College Basketball Handicapping: Weekend Betting Primer
by Robert Ferringo - 1/6/2012
If you were waiting for Syracuse to finally lose, dropping from the ranks of the unbeaten and yielding their No. 1 ranking to a “sexier” college basketball program, I would avoid the Carrier Dome around 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The Orange have been college basketball’s dominant team so far this season. Yet, because they don’t play on Tobacco Road, in Lexington, or in the Big Ten, I feel like they are the least heralded No. 1 team this deep in the season in several years. Syracuse is getting next to nothing in terms of national love and is being fellated at about one-tenth of what would be expected if a team like Duke or Kentucky presently held the top spot.
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Hey, maybe Syracuse doesn’t “move the meter” like some of the other more loathsome and disgusting programs in the nation. And maybe the bizarre Bernie Fine scandal in November has media outlets hesitant to praise this squad for its on-court artistry. But one thing I know is that this team is a wrecking crew right now and if you’ve been paying attention at all to the state of the Big East we may be in for an Orange reign for quite some time.
No. 1 Syracuse hosts No. 20 Marquette at 4 p.m. on Saturday at The Dome. This is one of just two games this Saturday pitting Top 25 teams against one another and is by far the marquee hoops event of the day. The line hasn’t been released yet, but I am projecting that Syracuse will be around a 10-point favorite on college basketball odds.
This is a major revenge game for Syracuse as it was the Golden Eagles who ended their season last March in the Sweet 16. The Golden Eagles held on for a gritty 66-62 win in Cleveland in a game that was decided with less than 30 seconds to play. Marquette actually swept Syracuse last year, winning 76-70 in January in Wisconsin.
Even though my wife is dragging me to a good friend’s child’s birthday party, I will certainly be monkey drunk and watching this game Saturday afternoon. I can’t wait to see Marquette’s freshmen piss down their legs at the sheer size and volume of the Dome and watch as the Orange unleash the fury on a team that just blew a 16-point second half lead in a loss to Georgetown on Wednesday. It will be glorious and if I terrify the children, so be it. When you get a chance to bask in the glory of your alma mater’s domination in a sport you take it, because you never know when it will be the Last Time.
But that won’t be the only game in my sights this Saturday. There are several matchups that don’t involve shiny national brands that I will be tuning to watch. And one of the most critical elements of being one of the biggest badass college basketball handicappers in the country is keeping your finger on the pulse of dozens of “off-brand” teams and leagues throughout the country. It’s not always as much fun as sitting down to enjoy Texas-Kansas, Duke-North Carolina, or UCLA-Arizona, but it is even more necessary.
Here is a look at the under-the-radar games that I will be glued to on another nonstop college basketball Saturday:
Miami at No. 22 Virginia (6 p.m.)
If I asked most people who the third-best team in the ACC was at the moment I am willing to bet it would take 95 percent of them at least five minutes to come up with the Cavaliers.
At 13-1 Virginia is, decidedly, no joke. They are coming off a tough road win at scrappy LSU on Monday and get to open their ACC campaign at home. The Cavaliers are one of the best defensive teams in the country and they have a nice 12-point win over Michigan as their marquee victory of the season. However, the Virginia basketball schedule is the 15th weakest in the nation to this point and now they are making the shift from under-the-radar-up-and-comer to Top 25 favorite. And that can be trickier than it seems.
Miami is a very interesting team. They flopped last season despite some significant expectations, switched coaches in the offseason, found themselves embroiled in controversy involving boosters and strip clubs, and have been dealing with injuries throughout the first two months of the year. Other than that, everything has gone well for them.
But the Hurricanes have quietly positioned themselves as an ACC sleeper. They have had a few months to learn Jim Larranaga’s system and they finally have stud forward Reggie Johnson back. Johnson is not near 100 percent, but he is averaging 10.8 points and 25 minutes in his four games back. Are the Hurricanes a threat? Is Virginia as good as its ranking? We will find out after the Syracuse game.
Mississippi at LSU (1:30 p.m.)
No one else cares about this game and the odds are that these are simply two NIT teams duking it out. But LSU is a team I have bet on early and often this year and they have yet to disappoint. They are young and raw, but talented, and working with a lot of the pieces that I feel a team needs to sustain success. They gave Virginia a great run but, again, how will this group adapt to the new role of favorite? And are they capable of playing at a high level and beating the SEC bottom-feeders in order to get themselves into the upper-tier of the SEC?
Mississippi is one of four teams – Seton Hall, LaSalle and Georgia State – that I have bet on quite a bit over the last few years. And that experience has been like banging my head against a brick wall. But now, apparently, all four have been ATS machines this year and Ole Miss started the year 4-2 ATS before a recent slide. The Rebels have played a very sound schedule this year and have wins over decent mid-level teams like Miami and DePaul. Are they going to finally step up? We will see.
