March Madness Best Bets for Friday: Big East Semifinals, SEC Quarterfinals

Friday is another full day of college basketball conference tournament games from noon until well after midnight on the East Coast. The stakes are higher for some teams than others at this stage of the season and the St. John's Red Storm and Texas A&M Aggies both fall into that category as both programs are on the bubble with tough challenges ahead.

St. John's is a heavy underdog to the UConn Huskies this evening in the Big East semis and Texas A&M is getting points against the Kentucky Wildcats in the SEC quarters. Will a win Friday be enough to earn a spot in the field of 68? Or do the Red Storm and Aggies have to go all the way in their respective conferences to punch their tickets?

(Odds via FanDuel.)

Big East Tournament Semifinal:

No. 5 St. John's Red Storm vs. No. 1 UConn Huskies

Game Info: 5:30 p.m. ET | FS1
Spread: St. John's +9.5 (-115) | UConn -9.5 (-105)
Moneyline: SJU (+340) | UCONN (-450)
Total: 145.5 — Over (-115) | Under (-105)

The Red Storm kept their tournament hopes alive with a resounding 91–72 win over Seton Hall, a fellow bubble team, in the conference tournament quarterfinals Thursday night. St. John's (20–12, 11–9 Big East) now has an opportunity to bolster its resume with a win against the top-seeded Huskies, who swept the season series. UConn (29–3, 18–2 Big East) blew out Xavier, 87–60, on Thursday to advance to the semifinals, where it has been eliminated three years in a row.

Huskies guard Cam Spencer celebrates following a play.

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

Early on in Big East play, the Red Storm gave the Huskies all they could handle in Hartford. Still, they fell short, 69–65. With UConn big man Donovan Clingan out, St. John's center Joel Soriano led the way with a 14-point, 11-rebound double double. Six weeks later UConn won convincingly, 77–64, at Madison Square Garden, the site of this third meeting. Cam Spencer led all scorers with 23 points, Stephon Castle added 21 and Tristen Newton added 18 points and 10 assists with Alex Karaban sidelined.

UConn has won five straight and 19 out of 20 as the program vies for its first Big East title since 2011. The Red Storm have won six straight in hopes of making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2019 and potentially winning the conference championship for the first time since 2000.

All arrows point toward the Huskies heading to the championship game on Sunday. They've posted an impressive 21–11 record against the spread and though they didn't cover the 11-point spread against the Red Storm at home, they easily covered as three-point favorites on the road. St. John's, on the other hand, is just 16–16 against the spread and 5–5 as an underdog. What's more, UConn is 11–7 this season as a double-digit favorite — the 9.5-point line should be more than manageable for Dan Hurley's team.

BET: UConn -9.5 (-105)


SEC Tournament Quarterfinal:

No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies vs. No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats

Game Info: 7 p.m. ET | SEC Network
Spread: Texas A&M +4.5 (-105) | Kentucky -4.5 (-118)
Moneyline: TAMU (+168) | UK (-205)
Total: 158.5 — Over (-112) | Under (-108)

Kentucky guard Antonio Reeves

Randy Sartin/USA TODAY Sports

The Aggies remain on the bubble after their 80–71 win over Ole Miss in the second round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday. That was Texas A&M's second straight victory against the Rebels and fourth overall, but they'll need to keep on winning to go dancing again. A semifinals draw against the Wildcats is a tough draw, however, the Aggies did pull out a 97–92 overtime win in College Station in their only meeting in mid-January.

As he's done for much of the year, Wade Taylor IV propelled Texas A&M past Ole Miss with 20 points, albeit on 5–15 shooting from the floor. Taylor, the team's top scorer, had a game-high 31 against Kentucky earlier in the year despite connecting on just one of his 11 two-point tries. As a team, the Aggies shoot worse than 40% from the field and under 28% from three but their +9.1 rebounding differential gives them ample opportunities to stay in games. Buzz Williams' team outrebounded UK 54–46 in that lone meeting and had an 25–17 advantage on the offensive glass. The 97 points Texas A&M scored was a season-high, which underlined the Wildcats' primary weakness: Defense.

For its defensive shortcomings, very few teams can go shot-for-shot with Kentucky. John Calipari's team is second nationally in scoring average (89.5) and shoots an NCAA-best 41% from beyond the arc. The Wildcats have cracked triple digits six times this season, including four times in conference play. Between Antonio Reeves (20.2 ppg), SEC Sixth Man of the Year Rob Dillingham (15 ppg) and Reed Sheppard (12.7 ppg on 52.7% shooting from deep), Kentucky has an embarrassment of riches on offense. The Wildcats were last seen beating top-seeded Tennessee 85–81 on the road in the regular season finale as Reeves and Sheppard scored 27 apiece.

The last time these teams played they shattered the 155.5-point total even before the overtime period. And despite the Aggies' modest offense, the over is 19–13 in their games this season. Unsurprisingly, that hit rate is even higher for UK: 22–9. Only three teams have seen the over hit more often this year. Count on another high-scoring affair Friday night in Nashville.

Bet: Over 158.5 (-112)


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