NCAA Basketball Picks: Saturday Picks of the Day

Matthew Jordan

Saturday, March 1, 2014 2:53 PM GMT

Wichita State and Kansas are both Top-5 ranked teams, have wrapped up their conference regular-season titles and are in line for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. So why is it we like their unranked opponents to cover the NCAA basketball odds in Saturday's games?

Missouri State at No. 2 Wichita State

Some coaches will tell you they don't want their teams to be unbeaten heading into postseason play, so it's worth wondering whether Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall would be all that upset if his Shockers were stunned at home Saturday by Missouri State. WSU opened as a 16.5-point favorite for sports bettors.

The last school to enter its conference tournament unbeaten was the 2003-04 St. Joseph's team and the Hawks would then lose in the Atlantic-10 Tournament quarterfinals. The last team to make it to the Big Dance without a loss was that epic 1990-91 UNLV team, which of course lost to Duke in the Final Four.

On Tuesday in what could have been a potential trap game at Bradley, Wichita State (national-best 20-6-1 ATS at sportsbooks) rolled 69-49 to become the first Division I team to reach 30-0 in the regular season. The Shockers are the fifth team to start a season 30-0 the year after reaching the Final Four. Each of the previous four returned to the national semifinals and two won it all (both John Wooden's UCLA teams).

So why might Missouri State (13-10 ATS) hang close? Well it's bound to be an emotional final home game for the WSU seniors -- the team's best player, Cleanthony Early is a senior. Plus Missouri State gave WSU its biggest scare of the season. On Jan. 11 in Springfield, the Bears had a 19-point lead midway through the second half before the Shockers went on a 29-10 run in the final 11:30 of regulation to force overtime. WSU would win 72-69 despite shooting only 35.3 percent overall and 5-for-22 from long range. Early was a beast with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Missouri State is no slouch and has won two straight entering the game, including an impressive home win over the No. 2 team in the Missouri Valley Conference, Indiana State. WSU is the highest-ranked team Missouri State has ever faced in the regular season.

NCAA basketball free pick: Missouri State +16.5. The Bears have five of their past seven against teams with a winning record for sports bettors. WSU has covered just once in its past five after allowing less than 50 points in its previous game.

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No. 5 Kansas at Oklahoma State

The Jayhawks (14-13-1 ATS at sportsbooks) clinched at least a share of their unthinkable 10th straight Big 12 title on Tuesday night with an 83-75 home win over Oklahoma on Tuesday, the fourth straight win for Kansas. All five KU starters reached double figures, led by Naadir Tharpe's 19. Joel Embiid had 12 points and 13 rebounds. The Division I record for consecutive conference titles is UCLA in the Pac-10 from 1967-79. KU has won six of nine Big 12 Tournaments in that stretch if wondering.

While Kansas is obviously an NCAA Tournament lock, Oklahoma State (10-13-1 ATS) has work to do. The Cowboys, not KU, were the preseason Big 12 favorites with All-American Marcus Smart passing up the NBA Draft and returning to Stillwater. It's been a largely disappointing season for Smart, but his recent three-game suspension seems to have awoken OSU. The Cowboys lost all three without him, culminating in a seven-game skid. However, the Pokes have won two straight blowouts since Smart returned: 84-62 vs. Texas Tech and 76-54 at TCU on Monday. At 18-10 overall and 6-9 in the Big 12, OSU probably has to win its final three games in the regular season and at least one in the conference tournament to get an at-large NCAA bid.

OSU has lost four straight to ranked teams, a streak that started Jan. 18 at Kansas, an 80-78 Jayhawks victory. KU was up 47-30 at the half but needed a strip of OSU's Le'Bryan Nash as he was attempting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to preserve the win. Embiid dominated that game with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. Smart had 16 but was 3-for-14 overall and 0-for-6 from 3-point range. It was a very intense game featuring six flagrant or technical fouls.

NCAA basketball free pick: Oklahoma State at pick'em on NCAA basketball odds. Kansas has covered only four of nine true road games this year. The underdog has covered five of the past six meetings.

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