Just like in college football, the best college basketball teams reside in the five major conferences: ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big East, and the Big 12. However, some of the best (wildest) college basketball games are rarely broadcasted nationally and feature lesser-known teams from smaller conferences. For that reason alone, the lines for the "smaller" conference games are usually off by one or two points, thus creating value in the betting line . Anyone who has access to ESPN can become an "expert" when it comes to teams like Villanova, Baylor, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky, to name a few. These are the perennial powerhouses, and because of that there are pages and pages of information to sift through for the casual fan and seasoned bettor.
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When it comes to the lesser-known conferences like the one I am going to be previewing on a weekly basis - the MAC - most people would struggle to tell me who won the championship last year. Because of this lack of knowledge, Las Vegas rarely needs to inflate the game lines because none of the teams in this conference are "public" teams. Public squads are the teams that the public will blindly tail regardless of the point spread or money line (think New England Patriots, Golden State Warriors and last year's Chicago Cubs).
This article couldn't be coming to you at a better time given where we are in the college basketball regular season. The MAC is two games deep after this past weekend's action. This conference has 12 teams and is split into two divisions of six - East and West. Akron and Ohio are currently tied for first in the East at 2-0, while Toledo leads the way in the West with the same record. Central Michigan is currently 0-2 in conference play but owns the third best overall record at 10-5.
Moving forward on a weekly basis, I will be breaking down the full MAC slate. Game days are Tuesdays and Saturdays, so there will be plenty of time in between games to digest the results and regroup and fire off some more winners. I'll be focusing on key matchups, teams trending up or down, best ATS squad, letdown spots, live underdogs and lots of picks and predictions. This conference has been kind to me over the years, and I believe it's one of the most underrated conferences to bet on.
All odds are courtesy of BetOnline
Game of the Week
Akron Zips (12-3, 2-0) @ Central Michigan Chippewas (10-5, 0-2) (+3)
The Akron Zips come into this game with a 12-3 record overall and a perfect 2-0 record in conference play. They are currently riding a five-game win streak courtesy of wins over Marshall, UC-Irvine, MD-East Shore, Bowling Green and Western Michigan. They are led in scoring by center, Isaiah Johnson, who has scored in double figures in 14 of the team's 15 games. He is coming off a dominating performance over the weekend against Western Michigan, putting up 16 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. His teammate, Jimond Ivey, is second on the team in scoring and is averaging 16 points per game over his last three games. As a team, the Zips are averaging 77.5 points per game, which is good enough for sixth in the conference. They are fifth in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage - 17-for-51, 33 percent - and ninth in the conference in free-throw percentage (.683). Defensively, they give up 71.5 points per game and allow their opponents to shoot 48 percent from the field. Not exactly impressive numbers, but they do lead the conference in rebounding with 28 defensive boards per game.
Central Michigan come into this game with a 10-5 record overall but an 0-2 mark in conference play. Prior to losing to Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois on the road, the Chipps had won six of seven and had all the momentum in the world. The defense was the downfall in both games as they allowed their opponents to score more than 80 points in both contests. They are second to last in the conference in scoring defense (86 points allowed per game) and dead last in offensive field goal percentage (34 percent). Those two stats right there are the key ingredients of a losing season. Offensively, they are led by guard Marcus Keene, who has scored 435 points in 15 games, which averages out to a ridiculous 29 points per game. Keene is coming off his worst performance of the season against Northern Illinois (14 points and four assists) and will be eager to get not only himself, but his team, back on track.
This is a massive game for the Chippewas as a 0-3 conference start would put them behind the eight ball even more so than they already are. They can take solace in the fact that they are 6-0 at the friendly confines of McGuirk Arena, while all three of Akron's losses have come on the road. The Zips are a good team, but their two conference wins have come against lesser opponents at home. I expect the Chips to come out ready to play and get a much needed "W" behind a solid performance from Keene.
Pick: Central Michigan +3, -110
Live Underdog of the Week
Northern Illinois (9-6, 1-1) (+5.5) @ Kent State (9-6 1-1)
This week's "Live Dog" is the Northern Illinois Huskies (no pun intended).
The Huskies come into this game on the heels of a solid victory over previously-mentioned Central Michigan. They were able to put up 87 points in a win, despite shooting just 38 percent from the floor, 20 percent from 3-point land and missing nine free-throws (27/38). The law of averages says they can't possibly put upthat many points again on such poor shooting, which is why I believe they will increase their shooting percentage against a Kent State team that gives up 87.5 points per game in conference play and allows opponents to shoot over 50 percent from the floor. The Huskies will have the advantage in the post thanks to 6-foot-11 center Marin Maric. Maric leads the team in scoring and has posted three straight games of at least 10 points and seven rebounds. Kent State barely gets any production out of their center, Adonis De La Rosa, which is why the Huskies can pull off the upset here.
I expect the Huskies to pressure the ball carrier and guard the 3-point line like their lives depended on it. Maric will be able to handle De La Rosa one-on-one on the defensive end and protect the rim with his solid help defense.
Generally speaking, backing road underdogs in conference play isn't always the wisest move, but just like any angle or trend, there are certain times to go against the grain and make the play. I expect the Huskies interior game to give the Golden Flashes fits and draw plenty of fouls and free point opportunities.
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