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Best Bets: Previewing Baylor-West Virginia and Maryland-Michigan State

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Saturday and Sunday betting lines have not yet been put out by the fine folks running sportsbooks. Until they are, we will be using projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to analyze Saturday’s games.

No. 14 WEST VIRGINIA at No. 1 BAYLOR, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 66, West Virginia 61
  • TORVIK: Baylor 66, West Virginia 61
  • HASLAM: Baylor 64, West Virginia 61

My first instinct with this game was to just blindly hammer the under, no matter where it opens. Both teams are top four nationally in defensive efficiency, Baylor should, theoretically, be able to control the tempo, and they don’t exactly want to play fast.

That said, both the Bears and the Mountaineers are elite offensive rebounding teams and neither of them rank in the top 40 percent nationally in defensive rebounding. They also both force turnovers on more than 22 percent of their defensive possessions, and while Baylor is above average at protecting the ball, West Virginia’s guards seem to throw the ball to the other team more than Jameis Winston before Lasik. Put another way, I am worried that there are going to be enough extra possessions to push the total over.

MORE CBT: Bubble Watch |Bracketology

BEST BET: I’ll still be on the under if the total opens at about 128 or higher, but I actually think I like Baylor (-5) more at this point. The way Baylor’s defense works is that they switch everything 1-through-4 and they overplay to keep the ball out of the middle and force baseline. What this forces opposing offenses to do is to make plays in isolation and to shoot kick-out threes off of baseline drives. Miles McBride is dangerous as a scorer, but he’s nothing that Davion Mitchell can’t handle and the rest of their perimeter players don’t scare me, as creators or as shooters. The Bears do have enough size that I can’t see Oscar Tshiebwe or Derek Culver overpowering anyone in the paint, so I am having trouble seeing how the Mountaineers get to 60 points. And if this game, say, 70-57, under 128 would still hit.

So while I do like the under, my favorite bet will be Baylor (-5).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line is currently sitting at Baylor (-5.5) with a total of (130.5). I fired at both.

No. 9 MARYLAND at MICHIGAN STATE, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 70, Maryland 66
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 71, Maryland 65
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 70, Maryland 63

On the one hand, this feels like a perfect buy-low spot for Michigan State. They are one Ayo Dosunmu slip away from losing four straight games but they are coming home to play in a game where Michigan State will be hosting College Gameday.

Everyone is going to be fired up for that.

That said, Maryland has now won seven straight games, and four of those games have come on the road. They won at Illinois and at Indiana during that stretch. They are sitting all alone in first place in the Big Ten race. We can make all the jokes we want about Mark Turgeon and the Terrapins, but this team is starting to look like they are actually, legitimately, really, really good.

So I’m really torn here.

BEST BET: I’m going to wait to see where the line opens before I give a take, but I’ll probably be staying away.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The line is currently sitting at Michigan State (-6.5). I think the value is on Maryland at that number, but I’m staying away myself.

NOTRE DAME at No. 7 DUKE, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Duke 82, Notre Dame 68
  • TORVIK: Duke 83, Notre Dame 69
  • HASLAM: Duke 84, Notre Dame 69

In their last three games, Duke has:

  • beaten North Carolina by two in overtime in a game where the Tar Heels shot 21-for-38 from the line and gacked away a 13 point lead in the final 4:31.
  • beaten Florida State by five when Florida State shot 12-for-20 from the free throw line.
  • beaten a bad Boston College team, 63-55.

The two best things that Duke does defensively — force turnovers and run teams off of the three-point line — are the two things that Notre Dame does best offensively, and the Irish have a big guy inside in John Mooney that will make Vernon Carey have to work.

BEST BET: The Blue Devils are coming off of their two biggest wins since the turn of the calendar and they have not exactly played great during that stretch. If the Irish, who are still in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth if they can land a win like this, are (+11.5), that will be tough to stay away from.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Notre Dame at (+12.5) seems like a solid beet.

