We’ve got a very good slate of college basketball action on February 12 and hopefully we can pick out a winner to stop this little skid. Michigan State blew a 17-point halftime and there were all sorts of late-game shenanigans. Ultimately, Sparty won by a point, but that wasn’t good enough for us with yesterday’s preview.
So, we’ll try it again and shift our focus to the Big East Conference, where the Villanova Wildcats are also looking to snap a skid against the visiting Marquette Golden Eagles. Per our friends over at DSI Sportsbook, Villanova is favored by 5 and the total is sitting on 144.5, with some overnight sharper money coming in on the under. This one opened as high as 147 in the marketplace.
Speaking of friends, our good friend Brian Blessing put together a college basketball futures update video for us with a focus on the Big East yesterday, so check that out for some additional intel on this conference. And, as always, be sure to see which situational betting spots are on my radar for tonight.
Marquette seems to be trending up while Villanova is trending down. The Golden Eagles have won six of their last seven, with the only loss coming in overtime on the road at Butler. Villanova, on the other hand, has lost three straight, including the most recent defeat at the hands of a Seton Hall team that had not won at Villanova since 1994.
Is this our classic buy low and sell high spot? This -5 number looks pretty small given that Villanova has been the class of this conference for a long time and Marquette has been a good, but not great, team in the Big East.
I’m not so sure, so let’s take a deeper look. What is the issue for Villanova right now? Well, it is the Wildcats defense. They’ve allowed 1.11, 1.295, and 1.031 points per possession over these last three losses. Butler had a very high-efficiency effort from two-point land with a 24-of-39 showing. Creighton and Seton Hall both won with the long ball, going 11-of-22 and 9-of-21, respectively, from 3.
That doesn’t excuse the Villanova offense. In the loss to Creighton, the ‘Cats had just .891 PPP and just .943 PPP against Seton Hall. Against Butler, Villanova actually had 1.245 PPP, but didn’t play well enough defensively to get that victory.
In the first meeting against Marquette, Villanova managed just .83 points per possession. To this point, that remains the best defensive showing in conference play for Marquette. With Butler in a terrible spot this past Sunday off of the Villanova win, the Eagles held the Bulldogs to .876 PPP for their second-best showing in conference action. In other words, that defensive performance against Villanova the first time around looks like a glaring outlier.
Marquette is an offense-first ballclub. That is what happens when you have a stud like Markus Howard. Marquette has scored at least 1.067 points per possession in each of the last seven games and several games feature a lot more than that, including the 1.168 PPP against Butler last time out.
That is what makes this one such a challenging handicap. Marquette wins with offense and Villanova is currently losing with shoddy defense. Marquette is actually shooting 39.9% from distance in road and neutral settings. For the season as a whole, Marquette is shooting 38.8% from 3. Both numbers rank 11th in the nation and make up for Marquette’s lackluster two-point showing.
Villanova’s three-point defense is fine at 32% and ranks 112th nationally. In conference play, Villanova’s opponents are only shooting 30.8% from distance. That number has definitely gone up over the last three games with a combined effort of 26-of-56 for Creighton, Butler, and Seton Hall. That’s 46.4%. If Marquette shoots 46.4% from three, not only are they likely to cover this game, but they could very well win it outright.
That creates a pretty high-variance environment for this one. If Marquette does not shoot well, they are likely to lose, right? Well, not so fast, my friend. Marquette was 5-of-21 from three in the first meeting and won 71-60. In that game, Villanova was 9-of-38 from 3.
Howard had 29 points in that one, going 12-of-12 from the line. In the first meeting, Marquette had 30 free throw attempts. Villanova had five. The Golden Eagles outscored Villanova 26-3 at the free throw line. It is rather fascinating that Marquette is so awful on two-point shots and has one of the highest three-point rates in the nation, but also gets to the free throw line at a top-15 rate. Villanova gets to the stripe at the 301st rate in the nation, but at least they make the most of it when they are there, shooting 77.8%.
Maybe Villanova makes all of the necessary adjustments. Maybe I’m dumb for buying high and selling low. Maybe Villanova just has too many problems to cover a number here in this one, though the -5 number falls right in fouling range and Villanova is good at that point.
Until Villanova shows me something different, I have to look to go against them with a Marquette team that is peaking. Per Bart Torvik’s Game Score metric, Marquette’s last seven games are 99, 89, 92, 91, 89, 75, and 99. The 75 was a flat spot against DePaul off of back-to-back overtime games and they still managed to do enough to win while going 7-of-31 from 3.
Pick: Marquette +5