Top Value New Year's Day NCAA Basketball Picks

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, January 1, 2015 2:29 PM GMT

Light schedule on New Year's Day in college basketball. That's to be expected because it's the most important NCAA football day of the year and there need to be no distractions! Here are three game recommendations and BetOnline NCAA basketball odds.

SE Missouri State vs. Belmont (-8.5 at sportsbooks)
It's a 2 p.m. ET start for the Ohio Valley Conference opener for these teams. Last season, SE Missouri State finished 8-8 in the conference and second in the West Division behind Murray State. Belmont was the No. 1 seed entering the Ohio Valley Tournament after finishing 14-2 and winning the East Division. However, Belmont was upset 79-73 in the tournament final by Eastern Kentucky. The Bruins thus missed the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in the past nine years and first since 2010. Belmont did reach the quarterfinals of the NIT. The Bruins are widely expected to win the East again this year.

Belmont (8-5), which entered this season as one of only six Division I programs to win 26 or more games each of the last four years, didn't get any signature wins in non-conference play, losing twice to Wright State as well as to Evansville, VCU and Butler. The latter three are all good teams and could be in the 2015 Big Dance. The Bruins are led by junior guard Craig Bradshaw, a preseason OVC choice. He leads the team averaging 19.6 points per game.

SE Missouri State (6-7) has made one NCAA Tournament, in 2000, and isn't expected to be major player in the Ohio Valley this year. The Redhawks have beaten no one of note this year. They did only lose by four at Missouri but were blown out by Arkansas and Ole Miss.  Jarekious Bradley leads SEMS in scoring at 15.4 points per game.

These teams met once last year, a 107-94 Belmont win in Missouri. Bradshaw had 24 points and seven rebounds. Bradley had 27 to lead SE Missouri State. It was the third-highest scoring regulation game in the country last season.

Free NCAA Basketball Pick: Belmont -8.5. The Bruins have won 11 of their past 12 conference openers and 12 of their past 13 conference home openers. SE Missouri State has covered one of its past six road games. Belmont is 4-0 ATS on NCAA basketball odds in its past four against teams with a losing record.

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BYU at Santa Clara (+6 on NCAA basketball odds)
It's a 5 p.m. ET tip for this one in case you want an alternate betting option opposite the stellar Rose Bowl matchup, which kicks off around the same time. BYU (11-4) has one of the nation's top scorers in senior guard Tyler Haws (22.1 ppg), a West Coast Conference Player of the Year candidate. The Cougars, who lead the nation in scoring, have opened WCC play at 1-1. They lost a tough one at home to No. 8 Gonzaga 87-80 on Dec. 27 but then rebounded to beat Portland 97-88 on  Monday. BYU was in a four-guard lineup almost all game against Portland and guards scored all but two of the points. BYU again will play without injured big men Nate Austin and Jamal Aytes. Coach Dave Rose said Tuesday that Austin, who has a torn hamstring, is listed as day-to-day but likely won't play until mid-January. Aytes is a transfer from UNLV who has yet to debut off ankle surgery prior to the season. Thus you can see why BYU often goes small.

Santa Clara (6-7) is one of the worst offensive teams in the nation, averaging only 62.9 points per game, and almost the absolute worst in rebounding. The Broncos opened WCC play with a loss at Saint Mary's but bounced back with a win a Pacific on Monday. Senior guard Brandon Clark is the Broncos' best player, averaging 16.2 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds.

Free NCAA Basketball Pick: BYU -6 on NCAA basketball odds. BYU has covered four of the past five meetings at sportsbooks. Santa Clara is 1-5 ATS in its past six vs. teams with a winning record. In addition, the Cougars are 6-0 against Santa Clara since joining the WCC and have defeated the Broncos by an average of 16 points per game.  The Broncos have lost 10 straight overall vs. BYU and their last series win came on Dec. 2, 1972.

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Northern Iowa vs. Evansville (+2 in NCAA betting)
NIU is ranked No. 23 in the AP poll and the only Top-25 team in action on Thursday as this excellent Missouri Valley Conference matchup tips off at 8 p.m. ET. Wichita State has owned the Missouri Valley for a few years, but Northern could be poised to end that. The Huskies (11-1) have beaten Power 5 teams Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Iowa convincingly. Their only loss was in double overtime at VCU.  As usual, Northern Iowa doesn't score many points but is terrific on defense. The Huskies lead the MVC in scoring defense (58.1 ppg) and in field-goal percentage defense (39.5 percent). UNI’s bench scoring ranks No. 8 in the country averaging 33.1 points per game.

Evansville (10-2) has only lost against two potential mid-major conference champions in Green Bay and Murray State and those were each by just two points. The Aces haven't played a Power 5 team and don't have one on the schedule so they probably have to win the conference tournament to get to the Big Dance. Evansville is a very good offensive team, leading the MVC in scoring (79.2 ppg) and ranking second nationally in shooting (.527 from field) and fourth in assists (19.0 per game). It has one of the nation's leading scorers in junior guard D.J. Balentine, who averages 22.5 points per game.

UNI swept the season series last year vs. Evansville by posting an 80-53 home win and 95-81 victory at the Ford Center in Evansville.

Free NCAA Basketball Pick: Evansville +2 at 5Dimes. The Aces have covered three of the past five meetings at home. They are 5-1 ATS in their past six vs. teams with a winning record.

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