College Basketball Betting Help: Teams that Could Surprise in Conference Play
Conference play has started with a trickle so far in college basketball, but after Christmas it will start in earnest. In almost every conference there is one team, or a small group of teams, that are likely to win the regular-season conference crown. That doesn't interest us at this point. What is more interesting, though, is to find teams at fatter odds that could potentially disrupt their conference races and deliver an upset win. We are looking for live long shots. And that requires two things - a conference that could be vulnerable up top, and a team that has some upside. Here are four teams that fit that criteria. (Posted odds are odds to win the national title)
UCLA (+6600): The biggest thing that UCLA has going for it at this point is that they are free from the destructive presence that is LaVar Ball. That alone makes this team a better one, and having the whole shoplifting drama in the rearview mirror will only be a positive going forward. The team lost a lot in the draft, but they have solid talent led by Aaron Holiday and quietly-excellent senior center Thomas Welsh, and they feel like a team that just needs room and time to mature. Their two losses aren't terrible - to Creighton on a neutral court and in overtime at Michigan. And they have a couple more chances to make a big nonconference statement before Pac-12 play starts in earnest. It's that conference schedule that gives me most reason for optimism, though, frankly, the Pac-12 is just lousy.
Arizona lacks identity so far, Arizona State is very good but overachieving, and every other team not in the desert is just not that good. Or in some cases actively bad. If the Bruins can find their game then they have a chance to take care of business against lesser lights. Then all it would take is a bit of luck against the top teams to pull off an upset that would put them in very good position to win the conference. Now, it is important to note here that winning the Pac-12 likely means pretty much nothing this year - what a mess it is!
Cincinnati (+2000): The Bearcats don't get the respect they deserve - and haven't for a long time. They have made the tournament six straight times and won 30 games last year, yet they are not the top choice to win their conference this year. The AAC is deep and tough - especially with Wichita State now in the fold - but it would be far from shocking to see these guys come out on top again. They returned three starters from their potent team last year and added a solid and improving transfer in Cane Broome. They had consecutive losses earlier this month. While that is never ideal, they came at Xavier and against Florida on a neutral court, so they are hardly reason for intense panic. It's a stretch calling the Bearcats a true long shot, but they are an underlay for bettors.
Texas (+5000): The Longhorns currently have the worst record in the Big 12 at 6-3, but that has as much to do with shockingly bad scheduling by the league as anything. Their three losses haven't been too bad, though. Two days apart they took Duke and Gonzaga to overtime on a neutral court before losing, and they lost to Michigan while dealing with injuries. Shaka Smart is a good coach, and he has two straight strong recruiting classes - led by the wildly impressive Mo Bamba - to work with. The team doesn't feel like they have mobilized their full capabilities yet - or even close, frankly. It's early, though, and only more reps and more adversity to overcome will sharpen things and get this team to where they need to be. The conference helps, too. Kansas has really strange issues that are going to take some time to deal with, so there is at least a chance that they won't cruise to their umpteenth conference title. And no one else in the group is unbeatable for this roster if they find their game.
Saint Mary's (+6600): Here's a shocking development - the Gaels are the biggest threat to give eternal champions Gonzaga a challenge in the West Coast Conference. They started the season ranked. While they have had some disappointing moments since, and aren't yet playing to their potential, they still have plenty of talent and strong coaching and have the potential to step it up going forward. And while Gonzaga is again a solid team - as they always will be with Mark Few in charge - they aren't quite as strong this year as they have been at times. Gonzaga will still probably win, but the two games between the squads will very much be worth watching. And just imagine for a second where this team could have been if they weren't stuck in the same conference as the Bulldogs. They could have two trophy cases worth of championships themselves in a handful of other conferences.
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