NCAA Basketball Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 12/23/2013
It was a very newsy week for two Atlantic Coast Conference teams, both in a good and bad way.
Since I try to be a glass half-full guy, let's start with the good. North Carolina certainly has Final Four talent but has been wildly inconsistent this season. The Heels have wins over then-No. 3 Louisville, No. 1 Michigan State and No. 11 Kentucky but also a few head-scratching losses. Those around the program believed the uncertainty revolving around two key players, P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, was the cause of so much inconsistency. Problem resolved.
McDonald, a senior guard, finally was deemed eligible by the NCAA after receiving impermissible benefits. He was forced to repay $1,783 to charity. McDonald, the only scholarship senior on a very young Heels roster, averaged 7.2 points per game last season largely as a sixth man. These Heels were weak from the perimeter, and that's where McDonald helps. He scored 15 points in his season debut Wednesday, although the Heels lost 86-83 to Texas. McDonald had nine points in 30 minutes in UNC's overtime win over Davidson on Saturday.
Hairston, meanwhile, won't play for UNC again as the team didn't even apply for his reinstatement. Clearly the things he did were much worse, and the school was tired of the embarrassment. Why Hairston, who led the team in scoring last season, didn't turn pro is a mystery. His rebounding also will be missed. In UNC wins this season, the Heels have won the rebounding battle by an average of seven. In their losses, UNC is minus-three. North Carolina's only game this week is Friday at home against powder-puff Northern Kentucky. It opens ACC play Jan. 5 at Wake Forest. UNC is +3000 at Sportsbook.ag to win the national title. I am presuming the books will re-release conference title odds soon.
It was a terrible week for Notre Dame (8-4). The Irish haven't missed the NCAA Tournament since 2009, but that looks very possible now. They are an average 8-4 and suffered one of the most devastating losses in years Saturday. Notre Dame, a 6.5-point dog, had No. 3 Ohio State totally on the ropes at Madison Square Garden but managed to gag away an eight-point lead with 51 seconds left. The Buckeyes put on the pressure defense, and Notre Dame couldn't stop turning the ball over. The Irish had five turnovers total in the final two minutes.
Jerian Grant led Notre Dame with 18 points in that game and leads the team in scoring at 19.0 per game and in assists at 6.2, but on Sunday it was disclosed that he's out the rest of the season due to an academic matter. It makes you wonder if he got caught doing what Irish QB Everett Golson did, which cost Golson this football season (he's been reinstated). Grant says he plans to return next season, but I'd be shocked if he plays college ball again.
This is a huge blow because the Irish don't really have any quality nonconference wins other than against Indiana, and the Hoosiers are nowhere near what they were a year ago. The Irish should beat Canisius on Dec. 29, but then easily could start 0-4 in the ACC as they open against Duke, NC State, at Georgia Tech and at Maryland. Notre Dame is just 4-5-1 ATS this season, and only one of those covers was as a favorite.
Games To Watch
The schedule is dark starting Tuesday for a few days with the holidays. However, the slow week is definitely made up for on Saturday when No. 8 Villanova visits No. 2 Syracuse and No. 6 Louisville is at No. 18 Kentucky. Villanova (11-0) looks like the class of the new-look Big East so far and is the only unbeaten left in the conference (only ranked one as well). The Wildcats already own quality wins over ranked teams Kansas and Iowa and are an excellent 8-1 ATS.
The Orange (11-0) of course are former Big East members now in their first ACC season, although they have yet to play a conference game. They won the Maui Invitational, beating a very good Baylor team in the championship game. C.J. Fair is an ACC Player of the Year candidate. The Orange and Wildcats split last season, each winning at home.
One has to wonder how Kentucky's freshmen will respond to the blood feud game with the defending National Champions. UK has failed pretty much every test so far, losing to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina. Julius Randle has lived up to the billing -- he's tied for the national lead in double-doubles -- but the Harrison twins have not so much (decent points numbers but struggling from the field). The Cardinals have been steamrolling everyone since they lost to the Tar Heels, but they haven't beaten a quality opponent either.
Still, Louisville's pressure defense could unravel the Cats as they rank 194th in the nation in turnover percentage, and the Cards are No. 1 nationally in turnover margin. Louisville guards Russ Smith and Chris Jones are two of the best in the nation in steals, and U of L is fifth nationally in thefts. UK will have the size advantage. The Cards won last year's matchup at home 80-77, ending a four-game skid against UK.
How big is the rivalry in the state? Louisville coach Rick Pitino brought his team to Miami for a few days so his players weren't bombarded with questions/requests from media, friends, family, etc., about the rivalry. Louisville is +600 on Sportsbook.ag to win the national title while UK is +750. It wouldn't shock me if the game was a “pick'em”. It's UK's last before opening SEC play Jan. 8. Louisville opens American Athletic Conference play at Central Florida on Dec. 31, and I'm here to tell you right now to bet on the Knights in that one as it's the definition of letdown game.
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