College Basketball Betting: Weekly Cheat Sheet
by Trevor Whenham - 12/20/2008
Team to Watch - Evansville
It's not often that a team earns a great deal of respect when losing by 18, but that's just what Evansville did this week. It helps, of course, when the team you lose to is the best in the country by a wide margin, and losing by 18 means you cover the spread against North Carolina by 12.5. Evansville is coming off just a 9-21 record last season, but coach Marty Simmons, a former star for Evansville, is in his second year and is clearly off to a much better start. The loss to North Carolina moves them to 7-2 on the year.
Beyond the performance against UNC, there are a couple of reasons to like this team. Their backcourt is made up of two seniors, and they are combining to score almost 30 points a game. That veteran leadership has keyed a renewed focus on defense, especially on the inside. Suddenly, a team that couldn't stop anyone last year is a force defensively. The best evidence of the progress was against Western Kentucky. That team already has wins over Louisville and Georgia this year, but Evansville thoroughly embarrassed them, beating them 72-40. The Missouri Valley Conference was supposed to be a two-horse race between Creighton and Illinois State, but Evansville could make it interesting if they keep this up. They have already been useful for bettors, going 4-2 ATS this season, including 3-1 ATS in their last four.
A Historic Rematch
When UConn and Gonzaga meet today it will be a repeat of the game that ended Gonzaga's first big NCAA Tournament run. It was 1999 when Gonzaga made an improbable run to the Elite Eight before falling to UConn, the eventual champions. That game was a close one, with UConn winning a much closer game than they were probably expecting to play since they were favored by 10.5 -- the final score was 67-62. The high scorers that day tell the story of the difference between the places the two teams were in back then - Richard Hamilton led the way for UConn on his way to NBA stardom, while Gonzaga while led by some 5'9" guy named Quentin Hall that few people who aren't related to him have heard of since. The gap between the teams is much smaller now, and this should be a classic. Perhaps not as much of one, though, as it might have been if Gonzaga wasn't coming off a surprising and mostly unexplainable loss to Arizona last week.
The other thing that comes to mind when you look back on that game is the bad decision one guy made. Dan Monson was the coach for Gonzaga back then. After that run he jumped at the offers of fame and fortune to take over Minnesota. He struggled through seven uninspiring seasons there before getting booted, and now he is doing nothing of note at Long Beach State. When he left, his best friend and former assistant Mark Few took over. Now Few is a coaching legend and Monson is an afterthought. I bet he wished that he had that decision to make all over again.
Checking In With Brandon Jennings
Jennings isn't a college basketball player, but the fact that he chose to play pro ball in Europe straight out of high school instead of going to Arizona could have a big effect on the college game in the future, so it only makes sense that we keep an eye on whether his time in Rome is working out well for him. The short answer is that it's going okay, but just okay. Jennings has been getting plenty of playing time for his Italian team, which only makes sense since they have invested heavily in him. He's averaging more than eight points a game, but he isn't winding up on the highlight reels with regularity. There was some drama surrounding the team as well - the squad was on a five-game losing streak, and Jennings was kept out of the last of the games because of a coach's decision despite having 12 points in each of the two previous games. That decision and the losing streak didn't sit well with team management, because the coach was fired. Another import on the team, former Celtic Allen Ray, was also let go at the same time.
The confusion can't be helping Jennings develop, but there are positive signs. His first game under his new coach was heavily scouted because it was against Ricky Rubio, the highly-touted point guard who stands a good chance of being the No. 1 pick in the draft this year. Rubio was the better player, but he should be given his age and experience against top players. Jennings played his best game in Europe, though. There remains a very good chance that Jennings will be a lottery pick this year. What that will mean and if he starts a trend isn't something we will know for a couple of years yet. The only thing we do know now is that the experiment hasn't been the grand flop that many were hoping it would be. That's the only way that we could have been pretty sure that this wouldn't happen again any time soon.