OLE MISS at No. 12 KENTUCKY, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kentucky 73, Ole Miss 63
  • TORVIK: Kentucky 73, Ole Miss 63
  • HASLAM: Kentucky 73, Ole Miss 64

Ole Miss has been one of the hottest teams in the country over the course of the last three weeks. According to Torvik, they have the 17th-best team in college basketball since Jan. 24th. They have covered in six straight games, including three straight double-digit wins against South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi State. They have had some struggles on the road, but this team has been a cash cow for us and I’m going to stay on the bandwagon.

BEST BET: If Ole Miss is catching (+9) here, then I’ll be all over it.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The line is Ole Miss (+9.5), and I am all over it.

OKLAHOMA at No. 3 KANSAS, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 74, Oklahoma 60
  • TORVIK: Kansas 74, Oklahoma 61
  • HASLAM: Kansas 76, Oklahoma 58

Ole Miss has been the 17th-best team in college basketball over the course of the last three weeks. Oklahoma has been 18th. I actually think the Sooners matchup better with Kansas than Ole Miss does with Kentucky, but we should be getting more points with the Sooners because Kansas is a better team.

But back to the matchup, where Oklahoma killed West Virginia was in their ability to spread the floor, pull the Mountaineer bigs away from the bucket and kill them with ball-screens. Kansas is unquestionably better at guarding these actions, particularly with the improvement that Udoka Azubuike has made defensively and their ability to play small, but I still think Oklahoma will be able to get clean looks for Brady Manek and Kristian Doolittle.

BEST BET: I don’t think that we’ll get this at Oklahoma (+14), but if it’s (+10.5) or higher I’ll be on the Sooners.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: I got it at Oklahoma (+11.5). The line is currently Oklahoma (+11). I like it down to (+10.5).

Best Bets: Previewing Baylor-Florida, Texas Tech-Kentucky

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As always, the Vegas lines are not out for the weekend games, so we will be breaking them down using KenPom, Torvik and Haslametric projections.

FRIDAY

MARQUETTE at No. 13 BUTLER, 9:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • TORVIK: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • HASLAM: Butler 71, Marquette 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Butler 70, Marquette 64

In theory, this is an ideal buy-low spot for Butler. They are coming off of three straight losses, the last two of which came on the road. The loss at DePaul was a bad matchup, and the loss at Villanova was a result of Sean McDermott and Jordan Tucker shooting a combined 1-for-12 from three until the final minute of a 15-point loss.

Marquette, on the other hand, is in a prime sell-high spot. The Golden Eagles have won three in a row. Two of them came at home and the third was at Georgetown, a team that is down to just seven scholarship players. Trying to predict the nights that Markus Howard doesn’t score 30-plus is more or less impossible, but I do think that it is worth noting Butler is 12th nationally in defensive three-point field goal percentage and has a couple of quality perimeter defenders they can throw at him.

BEST BET: The logic says to bet Butler here. The problem is that, at Butler (-6) or (-6.5), I don’t think we’re buying Butler low or selling Marquette high. KenPom and Torvik both have the line at (-6) while Haslam has it at (-7). I was hoping to get it at (-5) or lower, which is unfortunate. Either way, if I’m going to be betting this game — which, let’s be honest, is probably going to happen — it will be with Butler.

Oh, and Butler is unveiling Butler IV, their new puppy, tonight. Never fade the puppy play.

SATURDAY

No. 15 KENTUCKY at No. 18 TEXAS TECH, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • TORVIK: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • HASLAM: Texas Tech 69, Kentucky 63
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The more I think about this, the more I like the Texas Tech side here. I do think that the Red Raiders have one of the best coaching staffs when it comes to developing and instituting a game-plan. That’s a problem for a Kentucky team that tends to be fairly limited in what they run offensively. Put another way, Kentucky tends to figure out what works for them and run it over and over and over again. Their playbook shrinks as the season progresses, and that’s the kind of thing that Chris Beard and Mark Adams can take advantage of.

This is also a good buy-low spot for Texas Tech, considering that they are coming home off of a loss at TCU.

