NCAA Basketball Picks: Play Cal Poly to Hang Tough At UC Irvine

LT Profits Sports Group

Thursday, March 3, 2016 4:59 PM GMT

Thursday, Mar. 3, 2016 4:59 PM GMT

The UC Irvine Anteaters can still win the Big West while the Cal Poly Mustangs are just trying to improve their seeding, but look for the Mustangs to stay within single-digits. 

 

Even with the home team still in contention for the Big West Conference regular season title, the road underdogs still appear to offer value Thursday night catching nearly double-digits when those Cal Poly Mustangs (10-17, 8-16 ATS) pay a visit to the UC Irvine Anteaters (22-8, 13-14-1 ATS) at the Bren Events Center in Irvine, CA at 11:30 ET in a game available on ESPN3.

The point spread at Bovada has Cal Poly as a big road underdog for this contest with the current line at +9½ on the NCAA Basketball odds board at odds of -110.

 

Irvine Needs Help from Hawaii
These teams are currently on the opposite end of the Big West Standings. UC Irvine sits at 11-3 in conference and just one game behind Hawaii (12-2), but the Anteaters lost both head-to-head meetings with the Warriors this season, meaning that Irvine must win its last two games while Hawaii must lose its last two in order for the Anteaters to claim the regular season Big West title.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cal Poly is second from the bottom in the nine-team conference at 4-10, leading only a CS Fullerton team that has clinched last place with its conference season over at 3-13. The Mustangs had appeared to turn things around with a recent two-game winning streak, but they have since regressed again as the losing NCAA Basketball picks in their last two games to CS Northridge and, most disturbingly, that Fullerton team.

 

Lots of Close Losses for Poly
Nonetheless, Cal Poly is always worth a closer look when getting this many points because while the Mustangs are a tad short on talent this season, they are a well coached team under Joe Callero that rarely beats itself, and thus they rarely get blown out. To wit, Poly may be just 10-17 overall, but its average losing margin this entire season is just -1.3 points with an average final score of 73.9-75.2.

The Mustangs have remained competitive with seven of their last nine losses being by single-digits, and for proof of their soundness, consider that they are 15th in the entre country in offensive turnover percentage at only 14.8 percent vs. a national average of 18.2 percent. They are even a respectable 95th nationally in three-point shooting at 36.3 percent.

The issue for Poly has been interior shooting as the Mustangs are small with no player on the entire roster taller than 6-foot-9 and no starter taller than 6-foot-7, but their composure with the basketball as well as playing at a relatively slow pace ranking 253rd in the nation in tempo rating has kept them competitive in games more often than not.

 

First Meeting Went into Overtime
Such was even the case the first time these teams met this year back in San Luis Obispo when despite the standings of these two teams, Poly took Irvine into overtime before falling 78-72. The Mustangs played to their strength that game, winning the turnover battle committing only 10 vs.17 for the Anteaters, and although it ended up being a 76-possession game, that figure would have been closer to the Poly average of 67.3 possessions if not for the overtime.

We do not see this game really playing out much differently as UC Irvine does not play fast either, ranking 233rd in tempo rating at 67.9 possessions, and the Anteaters are usually not adept at speeding opponents up ranking only 211th in defensive turnover percentage. The huge edge that Irvine has here is defensively, where it ranks 55th nationally in defensive efficiency and 17th in effective field goal percentage allowed at a mere 45.1 percent.

That advantage is not as magnified in a slower paced game however, and for all of that great defense, UC Irvine is 154th in offensive efficiency and thus has an average winning margin across all of its Division I games of +4.0 points, less than half of the margin required to cover this rather lofty spread.

 

Past Success in Irvine
Finally, this is one trip that Cal Poly has not minded taking recently as the Mustangs are 8-3 ATS in the last 11 head-to-head meetings here in Irvine. They may also be catching the Anteaters at the right time as UC Irvine is only 1-4 ATS in its last five home games.

So while there is little doubt that UC Irvine has the better squad this season, expect Cal Poly to give a game effort like it always does and stay within single-digits in this contest, which would be good enough to cover the point spread at the Bren Center on Thursday.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Cal Poly +9
Best Line Offered: at Bookmaker

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