NCAA Basketball Betting 3-Point Play: Three Interesting Opening Lines Saturday
by Alan Matthews - 2/6/2015
When I previewed Syracuse's game against Virginia Tech earlier this week, I asked what an NCAA Tournament would feel like without the powerhouse Orange in it. Now we will find out. The big news in college basketball this week was Syracuse announcing a self-imposed ban on all postseason play this season for NCAA violations committed years ago. It's the first time the school won't play in any postseason tournament since the 1992-93 season. The ACC Tournament will feature 14 teams instead of 15, and teams will slide up to replace Syracuse once the regular season ends. The Orange's first game since the announcement is Saturday, and I expect some rather humorous cheating taunts from the Pitt student body.
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Syracuse at Pittsburgh (-2.5)
This ACC game tips at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2. If you don't think this Syracuse ban is self-serving, then you aren't paying attention. For one, the Orange (15-7, 6-3) quite possibly weren't going to make the NCAA Tournament regardless, and even if they did weren't going very far in it. Second, SU announced the ban during the biggest day of college football's offseason, Wednesday's National Signing Day. The White House sometimes releases unflattering news late on Friday afternoon for just the same reason: to bury it. I would bet against Syracuse most games the rest of the way because now the players have nothing whatsoever to play for and they are being punished for something that happened before they got on campus. Another reason SU did it now: Coach Jim Boeheim has his best-ever recruiting class set for next season. Thus, the school is praying the NCAA accepts the one-year ban only. It's a smart gamble for sure. The Orange did beat Virginia Tech 72-70 on Tuesday to end a two-game skid but didn't come close to covering the 12.5-point spread.
Pittsburgh (15-8, 4-5) has some work to do to land an NCAA bid. The Panthers have followed a three-game losing streak with back-to-back wins. The one last Saturday at home over then-No. 8 Notre Dame was good for the resume. Monday's 72-67 nonconference win over little Bryant wasn't. Coach Jamie Dixon only scheduled the game so Pitt didn't have a full week off between games. The Bulldogs gave disinterested Pitt everything it could handle, missing a tying 3-pointer with six seconds left. Jameel Artis led the Panthers with a career-high 32 points, the second most ever scored by a Pitt player in Petersen Events Center history. During one stretch, Artis converted nine consecutive field goals.
Syracuse was 2-0 vs. Pitt last year, winning by just five at home as the nation's No. 2 team and by two in Pittsburgh as the No. 1 team. College hoops fans may remember that latter game as the shot of the year: Tyler Ennis, now in the NBA, made a 35-footer at the buzzer.
Key trends: Syracuse is 1-6 ATS in its past seven after a win. The Orange have failed to cover their past four road games vs. teams with a winning home record. Pitt has covered just one of its past eight Saturday games. The Panthers have covered only two of their past 12 at home vs. teams with a losing road record.
Why take the favorite: How can the Orange not be a bit deflated?
No. 9 Louisville at No. 3 Virginia (-7.5)
The game of the day starts at 7 p.m. on ESPN. If Louisville wins, the ACC regular-season title is totally up for grabs. Virginia (20-1, 8-1) leads Notre Dame and Louisville (19-3, 7-2) by just a game in the loss column, with North Carolina and Duke each with three conference losses. The Cavaliers failed their last big home test, falling 69-63 against No. 4 Duke last Saturday to end a 21-game home winning streak. However, rather impressively UVa rebounded with a 75-64 win at No. 12 North Carolina on Monday. Virginia trailed by one at the half but dominated after intermission when it held the Heels to 37.9 percent shooting. The Tar Heels scored only two fast-break points overall and that was in garbage time. It was the highest-ranked team that Virginia had beaten on the road since 2003.
Louisville, my preseason choice to win the ACC, has won four straight since a loss to Duke. It won in Miami 63-55 on Tuesday, a game I honestly thought the Canes would take. The Louisville backcourt dominated as Chris Jones had 16 points, six steals and five assists, while Terry Rozier had 22 points. If those guys play like that, U of L can win it all because it has one of the nation's best big men in Montrezl Harrell.
These teams haven't met in 25 years, and it should be a defensive war. Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense (50.9 ppg), is second in effective field-goal defense, fifth in defensive rebounding and third in 2-point field-goal defense. Virginia has allowed more than four fast-break points in a game once. Louisville allows only 58.5 points per game and is No. 7 in steals (9.3 per game) and No. 11 in blocks (5.9).
Key trends: Louisville has covered only five of its past 19 games. The Cards are 1-4 ATS in their past five following an ATS win. Virginia has covered eight of its past 11 at home vs. teams with a winning road record.
Why take the underdog: This line shocks me. I thought it would be maybe 3. Louisville may win outright.
No. 1 Kentucky at Florida (+7)
It's a 9 p.m. tip on ESPN for this SEC showdown. This is the one everyone had circled early in the season as Kentucky's best chance to suffer a loss if the Cats made it through the nonconference slate unbeaten, which of course they did in dominating fashion. It's a must-win for the Gators (12-10, 5-4), who would still then probably need to win the rest of their games before closing the season at Kentucky (I'm presuming a loss there) to have any shot at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. In the perfect definition of a look-ahead game, Florida's two-game winning streak ended on Tuesday in a 67-61 defeat at Vanderbilt. The Commodores are lousy this year yet scored the game's first 15 points and never trailed in snapping a seven-game losing streak. Florida missed its first nine field-goal attempts. About the only bright spot for UF was guard Michael Frazier II snapping out of a mini-slump with 21 points.
Kentucky (22-0, 9-0) perhaps avoided a trap game of its own Tuesday in a 69-58 win over Georgia -- I recommended taking the Dawgs +19 there. Andrew Harrison had a season-high 23 points, and freshman Karl-Anthony Towns had his best game with 15 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. The Cats played without freshman forward Trey Lyles due to illness, and he's in question for the Gators. UK is now one win shy of equaling the 1965-66 squad, which opened the year 23-0, for the second-best start in school history.
Florida was 3-0 against Kentucky last season. The Gators are 11-7 all time at home vs. the Wildcats under Billy Donovan. They have two wins over No. 1 teams in school history but never in the regular season.
Key trends: Kentucky is 1-4 ATS in its past five. UK has covered seven of its past 11 on the road. The Gators have covered three of their past 13 at home. They are 1-7 ATS in their past eight on Saturday.
Why take the underdog: This is the season for UF.
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