NCAA Basketball Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 12/30/2013
The Big Ten opens conference play this week, and here's hoping you didn't put down heavy money on defending national runner-up Michigan to win the conference this season; it was the +300 third-favorite to start the year. Now I'm not convinced the Wolverines will reach the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan was a preseason Top-10 team despite losing Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke and very good Tim Hardaway Jr., both first-round NBA picks, off last year's club. That was largely based around how good big man Mitch McGary was in last season's NCAA Tournament. He almost certainly would have been a lottery pick had McGary left after his freshman season, but he chose to return. That's not looking wise now as McGary has been slowed by back trouble all season and is now out indefinitely following surgery on the problem.
The 6-foot-10, 265-pound McGary is averaging 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in eight games. Michigan said there is no timetable for his return, but ESPN.com is reporting through sources that he's probably not going to return this season. Few things scare potential NBA employers more than a back problem. McGary averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 boards in six NCAA Tournament games as U-M made a surprising run to the title game before losing to Louisville. The Wolverines are not a big team, so they could get pushed around in the rugged Big Ten. Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan will assume much of the post work, but they are major downgrades. Neither averages more than 13.5 minutes per game. U-M already is a pretty weak rebounding team, ranking No. 162 nationally.
Michigan is down to +7500 at Sportsbook.ag to win the National Championship. The Wolverines are 8-4 with their best win thus far coming against Stanford. They have lost their two games against ranked foes, Duke and Arizona. Michigan will be an underdog probably of around seven points or so for Thursday's conference opener at 11-2 Minnesota. Michigan beat the Gophers 83-75 in their lone meeting of last season in Minneapolis, with Hardaway and Burke combining for 39 points. The teams were both ranked in the Top 10 then, the first Top-10 matchup at Williams Arena since 1977.
Marquette Player Iffy
Marquette begins Big East play against new conference foe Creighton on Tuesday night in Omaha, and the Golden Eagles might not have senior forward Jamil Wilson. He left Marquette's 71-48 win over Samford on Dec. 28 with a left knee injury. Wilson was fouled on a dunk and injured his left knee when he landed awkwardly with 15:09 left in the first half. The good news is that's it's not serious as an MRI was negative and Wilson is considered day-to-day. He's averaging 11.7 points (No. 2 on team) and 4.6 rebounds per game. It's too early to say any game is a must-win, but Marquette (8-5) doesn't have a very strong nonconference resume. It could use this victory.
The big matchup to open Big East play is No. 8 Villanova (11-1) at Butler (10-2) on Tuesday. The Wildcats are the only ranked team in the conference and were just handled pretty easily at No. 2 Syracuse on Dec. 28. Butler has been moderately surprising as some thought the school would fall off a bit after Brad Stevens left for the Celtics gig, replaced by first-year coach Brandon Miller. The Bulldogs lost top scorers Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith in the offseason as well.
The Big East looks very down this year as just one of the conference's 85 nonconference wins has come against a team with an RPI in the Top 25. Big East teams are only 5-19 against the RPI's Top 50. That conference may be looking at only two bids to the Big Dance unless things change.
Welcome To The ACC
New ACC teams Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame all play their first conference games this weekend. The Orange should have no trouble in their opener Saturday at home against a Miami team that lost everyone of substance off last season's ACC regular-season champions. Syracuse might be No. 2 in the polls behind Arizona, but the Orange are No. 1 in the RPI. Jim Boeheim's team has quality wins over the likes of Minnesota, California, Baylor, Indiana and Villanova. Pittsburgh is 11-1 but hasn't played a ranked team yet, with the lone loss coming to Cincinnati on Dec. 17. The Panthers will be underdogs Saturday at NC State. The Irish (9-4) host Duke and are 0-2 against ranked clubs this season.
Double Blow For Cards
Future ACC team Louisville is the fourth-favorite at +650 to repeat as the National Champion, but the Cards really haven't looked the part yet this year and now they are without two expected key contributors. Junior forward Chane Behanan has been dismissed from the team for violating university policy. He was averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 boards. He won't be coming back, either. Behanan was suspended in the preseason as well. He played very well in the Final Four with 10 points and nine boards against Wichita State and 15 points and 12 boards against Michigan.
Meanwhile, Kevin Ware had made a nice recovery from that gruesome broken leg suffered in the NCAA Tournament, but he's probably going to be shut down for the year after hurting that same leg. Ware probably will redshirt. U of L really doesn't have a great win yet and was outclassed by both North Carolina and Kentucky. The Cards open American Athletic Conference play Tuesday at Central Florida.
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