By this point in the college basketball season, there is a clear view of which mid-major teams we should trust.
Florida Atlantic has been the top mid-major for most of the season, but other potentially dangerous teams for March Madness are beginning to emerge.
Thursday serves as an opportunity for us to look at teams like Liberty, Marshall and UC Irvine that could be on our radars over the next few weeks.
Those three teams have some significant mismatches playing in their favor against struggling teams in their respective conferences.
There are a few power-conference spots to look at as well, but most of your attention should be on the mid-majors with an eye on March.
Thursday CBB Picks
Overall Record: 102-103-6
Bellarmine at Liberty (-14.5) (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Liberty is one of the mid-major teams that I always target at home.
The Flames have one loss at home this season all the way back on November 18 against Southern Miss.
Liberty has been a juggernaut inside its home arena in Atlantic Sun play, as it has six double-digit victories.
Bellarmine fell to Liberty by 17 points at home on December 29, and its defensive issues could produce another significant margin on Thursday night.
Liberty ranks in the top 40 in two-point and three-point offense, while Bellarmine is 312th and 277th in those defensive categories.
Rice at Florida Atlantic (-14) (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Florida Atlantic resides in a spot where it can’t afford any bad losses.
In fact, it is probably best for the Owls to win big and leave no doubt about their position as a potential at-large team if they do not win the Conference USA tournament.
Rice is at the end of a four-game gauntlet in which it lost by 18 to UAB, by 10 to North Texas and by eight to Louisiana Tech. UAB and UNT sit at the top of the C-USA standings along with FAU.
Just like the Liberty game, FAU has a strong advantage in its offense against Rice’s defense. The Owls rank 44th and 61st in two-point and three-point offense, while Rice is 293rd and 314th in two-and-three-point defense on KenPom.
Marshall (-8.5) at Coastal Carolina (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Coastal Carolina’s form dropped off over the last two weeks.
The Chanticleers fell by double figures in last week’s road trips to UL-Monroe and Arkansas State. They suffered defeats to Chicago State, James Madison and Old Dominion in the week prior.
Marshall averages eight more points per game than Coastal, and it shoots three percent better from the field.
Here’s one more stat to consider. Marshall carries the best free-throw percentage against in Division 1. Could mean something. Could mean nothing.
James Madison (-4) at Georgia Southern (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
James Madison and Georgia Southern sit in a similar spot as Marshall and Coastal.
JMU resides in the top four of the Sun Belt with six wins in its last seven games, while Georgia Southern comes in with a four-game losing streak.
The Eagles started the Sun Belt campaign with three wins and they are 2-7 since then.
I’ll gladly back JMU in this spot with a short spread in its favor.
Morehead State (-2) at Arkansas Little Rock (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Why is the top team in the Ohio Valley Conference only a two-point favorite against the OVC’s worst team?
It seems like a fishy line, but I’m willing to jump up and take the bait.
Morehead’s defense gives up 12 fewer points per game than UALR and it has not allowed. I don’t think UALR will shoot four percent better than its season average as it did in a 76-72 loss to Morehead on January 26.
Northwestern (+5) at Ohio State (8 p.m. ET, FS1)
It’s hard to trust Ohio State as a favorite in its current form.
The Buckeyes have one win in their last 10 games.
Even if OSU wins, it is hard to imagine it winning in a big fashion.
Northwestern is for real and it has road wins over Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin in Big Ten play. The Wildcats will not be intimidated by playing in Columbus.
Oakland (-11) at Green Bay (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
It’s time to get back to fading Green Bay.
The Phoenix are 7-18 against the spread this season and are coming off a rare win over Milwaukee.
So yeah I guess you could call this a Green Bay let down game against an Oakland offense that averages 14 more points per game.
Oakland has scored over 70 points in five of its last six games, while Green Bay was held under 55 points in five of its last seven.
San Francisco at Gonzaga (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Gonzaga ranks inside the top 20 in a majority of offensive categories.
San Francisco is not on the Zags’ level, but the Dons are in the top 80 in a handful of offensive metrics on KenPom.
Neither team has a fantastic defense, as they both give up over 70 points per game, so it feels like we should see a ton of points in Spokane.
Cal Poly at UC Irvine (-14) (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Here’s your classic worst-versus-first (okay second in UC Irvine’s case) dynamic.
Cal Poly has one win in the Big West and it consistently lost games by double figures while scoring under 65 points.
UC Irvine ranks 22nd in three-point offense on KenPom and it produced over 75 points in four of its last five games. Cal Poly averages just 60.5 points per game.
This feels like a significant mismatch and a game that could get out of hand early.
USC (+4.5) at Oregon (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
USC is starting to generate some steam in the Pac-12.
The Trojans enter Eugene on a four-game winning streak to face an inconsistent Oregon team that has not won more two games in a row in Pac-12 play.
USC boasts the top two-point defense on KenPom. That is bad news for an Oregon team that ranks 310th in three-point offense on KenPom. The Ducks may not be able to counter USC’s tough interior defense with an abundance of shots from deep.