A strong college basketball card is on tap for tonight with a lot of quality matchups across multiple conferences. Every morning, we look for games with some actionable info or edges or seek out the biggest game of the night that everybody seems to have an opinion on. It is a process that takes a little while, but coming to a conclusion and putting together a preview is part of the fun on this side of the business.
The conclusion for Thursday was that the game between the San Francisco Dons and the Santa Clara Broncos would be the game. It is a 10 p.m. ET tip-off in the West Coast Conference and a game that may not be on the radar for most, especially with some major conference games running at the same time.
The money spends the same whether you win a bet in the WCC or the Pac-12, so let’s see if we can find an edge in the Dons vs. Broncos matchup with the Dons -4 and a total of 139 at Bookmaker Sportsbook.
San Francisco Dons
The Dons are an analytics darling. San Francisco head coach Todd Golden is a firm believer in what NBA teams like the Houston Rockets have done. The mid-range game is –EV, or negative expected value. Shots should be taken at the rim or from beyond the three-point line. On the season so far, more than half of San Francisco’s field goal attempts have been triple tries.
Their 50.9% 3P Rate ranks fifth in the nation. And, interestingly enough, the analytics approach also carries over to the defensive side, where the Dons sell out on the perimeter. Opponents have only taken a three-pointer 28.1% of the time.
The players don’t seem to have fully bought in as of yet, as they’ve still taken 169 “far twos” as defined by Bart Torvik. The Dons are shooting 30.2% on those shots, so the proof is in the pudding. They are shooting 63.3% on “close twos” and 36.2% on threes. If only the players would stop shooting those –EV mid-range and long twos, then San Francisco’s offense would run exactly as planned.
That brings us to Khalil Shabazz. The highest-usage player for the Dons had 30 points in the last game against BYU, but he’s taken the most far twos and hasn’t finished at an efficient rate at the rim. Jamaree Bouyea, the team’s facilitator and point guard, has been the one to consistently get to the rim. Shabazz’s potential is on display regularly, but his shot selection and inability to finish at the cup are a big reason why San Francisco is only 3-3 in conference play and just 9-7 overall.
We know the Dons and this style of basketball has potential. Hell, USF beat Virginia earlier this season. On the other hand, the “3 & D” approach can lead to some higher-variance outcomes, like losses to Cal and UMass Lowell. This is a team with a high ceiling and a relatively high floor, judging by the wins and losses, but they can be a frustrating team to bet on or against.
Santa Clara Broncos
There are some really good coaches in the WCC, including Santa Clara bench boss Herb Sendek. It didn’t show in the wins and losses last season, but Santa Clara had one of their better offensive and defensive seasons on his watch, shooting 52.1% from two-point range and 34.9% from three-point range.
This season has been a different story. The Broncos can’t buy a bucket. They’re shooting 26.9% from three and 45.4% from two. That three-point percentage ranks 332nd in the nation and remember that not all 353 teams are playing. It’s one of the absolute worst marks in the country. What changed?
For starters, sophomore Trey Wertz moved on and transferred to Notre Dame. He was a 57% shooter on two-pointers and a 39% shooter on threes. Guglielmo Caruso was 69.3% on twos last season with some big minutes off the bench. He’s shooting 39% in increased time this season. For whatever reason, the Broncos just haven’t been able to create a lot of open looks.
This is a bad offensive team all around. A case could be made for positive regression, as Santa Clara has gone from 59.3% on close twos to 53.2% on them this season. They’ve gone from nearly 35% from three to 27%.
Maybe some home cooking will help. This will be the first home game for Santa Clara at the Leavey Center since December 22. They’ve gone 2-2 in four road games, including a very nice win at Saint Mary’s, in that span.
While Sendek’s team isn’t scoring, they are playing great defense. The Broncos are 65th in the nation in 3P% against at 30.3% and sixth in the nation in 2P% against at 41.8%. They are ninth in eFG% defense. They’re also 327th in eFG% offense, which is why the returns haven’t been as strong as they had hoped.
Pick & Analysis
What is interesting about Santa Clara is that they continue to push the pace, despite the bad offense. Their adjusted tempo ranks 48th in the country per Torvik. I’m looking for a little slower of a game here. Last time out, Santa Clara played a San Diego team coming off of a COVID pause. The Toreros were excited to play and Santa Clara was happy to run. San Francisco is a more controlled team.
Both teams defend the three-point line extremely well. Santa Clara doesn’t take a ton of them, but as we’ve discussed, their offense has not been efficient at all on the interior. Last season’s games played to 73 and 69 possessions, with 141 and 131 points.
I’d look at the under in this one.