College Basketball Betting: The Surprises
by Trevor Whenham - 11/26/2010
We’re only a few games into the college basketball season, but already some teams have been far less than we expected them to be, and others have far exceeded expectations. All this is just proof of what smart college basketball handicappers should already know - predicting what 18-21 year olds are going to perform like under pressure is an inexact science at best.
Here’s a look at four teams that have yet to meet the expectations placed on them to start the season, and one that has far exceeded even the most optimistic projections:
North Carolina - North Carolina has not been good this year. They are 3-2, but the three wins have been all but meaningless, while the losses have been disturbing at best and horrifying at worst.
They have lost two games on neutral sites to Minnesota and Vanderbilt. Neither of those teams are terrible - they have legitimate tournament aspirations - but neither should be handling the No. 8-ranked team in the country as easily as they did, either.
What’s most disturbing, I think, is that the losses came in back-to-back games, so the team didn’t show a strong ability to bounce back and get their game back in order - something that is a sign of maturity.
Based on what they have done the Tar Heels are a big disappointment, but the bigger issue is that they really shouldn’t have been ranked where they were in the first place. If most teams were coming off a lousy season and fielding a very talented -- but very young – team, they would have been watched with patience and interest. Because of the names on the front of their jerseys, though, the media and the public seemed to expect miracles to happen. Roy Williams is very, very good, but apparently he’s not that good.
Gonzaga - The Bulldogs are another big-name program that faced early expectations that were higher than they were capable of handling.
One of their two losses on the year came at the hands of Kansas State - a team that was clearly better than Gonzaga coming into the year - so that wasn’t a particular concern. The other was a real problem, though - it came at home against a San Diego State team that should have had no business being on the same floor as the Bulldogs.
On top of that, they got lucky to beat Marquette the day after the Kansas State loss. The Bulldogs clearly are not the Top 15 team that they were thought to be entering the year. Luckily, they have their typically soft conference schedule on the horizon to help get things back on track.
Butler - I’m not giving up on or writing off the Bulldogs at all. The clear fact, though, is that the love and admiration they gained because of their run last year led them to a higher ranking to start the year than they probably should have had.
Gordon Hayward was the heart and soul of this team, and now he is in the NBA. They still have a lot of talent -- Top 25 talent, for sure -- but it takes a while for a team to get used to playing with a new identity.
Butler sits at 3-1, but that one loss was a rough one - they were blown out at Louisville against a Cardinals team that much isn’t expected of this year. There’s a potential asterisk here - Louisville was opening a new arena, so their emotion was higher than it might normally be. Still, that loss made it clear that at this point Butler has some work ahead of them.
With back-to-back games against Duke and Xavier coming up in the near future, they had better get that work done quickly or the record will have a big hole in it.
Virginia Tech - The ACC is a strange conference right now - Duke is clearly the best team in the country, but there isn’t another elite-level team in the conference. At least that’s how it seems right now.
I had hopes that Virginia Tech was going to establish themselves as the second best team in the group - they are experienced, talented, and well coached.
They could still do so, but they got off to a discouraging start. In their second game of the season they were absolutely manhandled by Kansas State - the same team that was totally humiliated by Duke. That game showed two things very clearly - that Virginia Tech is not ready for primetime, and that the gap between Duke and the rest of the conference is absolutely massive.
UConn - After four frustrating teams it’s only fitting to talk about the most pleasant and shocking surprise of this young season.
The Huskies were picked by major media outlets to finish as bad as 10th in the Big East. They are coming off a rough year, and outside of Kemba Walker are totally devoid of proven talent.
They headed to the Maui Invitational where the college basketball odds had them as a distant fourth choice out of eight teams. Not only did they manage to win the tournament, but they did it by willing their way past No. 2 Michigan State and then thoroughly dominating No. 9 Kentucky. It was a tour de force.
The most impressive part of it all - and of the whole season so far - has been Walker. We knew he was good, but it was hard to expect him to be this good. He scored 90 points in three games at Maui, and was the best player on the court in both games against some very talented, highly praised competition.
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