NCAA Basketball Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 2/24/2014
Quick, tell me which team leads the Atlantic Coast Conference without looking. Syracuse? Nope. Duke? Wrong again. North Carolina? Not even close. The answer is Virginia, and it's time to start taking the Cavaliers seriously.
No. 12 Virginia is perhaps the most overlooked team to start 14-1 in ACC play ever -- the Cavs are still ranked behind both the Orange and Blue Devils, for example. Their only ACC loss was a close one in Durham on Jan. 13 that could have easily gone the other way. Virginia (23-5) has won 11 straight since then and looked very impressive in Saturday's 70-49 blowout of visiting Notre Dame. Coach Tony Bennett's team isn't exactly known for offense but shot 63.6 percent from the field overall against the Irish and 76.2 percent in the second half when UVa outscored Notre Dame 40-19. The Cavs had a 25-0 run in that half. Their best player is Joe Harris, but he had only eight points in the game. Bennett's teams have always been defensively strong, and Virginia has held 15 straight opponents under 50 percent from the field and 31 straight ACC foes.
I can see why some might not take this team too seriously. The ACC isn't exactly loaded outside of the teams mentioned above. Plus, Virginia has losses to Green Bay and Tennessee on its resume (also acceptable ones to VCU and Wisconsin). The school has won the regular-season ACC outright title just once: in 1980-81 when some sophomore named Ralph Sampson led the Cavs to the Final Four.
Virginia hosts Miami (Fla.) on Wednesday in what looks like a major trap game ahead of Saturday's mammoth showdown with No. 4 Syracuse in Charlottesville, where Virginia has won 16 straight ACC home games. It's probably the biggest game at the school since Sampson's teams played those North Carolina powerhouses back in the early 1980s. Virginia then closes the regular season as the final ACC opponent to visit Maryland. Virginia is +2200 at Sportsbook.ag to win the national title.
This Week For Dawson?
Branden Dawson isn't the best player on Michigan State. In fact, he's probably fourth after Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. However, Dawson is proving he might be the most important. Sparty dropped to 4-5 since Dawson was lost to a broken hand when they lost 79-70 at Michigan on Saturday, completing a season sweep for U-M. Michigan State still hasn't won consecutive games since Dawson left, and the Big Ten regular season title is unlikely now as Michigan leads MSU by a game in the loss column and obviously holds the tiebreaker.
Michigan has a pretty easy closing schedule: Wednesday at Purdue, Saturday at home against Minnesota, March 4 at Illinois and March 8 at home vs. Indiana. Not an NCAA Tournament team in there. The Spartans host Illinois on Saturday but could get Dawson back as he just had the pins in his hand removed last Friday. They need him back now to get into rhythm before the postseason. Also worrisome is that Appling is playing through injury and hasn't been good in the past three games after missing two. Appling has a wrist issue and clearly is afraid of injuring it by attempting only seven shots in the past three games. At least Payne seems over his foot injury.
MSU is +800 to win the national title, behind only Florida (+500) and Kansas (+700).
Other games to watch
As expected, Florida rose to No. 1 in the polls on Monday, the Gators first time in the top spot since the 2007 club repeated as the national champion. I thought UF would lose Saturday at Ole Miss and they did fail to cover but survived 75-71. Florida improved to 7-2 in games decided by six points or fewer this season. Last year the Gators were 0-6 in games decided by six points or fewer. I do like Vanderbilt (+8.5) to give Florida a scare in Nashville on Tuesday night.
Also Tuesday, No. 2 Wichita State could be on upset alert in what will be the Shockers' final true road game of the season. They are +11.5 at Bradley. The Braves are a solid 11-4 at home. They lost by 22 at Wichita State on Jan. 14. WSU closes the regular season Saturday at home against a Missouri State club that nearly pulled an upset on Wichita on Jan. 11.
Don't be surprised if No. 6 Duke plays very sluggish at home Tuesday night as a 21.5-point favorite against Virginia Tech. The Hokies are no good, but Duke is going to be totally spent after last week in losing a tight one Thursday night at North Carolina and then beating Syracuse on Saturday in another thriller between those two.
I am curious to see if North Carolina shows up on Wednesday at NC State. With that win over Duke, the Tar Heels became the first school ever to beat the AP preseason Nos. 1 (Kentucky), 2 (Michigan State), 3 (Louisville) and 4 (Duke) in the same season. UNC seems like great value at +4000 to cut down the nets in April. It's an absolute must-win for the Wolfpack to boost their NCAA resume.
The only other major conference team yet to lose a game in its conference this season outside of Wichita and Gainesville? That would be No. 10 Saint Louis. The Billikens have won 20 straight games, but I would bet against them in both matchups this week: Thursday at home to Duquesne in a major trap game (SLU won't lose but won't cover) and Saturday at VCU. The Rams were preseason Atlantic 10 favorites but are squarely on the NCAA bubble at 20-7 overall and 8-4 in the A-10. They need Saturday's win and will get it. VCU lost 64-62 at Saint Louis on Feb. 12.
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