By the time the conference season starts in college basketball, we have seen teams play a lot of games over two months. That means that we think we know what to expect from them, and for the most part we are right. Sometimes, though, teams are either much better or much worse than we expected them to be once the games really matter. For bettors who can spot those teams, that can lead to very profitable betting opportunities.
Here are six teams that have been surprises early in conference play:
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Coming into the Atlantic-10 season, it didn’t seem like Xavier was in a very strong position. They had lost four in a row and five of six, and they had covered a spread just once in those six games. That dropped them to 3-6-1 ATS — a definite disappointment given the team and their recent history. They haven’t played the toughest conference schedule yet by any means, but they have still looked like a totally different team. They have won and covered all three games, and look like they have rediscovered some of their missing mojo.
The Hurricanes were 9-3 in nonconference play, but a big blowout loss to Arizona right before Christmas made it seem unlikely that the team was ready to compete at a high level. Early in ACC play, though, they have shown some spark. The conference is down this year, and they haven’t beaten NC State or Duke, so they don’t a defining win yet. They have won four in a row, though, and three of those four have been on the road — including a win at North Carolina, which is a tough place to win regardless of the team’s struggles. They have covered three of four of those games as well. They play Duke next and NC State in a couple of weeks, so we’ll know if they really are onto something soon. For now, though, they have been a pleasant surprise.
The Grizzlies are one of those peripheral programs that can rise up to be decent once in awhile. They sure didn’t look it early this year. They were just 4-4 in nonconference play, and they hadn’t exactly played a dominant schedule. With the start of Big Sky play, though, the Grizzlies came out of hibernation. They have won six straight games and are a very solid 4-1-1 ATS over that stretch. The Big Sky is a good betting conference at the best of times, and this is a good team to keep an eye on right now.
The Badgers were unimpressive in the nonconference season. They were 9-4, but their four losses — at Florida and Marquette, against Creighton in a neutral site, and at home to Virginia — were all far from impressive. The Big Ten is brutally tough, and it seemed unlikely that Wisconsin could contend with the upper echelons. So far, though, they are 4-0 and looking great. The opening wins against Penn State and Nebraska don’t mean much. But then they destroyed Illinois at home, and then they built on that to get a stunning win at Indiana three days later. They have covered their last two games after going just 3-8 ATS in the 11 before that. If they can keep this up they could be a very interesting force in a very tough conference. The important thing to note here is that while neither of their last two wins was particularly expected, neither was a fluke. They are playing exceptional basketball right now.
Illinois State Redbirds
The Redbirds had the makings of a team that could do some damage once Missouri Valley Conference play started. They were 9-3 in nonconference play, and the losses were very solid. They blew up against Wyoming at home, but they only lost to Louisville by three points on the road, and they also took Northwestern by three points. They won their last four before conference play, too, so they seemed to be in form. Conference play, though, has been a total disaster. They have lost all six games that they have played, and they haven’t covered a single spread. Things have totally and utterly fallen apart for a promising team. They may be able to salvage something, but it would take a miracle to turn this season around.
The Huskies were just 8-5 in nonconference play, and they had ugly home losses to Nevada, Albany and Colorado State. It seemed like it could be a very long season — even in a conference that isn’t particularly deep this year. They have opened up Pac-12 play very strong, though. They have won four in a row, and the first three wins were on the road. They have covered all four games as well after going 3-6 ATS in the previous nine games. They play Arizona and UCLA over an eight-game stretch at the end of the month, so we’ll know much more then. But for now they have passed their early tests.
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