College Basketball Betting: Weekly Cheat Sheet
by Trevor Whenham - 02/27/2009
The Curse of No. 1
Being ranked No. 1 in college football this year was bad news, and it's no better in college basketball either. Pittsburgh earned their way into the top spot with a win over UConn, then No. 1, but then turned right around and threw it away in their second day on top with a bad loss at Providence. Duke was on top for a week before falling. So was Wake Forest. There have been six teams ranked No. 1 in the last nine weeks, and none have lasted for long. It's not certain who will be next, but betting against them seems like a good idea.
A Headache For Griffin and Oklahoma
Oklahoma has hit a rough patch - consecutive losses to Texas and Kansas - and it doesn't take a genius to figure out why. Blake Griffin went down early in the Texas game with what turned out to be a concussion, and missed the Kansas game. If you watched any of the latter game you could see that Griffin was out of action for a good reason. Griffin was on the bench, but every time he stood up to cheer or greet his team he subsequently grabbed his head. He also plugged his ears several times when the crowd cheered or music played. The issue now is when Griffin will be back, and what kind of shape he is in when he is. He is potentially going to return on Saturday at Texas Tech, but that's not certain. Concussions can linger, and we've clearly seen that Oklahoma is nothing without their star. Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel has a tough job ahead of him - balancing the need to secure the best tournament seed possible with having Griffin ready when March rolls around.
Memphis Shows Their Depth
Memphis beat tournament bubble team UAB on Thursday night to secure their 55th-consecutive Conference USA win and clinch yet another conference title. The outcome was pretty much as expected, but one aspect of the game was surprising and educational. Memphis has gone from just another team to an elite contender as the season has progressed, and the biggest reason for that charge to the top has been the impressive play of freshman Tyreke Evans since he has been moved to the point. On Thursday, though, Evans was truly awful. He shot just 3-of-14 from the field, and made nine ugly turnovers before finding himself glued to the bench. The poor play is obviously a concern, but coach Calipari has to be assured by the fact that his team was able to handle a fairly good team in their own building relatively handily with their best player practically playing for the other team.
Team To Watch - Utah
With a big win this week against UNLV, Utah has moved into the realm of the tournament locks. Beyond that, they are making a clear statement that they are a team to watch. They have won eight games in a row in the very tough Mountain West Conference, including beating the four best teams in the conference - UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico and BYU. They had impressive non-conference wins over LSU and Gonzaga, and played a tough non-con-conference schedule admirably. They are Top 10 in RPI and top 20 in strength of schedule. The Utes are probably going to end up as about a No. 6 seed. That would be a good spot for them, and bad news for the teams that would have to play them.
Finally, Signs of Life From an SEC Team
The SEC is having a very bad year, and for much of the year it has been hard to believe that any team is any good. The more we see of LSU, though, the more they stand out from their crowd. They are 12-1 in the SEC, and they have won those 12 games consecutively. There have been some low points in the season, like the 30-point loss to Utah. The more things progress, though, the more obvious it becomes that coach Trent Johnson is getting more comfortable in his first year at the helm of the program. It's hard to believe that any team from the SEC will be ready to do a lot of tournament damage, but LSU seems to have the best possible chance.
I'm tired of people saying that the Big Ten is down this year. I watch a lot of games from the conference, and I truly believe that there are eight teams that would have a good chance of winning at least one tournament game. Beyond that, Michigan State and Illinois are very legitimate Final Four contenders. I understand that it has been easy to kick on the conference in recent years - they have been pretty lousy at football, and not much better at basketball. The conference has made a strong push to improve their basketball, though, hiring guys like Tubby Smith, John Beilein and Todd Lickliter to significantly upgrade their talent. That's paying off now. The conference has the second best RPI in the country, and the teams are well prepared for the post season thanks to a conference schedule that has been as brutal as any. The conference is almost certain to have six tournament bids, likely to have seven, and could have as many as eight if things play out just right. I think you'll be well served to treat the conference with real respect when the tournament starts. If you think that the conference is having a down year it's only because you aren't paying attention.