NCAA Basketball Betting 3-Point Play: Three Interesting Opening Lines Thursday
by Alan Matthews - 1/7/2015
The top college basketball teams around the nation have to be feeling a little relieved today. Why? Seemingly invincible Kentucky nearly lost at home to a so-so Ole Miss team in the SEC opener on Tuesday night (I recommended the Rebels and the 23 points). So perhaps the 2015 NCAA Tournament isn't just a formality and the young UK team can be beaten. Two teams that UK could see are in the Final Four are in action Thursday night. Here's a look at three intriguing matchups on the schedule.
Memphis at SMU (-8)
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These two were expected to be the primary challengers to defending national champion Connecticut for the American Athletic Association title, and maybe they still will be, but the loser of Thursday's game will be near the AAC basement at 1-2 in conference play. The AAC currently doesn't have a ranked team -- both UConn and SMU were in the Top 25 to open the season.
SMU (10-4) has four pretty acceptable losses. They were at an excellent Gonzaga team, at a pretty good Indiana team and home to a ranked Arkansas club. Following that Hogs loss, the Mustangs, who are coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown, won eight straight games. That included a solid win at Michigan. However, the streak ended Saturday with a 56-50 loss at Cincinnati. The Bearcats trailed by three at the half, but an early 11-0 run after intermission gave them a lead they wouldn't relinquish. It was SMU's fewest points scored this season. It entered leading the ACC in scoring at 71.5 ppg. The Mustangs played all but their last four games without one of their best players, big man Markus Kennedy. Last season, the 6-foot-8 Kennedy averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Mustangs, but he was academically ineligible the first semester this year. He has started slowly, averaging 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 17.0 minutes per night.
Memphis (8-5) had a five-game winning streak snapped in Saturday's 74-66 home loss to Tulane. Tigers leading scorer Austin Nichols had 28 points, but Memphis blew a late lead. It will be good TV to watch SMU's Kennedy go against Tigers junior forward Shaq Goodwin, who averages 9.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Both those guys are likely future NBA players. Every good team Memphis has played -- Wichita State, Baylor, Stephen F. Austin, Oklahoma State -- it has lost to this season. This will also be the Tigers' first true road game.
Memphis leads the series 12-4 as the teams split last season. The Mustangs won in Dallas 87-72, but the Tigers won the regular-season finale 67-58 in Memphis.
Key trends: Memphis is 5-0 ATS in its past five after a loss. SMU is 1-5 ATS in its past six after a loss. The home team has covered the past five meetings.
Why take the underdog: Mustangs will win, but it should be close.
San Francisco at No. 6 Gonzaga (-22)
With all due respect to Arizona, Gonzaga (14-1) might be the best team out West this season. The Zags' only loss was 66-63 in overtime at Arizona. The Zags already have beaten good teams like SMU, Georgia, St. John's, UCLA and BYU, all by at least seven points. Since the Arizona loss, the Zags have won seven straight, six by double digits. And the team just got better. Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan will be eligible to play for the first time Thursday. A 6-foot-4 guard, McClellan averaged a team-leading 14.4 points and 3.2 assists in 12 games last season before leaving Vanderbilt. Adding McClellan to Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and USC transfer Byron Wesley gives the Zags one of the best backcourts in the nation. And I didn't even include freshman guard Josh Perkins, who has been out since Nov. 26 due to a broken jaw. He averaged 5.0 points and 3.4 assists in the first five games and could be back soon.
San Francisco (7-9) has lost three straight games and isn't likely to put up much of a fight in this WCC game. The Dons were no match at home against BYU on Saturday, losing 99-68. The three-game skid is the team's longest since dropping its first five conference games in the 2012-13 season. San Francisco is 11-4 in its past 15 WCC road games but it has lost 25 straight in Spokane to the Zags. The Dons have lost the past four in Spokane by an average of 17.5 ppg. USF is 2-7 in nine games vs. opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 dating back to the 2008-09 season. Both wins were against Gonzaga.
Key trends: The Dons are 8-0 ATS in their past eight after a loss of more than 20 points. Gonzaga is 4-0-1 ATS in its past five vs. the WCC. The Dons are 9-3 ATS in the past 12 meetings.
Why take the favorite: I was 100 percent behind the Zags until seeing that USF has covered nine of the past 12. But I'll still lean Gonzaga.
No. 7 Arizona at Oregon (+5)
Pretty big few days upcoming for the athletic department at Phil Knight University! Obviously the football team plays for its first National Championship on Monday against Ohio State. And Thursday is the biggest home basketball game of the season for the Ducks as they host No. 7 Arizona. Oregon (11-3) looks like an NCAA Tournament team again, with its only losses coming against Michigan, VCU and Ole Miss -- none of those were in Eugene. Oregon has won six in a row entering this one. It opened Pac-12 play with a 71-59 home win over rival Oregon State. Oregon entered the game as the Pac-12's highest-scoring offense at 79.4 points per game, while OSU had the best field-goal percentage defense in the conference. The Ducks finished the game shooting 48.9 percent from the field after going 11 of 20 (55.0 percent) in the second half. Joseph Young led the way with 27 points. He is one of just three players in the nation averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and four assists per game.
Arizona (13-1) probably has the third-most talented overall roster in the nation behind Kentucky and Duke. The Cats already have strong wins over San Diego State and Gonzaga. The only team to trip Arizona up was UNLV 71-67 on Dec. 23 in Vegas. The Wildcats rebounded with a 73-49 home blowout of Arizona State on Sunday in the Pac-12 opener. Coach Sean Miller made a lineup change for that one, starting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts over Stanley Johnson and Gabe York for defensive reasons. Johnson is one of the nation's most touted freshmen. He's averaging 14.4 points and 6.9 rebounds.
Oregon gave Arizona major trouble last year, losing by just two in Tucson when the Wildcats were No. 2 in the nation. They were No. 3 when visiting Eugene later in the season and lost 64-57. That was huge for Oregon's NCAA Tournament resume.
Key trends: Arizona is 0-4 ATS in its past four road games. It is 2-5 ATS in its past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The Ducks have covered six of their past eight vs. the Pac-12. Oregon has covered five straight in this series.
Why take the underdog: I think the Ducks win outright -- five points is a gift.
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