NCAA Basketball Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 1/6/2014
I thoroughly enjoy college basketball, but we should all agree that the regular season is mostly worthless, especially for veteran teams like a Michigan State that has played together for years and knows it's going to be a Top-3 seed in the Big Dance.
For a young team like a Kentucky or Kansas, the regular season is much more important so all the kids can be on the same page by the time the conference tournament rolls around. That's the way it will be for the foreseeable futures at programs like that where one-and-dones are prevalent (never been the case at MSU).
That said, it might be time to worry a bit about the Jayhawks. I'm not saying they can't win a national title, and they are still +600 second-favorites with Kentucky to do so at Sportsbook.ag. Sparty remains the favorite at +450. I don't think anyone thought KU would have four losses entering Big 12 play, though. The Jayhawks were Rock, Chalked 61-57 at home by a good San Diego State team on Sunday. That ended Kansas' 68-game nonconference home winning streak. KU shot only 29.8 percent against an Aztecs team that has only lost to No. 1 Arizona. I'm not saying super-freshman Andrew Wiggins has been a disappointment, but he's not Jabari Parker or Julius Randle yet. He was just 4-for-14 from the field against SDSU. Perry Ellis, supposedly the top returning player, was 1-for-8 for four points. San Diego State is a veteran team, and that showed; it also pushed KU around in the paint.
I do now wonder if Kansas is good enough to win the Big 12 for an unthinkable 10th straight season. The No. 18 Jayhawks open play Wednesday at a good Oklahoma team and probably will be a slight favorite. The Sooners just beat a good Texas team in its gym over the weekend and gave then-No. 1 Michigan State some problems earlier this season. Kansas better win there because then comes a gauntlet: home vs. No. 25 Kansas State on Saturday, at No. 9 Iowa State on Jan. 13, vs. No. 11 Oklahoma State on Jan. 18 and home to No. 7 Baylor on Jan. 20. This is the best the Big 12 has been for a while, so a 1-4 start, unlikely but certainly possible, could end KU's regular-season title hopes.
Duke is a rare 0-1 in ACC play after being upset at Notre Dame in the Irish's ACC debut over the weekend, Mike Krzyzewski's first-ever loss in 19 games against one of his former assistants (Mike Brey). The Irish were the first team to shoot over 40 percent from 3-point range against Duke this season. Jabari Parker had a season-low seven points.
When the Dukies take the court Tuesday night at home against Georgia Tech, they will be ranked No. 16. It's the first time in six years Duke won't play as a Top-10 club in the AP Poll. It had been there since Nov. 26, 2007. That's 122 weeks as a Top-10 team, the second-longest streak in history behind those John Wooden unbeatable UCLA clubs. The Blue Devils are 17-point favorites against Georgia Tech, a team Duke has beaten 29 of the past 32 times.
Georgia Tech probably was going to be one of the worst teams in the ACC regardless, and the Jackets recently lost leading rebounder Robert Carter Jr. indefinitely to a torn meniscus in his left knee. He averaged 10.3 points and an ACC-best 9.3 boards. Tech opened conference play by being blown out at Maryland on Saturday in their final scheduled meeting as ACC foes.
Other Games To Watch
Certainly the game of the week is Tuesday night in East Lansing, when No. 5 Michigan State hosts No. 3 Ohio State. The Spartans opened as 4.5-point favorites. I'm not a huge believer in the unbeaten Buckeyes yet as they have played one team that was ranked and spanked Marquette back on Nov. 16. However, the Golden Eagles have shown they clearly are not a Top-25 team. The Spartans looked very impressive in their 17-point win Saturday at Indiana. Believe it or not, Tuesday's game is only the second Top-5 matchup ever at the Breslin Center. If Sparty wins, it can really crow to the Buckeyes after also ending their national title hopes in football.
On Wednesday, SEC play kicks off, and I'm very curious to see how No. 14 Kentucky fares against Mississippi State. The Wildcats will be double-digit favorites, no doubt. But will they perhaps suffer a bit of a letdown and be rusty having not played since a big 73-66 win over Louisville on Dec. 28? MSU played a weak nonconference schedule and still lost three times, so it shouldn't be close. The last thing fellow SEC teams want is for Kentucky to continue building confidence. The Cats visit a down Vanderbilt team on Saturday.
I think top-ranked Arizona suffers its first loss of the season on Thursday night as the Cats start their L.A. swing with a visit to UCLA. The Bruins looked terrific in a warm-up for the game, beating crosstown USC 107-73 on Sunday. Led by Kyle Anderson, the Bruins have hit triple-digits three times already. It's the first time they've done that since 1999-2000. They can score with anyone.
Should Arizona fall, that would open up the top spot potentially for No. 2 Syracuse. However, the Orange are on upset alert Tuesday at Virginia Tech. There's no line yet for that game because two key Hokies, guard Adam Smith and forward C.J. Barksdale, are questionable with injuries. Syracuse sophomore center Dajuan Coleman is iffy after missing the past two games with knee problems. The Orange didn't look very good in their ACC opener, a 45-44 come-from-behind home win over a mediocre Miami team. The Carrier Dome should be rocking Saturday when North Carolina visits for the first time as an ACC foe. As they have proven against Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky, UNC can beat anyone when it's on. The Heels also opened ACC play with a head-scratching loss at Wake Forest.
Look for another unbeaten to potentially fall when No. 6 Wichita State visits a good Missouri State team on Saturday night. The Shockers are up to +4000 to win the national title.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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