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College Basketball Handicapping: Early Betting Surprises
by Trevor Whenham - 11/21/2012

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Texas Longhorns guard Myck Kabongo

The college basketball season is very young, but already there are teams that have been surprising for bettors — either because of their strength or their unexpected weakness. Here are eight teams that have been a betting surprise for some reason so far:

Texas

Whenever a team accepts an invitation to the Maui they have just one job — don’t lose to freaking Chaminade. The tournament hosts are hopelessly outclassed against elite Division I teams — or at least they should be. Texas didn’t just lose to Chaminade, though — they got blown out by 13 points. Ridiculous. There are some excuses — like the eligibility woes of Myck Kabongo — but nothing justifies losing a game like this when they were favored by 16.5 points. Ugly.

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Cal State Northridge

Last year the Matadors were just 7-21, and an ugly 11-14 ATS. They had the pieces to be better this year, but no one could have expected the improvement we have seen so far. They have jumped out of the gate at 6-0 both straight up and against the spread. It hasn’t come against the toughest schedule ever, but they did win four games in as many days to win the NUCDF Challenge in San Diego last weekend. We’ll get a better sense of their legitimacy in the next couple of weeks as they travel to BYU, UCLA and Arizona State. So far, though, they have been a very pleasant surprise.

Long Beach State

The 49ers have been a decent team in the Big West, and they won a game in the tournament last year, so it was pretty easy to assume they would at least be decent this year. So far, though, they really haven’t been. They have played a brutal schedule — USC, North Carolina, and Arizona. They have obviously been solid underdogs each time, but they have failed to put up a strong fight each time and have yet to cover. Disappointing beginning for a potential live underdog.

Kansas

There was an obvious hole in the roster after losing Big 12 Player of the Year Thomas Robinson to the NBA, but hopes were still very high for the Jayhawks heading into the season. They failed to cover each of their first three games, though — including two games against outmatched opponents that they should have won easily.

New Mexico

The Lobos are a successful team that is very fun to watch, and they play in one of the least-friendly arenas in the country. They have met expectations on the scoreboard, opening up 4-0 with wins over UConn and Davidson. They are just 1-3 ATS over that time, though, and have failed to cover either spread at home. It will be worth continued observation, but at this point it seems that this team is good but may not be quite as good as people expect.

Kentucky

In the Calipari era we’ve come to expect the Wildcats to be virtually invincible despite having to reload every year. From a betting perspective, though, they have not yet met expectations this year. They have played just two games against legitimate competition so far. They escaped with a win against Maryland in their opener, but they failed to cover the 10.5-point spread by eight points. Against Duke they were 4.5-point underdogs, but that wasn’t enough points as they lost by seven. There is no need to panic — it takes time for even a coach like Calipari to get a new roster ready to go. The expectations are sky high for this team, though, so until they find their stride chances are very good that the public will overestimate the team and create value on the opponents.

Duke

We talked about Kentucky, so it seems fitting that we also talk about the team that has beaten them. If you asked most people about Duke given their win over Kentucky, they would probably assume they were off to a very good start. In three games, though, that game against Kentucky is the only spread they have covered. Though they beat Georgia State and Florida Gulf Coast with ease, they didn’t do enough to cover either big spread. They showed up for the game that really mattered, but we’ll have to see if they get better at showing up for the opponents they don’t fear. We know that the public won’t pay less attention to them — at least not until Coach K retires.

Memphis

The Tigers have eased into their season — they have played only two games, and just one has had a spread. That one game was a mild concern, though. At home against Samford they were favored by 25.5, but they only won by 11, and just won the second half by a single basket. One game proves nothing, and the schedule is very manageable until they host Louisville on Dec. 15. So they have time to find their ways, but it certainly wasn’t the start I was looking for.

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