Ten Value College Basketball Teams in December
by Robert Ferringo - 12/11/2007
One of the keys of early season college basketball betting success is being able to identify teams that are better than people think. These schools obviously offer the most value in the fresh hoops season and are therefore the ones that you're most likely to turn a profit playing on. We are somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of the way through the season so I thought that I'd tip my hand on a few clubs that I've been banking with and help you better understand what comprises a strong early-season team. Because that's what we're all about here at Doc's Sports: understanding. That and body shots off scantily clad females with flexible moral constitutions.
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Below I've compiled a list of teams from major college basketball conferences that are better than the general public thinks. These aren't teams that I necessarily believe are tourney bound or ready to set up camp in the Top 25. But they are squads that I've been able to turn a profit with and I feel they will remain decent moneymakers throughout the season. Generally I play on these teams early, start to fade them when I think the value is gone, and then go back to them once the postseason tournaments hit. It's a subtle, dangerous dance. But I'll got toe-to-toe with Helio Castroneves, that South American sprite, any day of the week.
Picking out these teams in the preseason and knowing who to wager on once the balls start bouncing is actually a bit easier than it seems. Two strong indicators are experience and offensive explosiveness. Interestingly, come tourney time it's usually experience and defense that show the most return for bettors. But in November the ability to put the ball in the hole excessively is a much more useful attribute.
Why is that? For one, it takes most teams a while to find an offensive rhythm and a comfort level with their sets. Of course, you don't have this problem with veteran teams that have experience in their systems, which is why that trait made The List. But no one else is shooting as well in November as they are several thousands of jumpers later, in March. Therefore, if your team is stacked with athletes, leapers, and get-out-and go transition players then you have a chance to overwhelm teams that simply aren't prepared. Secondly, teams don't fight back as hard from a 14- or 18-point deficit early in the year. Most clubs are willing to accept a nonconference blowout because they know that there's plenty of games left to "make up for it".
Of my 10 teams, three of them are currently in the Top 10 in the country in scoring offense. Another is ranked No. 34. That's no coincidence. These clubs have the ability to overwhelm opponents with a variety of scoring options. That makes them dangerous this time of the year. But once other schools start shooting a bit more consistently it will be the ability to manufacture defensive stops that will help earn the cash.
As for experience, that one is obvious. Teams that have a lot of returning starters or bring back most of their scoring and rebounding from the previous season have a huge edge over squads that are learning to play together. Not rocket science there, but you'd be amazed how many handicappers ignore the sensitivity of locker room chemistry early in the year.
Finally, two other qualifiers that supplement returning experience and offensive ability are teams that suffered an unusually high numbers of injury or teams that severely underachieved last season.
Here, in no particular order, are 10 teams that are better than you think:
1. Miami, Florida (5-0 ATS) - The Hurricanes are a microcosm of why you need to be flexible as a gambler. I cleaned up going against this injury-riddled club last year. But now they are one of my favorite bets. They got a huge lift when Anthony King was granted a fifth year of eligibility and he sets the tone underneath for this squad. They also have one of the top scorers on the East Coast in Jack McClinton, tremendous size and versatility across their frontcourt, and some hotshot newcomers that give them life off the bench. Miami has beaten Providence and VCU and they could end up being a player in the ACC.
2. Rhode Island (7-2-1 ATS) - This team reminds me a little bit of UNLV from last year. And it isn't just the whole coach-son combination that the Rams have with Jim and Jimmy Baron and UNLV had with Lon and Kevin Kruger. The Rams have four returning starters, two three-year starters, and two all-league candidates in Baron and Will Daniels. A lot of the value may be gone from URI after they've gone 3-0 SU and ATS versus the Big East. However, this is one of the few teams on this list that I can see competing for a conference title and I don't think we're done making moves on this squad just yet.
3. Duquesne (3-3 ATS) - This club has dropped three in a row both straight up and against the spread after a sensational start. However, I still like their long-term prospects. Much like the Rams, this is a team that just keeps attacking you offensively. The Dukes score in bunches, substitute in waves, and have endless energy. They have 10 guys averaging double-digits in minutes and I think their ability to put points on the board will make them an engaging dog pick once they get into the A-10.
