NCAA Basketball Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 2/17/2014
A few weeks ago I recommended to throw a few dollars down on Florida to win the national title because I expected the odds were only going to get shorter once star freshman Chris Walker made his debut. Well, I was half right.
Walker isn't contributing yet, but the Gators indeed have taken over as the national title favorites at +550 at Sportsbook.ag. That shift came in the wake of Saturday's impressive 69-59 win at Kentucky that all but locks up the SEC's regular-season title for UF. I thought Kentucky would win that game in all honesty, and the Cats were three-point favorites and led 45-38 about midway through the second half.
Kentucky was held to a season-low eight second-chance points, and the best player on the floor wasn't one of Kentucky's heralded freshmen -- Julius Randle was held without a field goal in the second half -- but Florida's Casey Prather. He had 24 points to lead all scorers and probably clinch SEC Player of the Year honors. It was Kentucky's first home loss to a ranked team under John Calipari.
The Gators have won 17 straight games and have yet to lose with their full allotment of players. It's still somewhat tough to determine how truly good UF is because the SEC competition pretty much stinks outside of Kentucky. The Gators did beat ranked Kansas and Memphis in nonconference play, however.
I believe Florida is set up for a huge letdown game on Wednesday at home against Auburn, and I'm flat out calling an upset loss at Ole Miss on Saturday. The Rebels need a signature win to ensure an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. They should get one if they can beat Florida as well as visiting Kentucky on Tuesday night. Ole Miss is +5 against the Wildcats and lost 80-64 in Lexington on Feb. 4.
What To Make Of Saint Louis?
Because this year's NCAA title chase looks wide open with no dominant team, we could easily see more than one non-BCS conference team reach the Final Four. One of them could be Saint Louis, which is +3500 to cut down the nets in April at Sportsbook.ag.
The Billikens beat preseason Atlantic 10 favorite VCU 64-62 on Saturday to all but wrap up that conference's regular-season title. SLU has one of the coolest named players in the nation in Jordair Jett and has won 17 straight games to reach No. 10 in the AP poll, the school's first time inside the Top 10 since Dec. 29, 1964 when it was No. 9. The Billikens won't be afraid of the big stage as they start five seniors. They combined for all but three points against BCU. It's a terrific defensive team as SLU allows 86.9 points per 100 possessions, the second-best defensive efficiency in the nation. It holds teams to 28.4 percent from 3-point range, also among the national leaders. Saint Louis' only two losses were quality: by six in Mexico to Wisconsin and by five at home on Dec. 1 to unbeaten Wichita State.
Saint Louis has never reached a Final Four, but it has a victory in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments. The late Rick Majerus rebuilt this program before having to step away for health reasons. His successor and friend, Jim Crews, is likely to be gobbled up by a bigger program this offseason. Crews played at Indiana -- he was on the storied 1976 unbeaten team -- and began his coaching career as an assistant there under Bob Knight.
Other Games To Watch
It's a big week for Kansas, and it appears the Jayhawks will have star freshman center Joel Embiid for both games. Embiid, the likely No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft if he comes out, has been battling various injuries and sat out KU's 95-65 home blowout of TCU over the weekend. He's expected to play Tuesday night in what could be a trap game at Texas Tech, which is an eight-point dog. Why is it a trap game? The Jayhawks host No. 19 Texas on Saturday in the de facto Big 12 regular-season championship game. The Horns beat Kansas 81-69 in Austin on Feb. 1.
It's also a huge week for No. 5 Duke. The Blue Devils have a rare three-game week because last Wednesday's blood feud at North Carolina was postponed by a winter storm. Good luck making it through Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Tuesday (Blue Devils are -10.5), at UNC on Thursday and then the epic showdown with No. 1 Syracuse at Cameron Indoor on Saturday. That's clearly the toughest test left for SU to complete an unbeaten ACC season, although it does still have to visit Maryland and surprising Virginia.
The Orange remained without a loss – barely -- last week, winning at Pittsburgh on the shot of the year by freshman Tyler Ennis and then surviving by a point at home on Saturday against NC State. Syracuse is the first top-ranked team to win back-to-back games by two points or fewer since North Carolina in 1981-82. Amazingly, when Syracuse has either trailed or been tied the final minute of the second half and overtime this season, the Orange have outscored their opponents 17-0. That good or lucky? Probably a bit of both. SU is +600 to win it all.
On Saturday, No. 7 Cincinnati hosts No. 11 Louisville with the top seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament on the line. The Cardinals are a game behind UC in the loss column, and Cincinnati holds the current tiebreaker thanks to a 69-66 win in Louisville on Jan. 30. That seemed to wake up U of L as it has won four straight blowouts since.
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