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Bubble teams to bet, fade for Saturday's loaded CBB slate

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This is the second-to-last regular-season Saturday slate for college basketball. March has arrived, and tournament season is right around the corner.

Some smaller conference tourneys begin next week, while the major ones tip off the following week. Nevertheless, Saturday features an incredible and lengthy set of matchups. Here are our five best bets.

Villanova @ Providence (-1.5, O/U 130.5)

Anyone following this space knows I've backed Villanova a few times (with mixed results). It's finally time for me to fade the Wildcats in their biggest game of the campaign.

According to Joe Lunardi's bracketology, Providence is the last team in the NCAA Tournament, and Villanova is the first team out. That would flip if Villanova beats Providence for the second time this season.

The Wildcats' defense has propelled them to the bubble. Villanova's problem is that it struggles on the road, losing its last three away games, excluding its visit to Georgetown.

Villanova is 4-6 against the spread as the away squad and 2-4 as a road underdog. The Wildcats dominated Providence in early February, so this is a revenge spot for the Friars. Providence needs this win more than Villanova for its tournament hopes.

The Friars end the season against Georgetown - likely a win - and UConn - probably a loss. Villanova needs this game badly, but it has two Quad 1 matchups to end the season against Seton Hall and Creighton. Even if it loses to Providence, it'll have a chance to secure a bid with a strong finish.

If Jay Wright coached this team, I would trust Villanova to win in this spot. But he's not, and there's no reason to trust Kyle Neptune.

Pick: Providence -1.5

Mississippi State @ Auburn (-9.5, O/U 144.5)

Auburn's home court has been a massive advantage all season. The Tigers are 13-1 at home and 9-5 against the spread as a home favorite.

Mississippi State beat Auburn earlier this season in Starkville. The Tigers will be out for revenge Saturday afternoon and are a significantly more talented and athletic squad.

Auburn hasn't played at home since losing to Kentucky on Feb. 17 - its only home loss this season. Before that, The Tigers overpowered conference opponents at home by an average score of 22.3 in six home games.

Mississippi State is firmly in the Big Dance, so it may fold if the Tigers jump to an early lead. I'm expecting a blowout in Auburn.

Pick: Auburn -9.5

Marquette @ Creighton (-4.5, O/U 149.5)

Marquette's deservedly a top-five team in the country. It's 11-1 in its last 12 games, and that one loss was to UConn. Although Creighton recently defeated UConn, I believe the Bluejays are a tier below the Huskies and Golden Eagles.

These are two of the best offenses and shooting teams in the conference. It should be a high-scoring affair, as the total indicates. Marquette beat Creighton earlier this season, but that was a home game for the Golden Eagles.

Marquette rarely turns the ball over and easily generates turnovers defensively. The Golden Eagles have a top-15 defense in the country, according to KenPom. They also own the best turnover margin in the Big East, while Creighton has the third-worst.

The Bluejays may come away with a win, but it'll be tightly contested. It's worth grabbing the points for Marquette.

Pick: Marquette +4.5

Penn State @ Minnesota (-5.5, O/U 150.5)

Minnesota has been exceptional at home this season, going 17-1 against the spread in front of its home fans. And the Golden Gophers are the Big Ten's best against the spread team regardless of venue. They're 24-4 against the spread and have covered 10 of their last 11 games. Oddsmakers can't figure them out.

While Penn State's having a surprisingly decent season in Mike Rhoades' first year, it lost its last three road games by an average score of 11.

This is a Big Ten matchup between two lowly teams, but Minnesota has the more talented guards and should defend home court again.

Pick: Minnesota -5.5

Gonzaga @ Saint Mary's (-2.5, O/U 138.5)

This is the time of year to back well-coached, desperate programs. Gonzaga fits the billing. Mark Few's group is in unfamiliar territory: On the bubble in early March.

Lunardi has the Bulldogs projected as a "last four in" team. The metrics favor Gonzaga because it's 18-0 against Quad 3 and Quad 4 opponents. However, the club is 2-5 against Quad 1 teams, including a loss earlier this season to conference rival Saint Mary's.

If the Bulldogs win Saturday, it'll pick up another Quad 1 win and secure an at-large bid. If they lose, they'll likely have to win their conference to earn an automatic bid or get lucky with other bubble teams faltering down the stretch.

Regardless, the only thing Gonzaga can control is defeating Saint Mary's on the road. The Bulldogs are better now than on Feb. 3 when Saint Mary's narrowly defeated them.

Gonzaga's recent surge is due to its offense, which has surpassed 90 points four times in the last month. The Bulldogs have won seven straight, including wins over Kentucky - its lone Quad 1 win - and a feisty San Francisco group.

While Saint Mary's hasn't lost since Dec. 23 and has reeled off 16 straight wins, the team's schedule has been weak. Saint Mary's has already locked up an at-large bid and the West Coast Conference regular-season title. Gonzaga is playing for much more Saturday, which will be evident in a Bulldogs win.

Pick: Gonzaga +2.5

Sam Oshtry is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on X @soshtry for more betting coverage.

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