4. Mississippi (3-2 ATS) - The SEC West is one of the most paradoxical divisions in all of college basketball so caveat emptor for anyone looking to make a buck on these sketchy squads. But a team that has caught my eye in the early goings is Ole Miss. Adam Kennedy is a much better coach than people realize and he has this squad on the upswing. The fact that just about everyone picked them to finish last in their division only enhances the value.
The Rebels have an underrated home court edge and right now boast the No. 2 scoring offense in the country. Their strength is that they have a lot of interchangeable parts on the wing. Six guys in their nine-man rotation are between 6-feet, 5-inches and 6-8. They cause matchups problems and can hang on the boards and that should keep them in the mix in the second-tier of the SEC.
5. Baylor (3-1 ATS) - Along with Duquesne, it is absolutely amazing how far this program has come after the tragedy that it has endured over the past few years. This Bears team is legit, and will be a rabble-rouser in an average Big 12 this season. Their stellar backcourt of Aaron Bruce and Curtis Jerrells can hold their own against just about any other set of guards in the nation, and they proved it by giving Washington State a better game than Gonzaga did. This Bears team almost beat Texas - twice - last year and has serious upset potential this season.
6. Minnesota (3-2 ATS) - Tubby Smith didn't enter this gig without anything in the cupboard. The Gophers brought back all five starters and all of their key reserves from a pretty bad 2006-07 team. But with a legit go-to guy in Spencer Tollackson, a do-it-all glue guy in Dan Coleman, and a trio of perimeter shooters knocking down over 43 percent of their 3-pointers, this team is in business.
Minnesota isn't going to win the Big Ten. In fact, they likely won't even compete for it. But they could be a spoiler and a solid home dog bet against the big boys, as well as a strong play against other bottom-tier conference opponents like Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State and Illinois.
7. Florida State (5-3 ATS) - After taking the shaft from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee in back-to-back years the Seminoles entered this season with both talent and motivation. That combination should smell like cash to college hoops bettors. FSU is essentially playing with four guards and a 7-1 dude in the middle and opponents are yet to crack the code on how to attack this team. Both of their losses are by a combined four points and they have already scored 14-point blowout wins over Minnesota and defending national champion Florida.
8. New Mexico (7-2 ATS) - If you want experience, New Mexico is a good place to start. The Lobos entered the year boasting four returning senior starters and three juniors with starting experience that play prominent roles. This club was a big-time underachiever last year but Steve Alford has been able to sell them on his style and coax some solid defensive effort out of them. Mix in 42-percent shooting from downtown and you got your self a cover machine.
The scary part about the Lobos is that there's actually room for improvement. New Mexico has gotten off to a solid start without one of its key pieces, senior guard Tony Dandridge who will be back January 10.
9. South Florida (7-2-1 ATS) - From a value standpoint, we had a best-case scenario work itself out in USF's first month. This is a club that brought back three solid starters and welcomed in some exciting freshmen. But they dropped their first two games without their stud center Kentrell Gransberry, further lowering the expectations for a team that isn't necessarily a Big East power. However, since Gransberry's return this club has won seven straight SU and ATS. I think they've peaked, but I've been wrong before and we'll see how this team works its way through conference play.
10. Massachusetts (5-2 ATS) - The Minutemen were the only team in this Top 10 that was originally on my list of teams to fade before the season began. However, after they took down Wisconsin-Green Bay and Syracuse in back-to-back games I turned around on them. They have five players averaging 10 points or more and a pair - Ricky Harris and Gary Forbes - pumping in 20 per game.
Travis Ford is another up-and-coming coaching star and I'm impressed with the way he's been able to adapt his scheme to his personnel. Last year they finished tied for first in the A-10 based on their defense and rebounding. This year they're just blitzing people with their ability to score and that should make them a dangerous club all season long.
Other Notables: Central Florida (3-3 ATS), Utah, California (4-1 ATS), and South Carolina (5-2 ATS).