Dayton at Temple (4 p.m.)
I feel like, for this year anyway, that the Atlantic 10 is the best mid-major conference in the country, edging out the ever-shifting Mountain West and top-heavy Missouri Valley. And this is a critical game between what have been two of the best programs in the league for the last half-decade. Xavier is presently in a free fall and that has opened the door for these clubs, both of which are in letdown games after tremendous mid-week wins.
Temple pulled the upset over Duke on Wednesday, 78-73, playing a flawless game en route to their marquee win of the season. Dayton’s Wednesday win wasn’t as impressive nationally, but their come-from-behind overtime win over St. Louis has to give them a ton of confidence and could be a difference-maker as we get deeper into league play.
The best team in this game may be the one in street clothes for each team. Dayton is playing just its second game without second-leading scorer and rebounder Josh Benson while Temple is still chugging along without its two best forwards, Michael Eric and Scootie Randall.
Iowa State at Texas A&M (4 p.m.)
These are two teams that I really like in a wide-open Big 12 this year. But both of them have been streaky as hell to start the year. Iowa State is 11-3 on the year and is coming off an upset over Texas. However, they have played a very soft schedule and this is only their third true road game of the year. They dumped the first at Drake and the second at Michigan. They are in a prime letdown spot, but this is a veteran team with some nice pieces and I think they will be a thorn in the league’s side all year.
I don’t know what the hell is going on with Texas A&M. Despite returning proven players like Khris Middleton and David Loubeau, and the appearance of transfer Elston Turner, this team has been a train wreck. They have been non-competitive in routs against Florida and Baylor the last three weeks. But even more troubling is that in their wins – which have come against just pathetic, atrocious teams like Texas A&M-CC (by 13), Alcorn State(by 12), Stephen F. Austin (by 13) and Louisiana-Monroe (by 13) – they have been shockingly unimpressive.
Again, is A&M going to snap out of it? Are either of these teams capable of being a sleeper and sneaking into the league’s top-tier?
Kent State at Buffalo (7 p.m.)
This is going to be a great basketball game. The MAC is loaded this year and I think there are no less than three teams that could not only make the NCAA Tournament (by winning the league title) but also go to The Dance and win a game. These are two of them.
Buffalo is just 6-4 on the season. But their last two losses were at Temple (in OT) and at BYU in a game they were very competitive in. This team blew out Dayton on the road (which takes more than a smile) and they are one of the best home teams in the MAC. The host has won eight straight in this series and the Bulls should be sky high for this one.
Kent State entered the season as the league favorite and they opened the year with a 10-point win at West Virginia. They are one of the 25 most experienced teams in the country and they will want to make an early statement. But the Flashes are just 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games and I don’t think that Buffalo will go quietly. I expect a game in the 70s and a back-and-forth affair that comes down to the last minute.
Nevada at Utah State (9 p.m.)
Again, I don’t think that anyone, outside of myself and fans of these two programs, cares about this one. But this will be the most hostile, most emotional game of the day. These two teams are huge rivals in the WAC and there is a lot of vitriol that always seeps to the surface when they get together. These two teams, along with New Mexico State, are neck-and-neck for the conference title and this is a crucial early season meeting.
The emotions will be heightened in this rivalry because Nevada is bolting for the Mountain West after this year.
I don’t think that any team in the country lost more production and experience than the Aggies from last year. But they have also absolutely owned this conference the last five or six years and they boast one of the biggest home court advantages in the country. USU dominated Fresno in its WAC opener on Wednesday and have nice wins over BYU and Kent State at home this year. They still have some big, skilled guys that can play some ball.
Nevada has the edge in experience now and they have perhaps the most talent in the league this year. This team was a wreck last year and got off to a slow start. But they are 11-1 in their last 12 games and have a nice win over Washington to cling to. I love their athleticism and their interior play on both ends. But they can go cold for long stretches and I want to see if they can hold it together mentally in such a wild environment.
Honorable Mention Games:
Missouri State at Indiana State (1 p.m.)
St. Bonaventure at Duquesne (4 p.m.)
Denver at South Alabama (5 p.m.)
Central Florida at East Carolina (5 p.m.)
San Francisco at BYU (6 p.m.)
Georgia State at George Mason (7 p.m.)
Appalachian State at Chattanooga (7 p.m.)
Stanford at Oregon State (10 p.m.)
Robert Ferringo is one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and is in the middle of a season for the ages. In just two months he has earned his clients nearly $10,000 in college basketball profit and he continues to be one of the top hoops handicapper around. He will have a full card this Saturday and you can find out more about his selections here.
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