Welcome to my first NCAA 3-Point Play story of the new season. This will be a near-daily look at three games that caught my eye each day for whatever reason -- often involving ranked teams if possible, but it's all about value so if I see it on Canisius vs. Quinnipiac, well then that's where I'm going. It's still nonconference time in college basketball, so this won't start up in full yet as many ranked teams are still fattening up on cupcakes and a holiday break is coming. But after the New Year, look for this most days to give you a betting head start.
Florida at No. 1 Michigan State (-10)
It's a 6 p.m. tip on ESPN2 from East Lansing and the Spartans' 2000 National Championship team, which beat Florida in the final, will be honored at the Breslin Center. The Spartans rose to No. 1 in the polls Monday for only the fourth time in school history. Pretty quick jump since MSU was only 13th in the preseason AP poll. But Michigan State has looked like the nation's best team with excellent wins over Kansas, Providence and Louisville. This clearly is the last obstacle before entering Big Ten play unbeaten since only Northeastern and Oakland remain ahead of conference play. Sparty didn't get caught looking ahead to the Gators on Monday as it routed a really bad Maryland-Eastern Shore team, 78-35. Denzel Valentine, likely the early Player of the Year favorite in the country, had 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists despite playing through an illness. The Spartans are off to their best start since the 2000-01 season when they were defending National Champions and won the first 12.
The Gators were sideswiped -- but not really surprised -- when Billy Donovan left in the offseason to take over the Oklahoma City Thunder. UF didn't exactly spur too much excitement in Gainesville with the hiring of Louisiana Tech's Michael White. But Florida (6-2) has played pretty well, only losing to ranked Purdue and then Miami (by a combined 26 points) in the team's last outing. UF shot only 38.6 percent overall and 1-for-12 from 3-point range vs. UM. All five Gators guards in the main rotation totaled only 14 points; the backcourt is this team's weakness. This is interesting in that Florida only had back-to-back games vs. ranked teams on the road once in Donovan's 19 years and never in the nonconference season. It took White all of nine games for that chore.
Key trends: The Gators are 2-6 ATS in their past eight road games. MSU is 8-2 ATS in its past 10 at home.
I'm leaning: Michigan State.
Oregon State vs. No. 2 Kansas (-14)
Tip is 8 p.m. ET and on ESPN2. This is technically a neutral-site game in Kansas City, but that's obviously going to be all KU fans. I suppose it gives OSU a slightly better chance than winning at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks rarely lose. Oregon State (6-1) is off to a solid start but hasn't played anyone, losing to Valparaiso. This is the second game back from injury for Beavers senior forward Jamal Reid, who missed the first six due to injury. He played 22 minutes, a bit more than expected, and had seven points, five rebounds and four assists in last Saturday's win over Nevada. OSU remains without senior forward Daniel Gomis due to a broken left hand. The team's best player by far is a name you might recognize: Gary Payton II. He leads OSU in points (16.4 ppg), rebounds (8.1 rpg) and assist (4.9 apg).
Kansas has won six in a row since a close loss to Michigan State in Chicago. The Jayhawks had no trouble with Holy Cross on Wednesday, 92-59. KU big men Landen Lucas (sprained big toe) and Jamari Traylor (ankle sprain) missed the game for precautionary reasons. They should play here. Junior guard Brannen Greene returned from a suspension against Holy Cross -- his six-gamer was reduced by one -- and had 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He is now 11-of-12 shooting on the season and 8-of-9 from 3. Coach Bill Self suspended him because Greene was complaining about playing time during and after the Michigan State loss. KU is one of the nations' best offensive teams, averaging 90.9 points per game, shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from 3-point range.
For what it's worth, in November 2012 Oregon State pushed Kansas to the brink at Sprint Center, losing only by six.
Key trends: Beavers are 6-2 ATS in their past eight vs. the Big 12. KU is 2-5 ATS in its past seven after scoring more than 90 points in its previous game.
I'm leaning: OSU covers.
UCLA at No. 20 Gonzaga (-9)
Another ESPN2 game, with a tip at 10 p.m. ET. Which UCLA team shows up here? The one that dominated No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 3 in a 10-point win or the one that lost to Monmouth and Wake Forest and was blown out by Kansas? This will be the Bruins' first true road game and their only one before Pac-12 play begins. It's the Bruins' first-ever trip to Gonzaga. UCLA sophomore 7-footer Thomas Welsh is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week as he averaged 18.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in UCLA's two wins last week. He was fabulous against Kentucky with 21 points and 11 rebounds. UCLA junior guard Bryce Alford, son of Coach Steve Alford, is five points shy of 1,000 career. Alford leads UCLA in scoring (16.4 ppg).
Gonzaga has been mildly disappointing with two losses -- nearly three as it was pushed to the limit by Montana on Tuesday -- as this was projected to be perhaps the best team in the program's history. But the defeats were only by a combined six points and to ranked teams Texas A&M and Arizona. The Zags have played their past three games, including the Arizona loss, without 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski. He's dealing with back spasms and not likely to return soon. The senior averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds last year.
These teams know each other well. Last season, Gonzaga defeated UCLA in Pauley Pavilion 87-74 in the regular season and beat the Bruins 72-64 in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Key trends: UCLA is 4-1 ATS in its past five road games vs. teams with a winning home record. Gonzaga is 1-4 ATS in its past five after a win.
I'm leaning: UCLA covers.
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