NCAA Basketball Picks: Missouri vs. N.C. State

Jason Lake

Saturday, December 28, 2013 2:29 PM GMT

Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013 2:29 PM GMT

The college basketball betting season kicks it up a notch this Saturday with a competitive matchup between the No. 25 Missouri Tigers and the unranked North Carolina State Wolfpack.

When is the best team in the SEC not the best team in the SEC? When it’s the Missouri Tigers, of course. Missouri (10-1 SU, 4-4-1 ATS) sits on top of the conference standings as we go to press, led by the SEC’s top scorer in PG Jordan Clarkson. But these Tigers are at least partly made out of paper. They’ve been fattening up on non-conference cupcakes – Ken Pomeroy’s advanced stats have Mizzou ranked No. 271 out of the 351 Division I teams in strength of schedule. Mmmmm… cupcakes.

Now let’s see if Missouri can stomach the North Carolina State Wolfpack (9-2 SU, 4-3-1 ATS) when they meet this Saturday (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2) at the PNC Arena in Raleigh. The Wolfpack have a few things in common with the Tigers, including the ACC’s leading scorer in forward T.J. Warren and the No. 288-ranked strength of schedule in Division I. However, N.C. State also has some hidden value against the college basketball lines, which have the Pack laying 2.5 points as we go to press.

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SEC: We Also Play Basketball

At this time of year – or really, any time of year – most SEC sports betting fans are focussed on the gridiron, not the hardcourt. Too bad, because they’re missing out on some solid programs. At No. 25, Missouri is one of three SEC teams in the AP rankings, following No. 13 Florida and No. 18 Kentucky. But do the Tigers really belong in the same class as the Gators and the Wildcats?

Not at this point. Missouri broke into the rankings in Week 6 by taking advantage of that soft schedule, then stayed undefeated all the way up until this past Saturday, when they lost 65-64 to the Illinois Fighting Illini (+1.5) at the annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. Pomeroy has the Tigers ranked No. 47 in overall efficiency (No. 46 offense, No. 58 defense) going into the weekend, which puts them fifth in the SEC.

That sounds about right. Mizzou definitely has some talent, beginning with Clarkson (24.3 points, 5.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals per 40 minutes), who transferred over from Tulsa just in time to take the PG reins from the departed Phil Pressey (now with the Boston Celtics). But he’s just one of four starters that head coach Frank Haith has had to replace this season. Getting on the same page might take a while; the Tigers are No. 239 in Division I with 13.6 turnovers per game. Mmmmm… turnovers.

Wolfpack 4 Life

As for the Wolfpack, their 2013-14 season got off on the wrong foot with a 68-57 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats (–7 at home), and a surprise 82-72 overtime loss to the North Carolina Central Eagles (NL) from the MEAC. But those results came without one very important player: 7-foot-1 center Jordan Vandenberg. He missed the first four games of the season with a sprained ankle; since his return, Vandenberg has posted 14.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.0 blocks and 1.7 assists per 40 minutes. The Wolfpack are 7-0 SU and 3-2-1 ATS in those seven games.

This is a very good sign for a team that had pretty low expectations going into the 2013-14 campaign. The Wolfpack failed to live up to their preseason hype last year at 24-11 SU (17-16 ATS), but it was still a positive step forward for the Pack in their first season under head coach Mark Gottfried. Year Two features a strong recruiting class in support of Warren (27.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals/40), who projects as a late first-round pick in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft.

The Wolfpack are still just No. 66 overall (No. 51 offense, No. 110 defense) on the Pomeroy charts, but from a college hoops betting perspective, they’ve got the upside at home over the puffed-up Tigers. May the sphere be with you. Take the Wolfpack for your free college basketball picks.

NCAAB Pick: Take the Wolfpack –2.5 at Guardian

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