and in fact we’ll have to go to one of the weaker games on the card with some thoughts on Stanford vs. Washington State in some Pac-12 action with an 8 p.m. ET tip-off. The road Cardinal are favored by 3.5 at MyBookie Sportsbook with a total of 134.

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By the way, I’ll have a new round of college basketball situational betting spots for this evening, so you can check out that updated article and paint a picture for the week ahead.

Before we get to next week, we have to finish off this week and this is the last game on the slate. Every game is important for Stanford the rest of the way. The Cardinal have a 6-7 record in a marginal Pac-12 Conference. They have a legitimate shot at 20 wins, but a lot of bracket projections have them on the outside looking in because the team has lost seven of its last nine.

Two of the losses have been in overtime and all of them have been by single digits, but losing in January and February can wipe out all the good that was done during the non-conference portion of the season. This is a team that beat Oklahoma and only lost by a point to Butler. It is also a team that is just 2-7 in Pac-12 play since a 4-0 start.

Washington State may be very well be the weakest of the bunch in the Pac-12. The Cougars are 5-9 in league play, but have dropped three straight and six of their last eight. They lost by 26 in Palo Alto back on January 11 and allowed a season-high 1.267 points per possession. It has not been a pretty look for WSU for the most part this season.

This is a team that should be on the upswing with a solid head coach in Kyle Smith, who turned Columbia into a respectable program by the time he went to San Francisco. This is only his first year in Pullman and better days should be coming, particularly if top recruit Noah Williams can take a big leap next season. With the season pretty much lost, Williams has been getting a lot more playing time of late and there have been a lot of growing pains. He only has 6.1 points per game and nearly as many turnovers as assists.

This time of the season requires you to think about those sorts of things. Teams that are not going to the NCAA Tournament or any of the other postseason tournaments may start experimenting. Young guys may take on more responsibilities in the rotation. They may play more in high-leverage spots. When it comes to Washington State, most of the guys on the roster, with the exception of leading scorer CJ Elleby, are upperclassmen, so Williams is the only guy taking a lot of the minutes from them. It will be a bigger factor with other teams. If Washington State had higher upside young talent, it would be more of a factor with them.

Stanford’s young talent, meanwhile, already plays a big role with freshmen like Tyrell Terry and Spencer Jones. Jones and Terry are both shooting over 40% from 3 and that is a big reason why Stanford is in a position to possibly make the NCAA Tournament. They’ll likely end up being one of the top seeds in the NIT, but they rank 23rd nationally in 3P% at 37.2%. They are 52nd in 2P%.

Another big reason is that Stanford really D’s up without the basketball. The Cardinal are sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency per Bart Torvik, 15th in eFG% defense, and in the top 50 in TO% on defense, 3P% defense, 2P% defense, and Block%. Without the turnovers on offense, Stanford might not be worried about its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Cardinal are second in conference action in both 3P% and 2P% and rank first in 3P% defense.

But, the turnovers, man. Those are the really big problem area for this team and the reason why Stanford has had a lot of single-digit losses and near misses. In losses to Cal, Utah, and Arizona State, the Cardinal had TO% marks of 24.5%, 27.2%, and 27.5%. They had a 22.6% TO% in the OT loss to USC. Those extra possessions matter and have been the difference between winning and losing for a team that has only allowed over a point per possession four times in 13 conference games.

What keeps Washington State in games? Their TO% on defense. They rank 46th nationally in that department. In fairness, Wazzu played the 308th-ranked non-conference schedule per Torvik, so they were able to pad their numbers a bit early, but they still rank third in conference play in takeaway percentage. They aren’t good defensively otherwise. In the loss to Stanford earlier this season, Washington State only forced nine turnovers. That 13.0% TO% was their third-lowest in conference play.

So this one is simple. If Stanford takes care of the ball at an average or better rate, they are very likely to win and cover. If they do not, then they are likely to suffer a loss that would end their NCAA Tournament hopes.

I’m on Stanford here. This game means so much more to them. Washington State is a terrible offensive team that has fallen short of .9 PPP in four of the last six games and five of the last seven. So long as Stanford doesn’t have an obscene amount of turnovers, the Cougars won’t score enough to keep up. Stanford’s TO% in conference has been better aside from a few outliers and I don’t think this will be one of them.

Pick: Stanford -3.5

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