CBB Picks: Take Utah State in showdown with Saint Mary's

On Thursdays we bet on mid-majors and west coast basketball.

Thursday is typically a light day on the schedule for the sport's top programs, especially with the introduction of Friday games to fit in television windows.

Thursdays give us an opportunity to focus more on programs that do not usually find themselves in the spotlight. The Big Sky Conference and Horizon League make up most of the mid-major schedule and there are a few spots to take advantage of in both conferences.

There is also an enticing nonconference showdown between Saint Mary's and Utah State that has my attention.

Of course, a Thursday would not be complete without a Pac-12 nightcap. Tonight's finale takes place in Berkeley, as California hosts a struggling Oregon State team.

Below is a look at my best bets for the evening. The picks can't be worse than last night's 1-5 outing highlighted by the brutal loss on the over in the low-scoring Arizona State-Washington State game.

Thursday CBB Picks

Overall Record: 39-49 (1-5 Wednesday)

Northern Kentucky at Cleveland State (Over 132.5) (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

To the Horizon League, we go!

The Horizon is one of my favorite mid-major leagues to bet on because there are typically a good amount of high-scoring games. The league as a whole needed conference play to start since only two teams have an above .500 record from nonconference play.

Cleveland State is one of those two teams and it should end up near the top of the Horizon in February. The Vikings' conference slate begins with what could be a high-scoring game between them and Northern Kentucky.

The Vikings and the Norse both average over 70 points per game. I was tempted to take NKU on the money line since it ranks 23rd on KenPom in three-point percentage and Cleveland State has a three-point defense outside the Top 20.

I opted for the over since both teams have three-point defenses outside of the top 200 and we should see a good amount of points.

Wright State at Purdue Fort Wayne (Over 151.5) (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

One of the great things about the Horizon League is it has some fantastic mascot matchups, like this one, to tease some of the bets.

The Wright State Raiders and Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons have not been fortunate in nonconference play. The Raiders are 1-5 and the Mastodons sit at 3-3.

Wright State and Purdue Fort Wayne average over 73 points per game and Wright State's defense gives up 80.3 points per game.

The Raiders also rank 26th in adjusted tempo on KenPom, which suits itself to a high-scoring affair.

Lamar at Mississippi State (-23) (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Mississippi State is one of the few power-conference programs in action on Thursday.

The Bulldogs appear to have a very easy matchup on paper against Lamar at home.

Lamar ranks in the bottom 40 in a handful of defensive metrics on KenPom, including three-point percentage.

Mississippi State ranks 47th in offensive three-point percentage and there is a 16-point disparity in its points per game and points allowed per game.

Montana State at Northern Colorado (Over 143.5) (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Quick tangent: I'm thrilled the Big Sky is on ESPN+ now. That comment matters to about three people east of the Mississippi River, but it's so much better than trying to dig through other services to find the games.

Similar to the two Horizon League games above, Montana State and Northern Colorado come into Thursday with a high point totals and concessions.

Montana State is 4-2 to the over and it ranks 22nd in offensive three-point percentage on KenPom. Northern Colorado is 3-3 to the over and it ranks in the top 100 in effective field goal, two-point and three-point percentages.

Saint Mary's at Utah State (-110) (9 p.m. ET, CBSSN)

This is probably the best game on the Thursday board.

Saint Mary's is fresh off a trip to the Maui Invitational final and Utah State won the Myrtle Beach Invitational over Oklahoma.

The Aggies have one of the best mid-major offenses, led by Justin Bean and Rylan Jones. Jones will be involved in a fascinating matchup against Saint Mary's Tommy Kuhse.

Utah State has the better overall offense and it is as battle tested as the Gaels. I'll take the home side in what the odds makers believe is an even matchup.

UTSA at Grand Canyon (-14.5) (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Grand Canyon has a significant edge over UTSA.

The Antelopes rank third on KenPom in offensive rebounding percentage. UTSA's defensive mark in that category is 332nd.

Grand Canyon averages 3.5 more rebounds and 1.5 more assists than the Roadrunners and it also boasts the much better defense. Grand Canyon gives up 58.7 points per game compared to UTSA's 70.4

The home side out of the WAC should dictate this game with its defense. A double-digit win seems easily attainable.

Southern Utah at Eastern Washington (+6) (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

I've been circling around Eastern Washington for the last week or so.

The Eagles are averaging 80 points per game and they are coming off a nice road win over Washington State.

EWU has a clear advantage over Southern Utah in three-point shooting. The Eagles shoot 34.4 percent from deep, while the Thunderbirds are shooting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Eastern Washington has edges in three-point shooting, confidence and home court. I would not be surprised if it wins outright.

Cal Poly at Cal Baptist (-9.5) (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Here's a deep cut from the Big West.

Cal Baptist averages over nine points more per game and is shooting a full 10 percent better from the field than Cal Poly, who is ranked 316th on KenPom.

Cal Baptist is 5-0 straight up at home and 2-1 against the spread in its last three home victories.

Oregon State at California (-2.5) (10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

It wouldn't be a Thursday during the college hoops season without a Pac-12 nightcap.

California is a slight home favorite over an Oregon State team that is back to reality after its magical NCAA tournament run last season.

The Golden Bears are 3-1 as a favorite of four points or fewer this season. Those victories all occurred on their home court.

Oregon State has had some tough luck to start the season, but it also has had instances in which it failed to score a ton of points. The Beavers did not reach the 60-point mark against Penn State, Iowa State and Tulsa.

Cal has been the more consistent team to start the season and I'll put trust in its home form here.

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