On the other side of the ball, I do worry about Texas Tech’s ability to create offense. They have struggled on that end, and I don’t think they actually have the front court pieces to be able to pull Nick Richards out of the paint.

BEST BETS: I’ll be curious to see where the line opens up here. I lean Texas Tech at anything (-4) and below, and I hope that the Kentucky effect can push that line much lower. I also will be on the under. If I think Texas Tech will have trouble to score, and Kentucky will have trouble to score, it only makes sense.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line opened at Texas Tech (-4) and has moved to (-4.5). I still like the Tech side here, but I think number I think that under (132.5) is a better bet at this point.

No. 1 BAYLOR at FLORIDA, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • TORVIK: Baylor 65, Florida 63
  • HASLAM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Baylor feels like they’re due for a loss, right?

They needed to erase a 12-point second half deficit at Oklahoma State last weekend. On Monday night, they nearly had Austin Reaves hitting a three in the final seconds to give Oklahoma a win in Waco. And now they are heading back out on the road to take on a Florida team that has been better of late?

Here’s to hoping that this line gets inflated because of the number next to Baylor’s name.

I also believe that the under is in play here. Baylor is one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Florida has not been as good on that end of the floor of late, but they, too, have shown flashes of being able to guard. They also matchup well with the Bears. But more importantly, I don’t believe that either of these teams are going to try and push the tempo. Florida has shown a frustrating determination to play possession by possession this season, while the Bears rank 269th in average offensive possession length.

BEST BET: I’ll be targeting the Florida ML here, particularly if the Gators end up getting points, but taking the under seems like the best play in this game.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This game opened up as a pick-em and, as of 9 a.m. ET, had moved to Florida (-2.5). I know I said I liked Florida in the section above, but this line has moved too much for my liking. I think the value is on Baylor at this number, and I’ll have a little bit on their ML (+120).

But like Texas Tech-Kentucky, this is another spot where the under (130.5) seems like the best play in the game.

No. 8 VILLANOVA at PROVIDENCE, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Villanova 70, Providence 68
  • TORVIK: Providence 70, Villanova 69
  • HASLAM: Villanova 68, Providence 66
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

It’s not going to feel comfortable, but this feels like a good spot to take Providence. Villanova has won five in a row and 11 of their last 12, but their last four games have been played at home. They’ve failed to cover in two of their last three games and are just 1-3 against the spread on the road this season.

Providence has lost back-to-back games on the road, covering the spread in both games, and have covered in six of their last eight games.

BEST BET: I’ll be on the Providence side, but whether I take the Providence ML or take the points will depend on what the line opens up at.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line is bouncing between Providence (+2) and (+1.5). I like the Friars at that number, and I’ll be on the ML (+104) myself.

No. 21 ILLINOIS at MICHIGAN, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • TORVIK: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • HASLAM: Michigan 71, Illinois 69
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The logic here is going to be exceedingly simple: Illinois is as hot as any team in the country right now. They’ve won five straight games, including wins at Wisconsin and at Purdue, the latter of which was by 17 points. Michigan, on the other hand, has not been the same team since they lost Isaiah Livers to a groin injury and, since January 1st, they’ve ranked 127th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Torvik.

BEST BET: I’ll be all over the Illinois ML, especially if this line opens up at Illinois (+3).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Turns out that the line opens at Illinois (+3.5) and moved to (+4). Ride the Illini, and a sprinkle on the ML (+155) seems tasty as well.

TENNESSEE at No. 3 KANSAS, 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • TORVIK: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • HASLAM: Kansas 70, Tennessee 50
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Kansas ranks No. 1 nationally in adusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They’re third in Torvik’s rating system. Since Lamonte Turner saw his season come to an end, Tennessee has ranked 251st nationally if adjusted offensive efficiency. The one point guard on their roster, freshman Santiago Vescovi, is averaging 5.0 turnovers per game despite playing just 24.5 minutes — to be fair, he had 21 turnovers in his first three games and has had just nine in the last three.

BEST BETS: I think Kansas rolls here after a week of hearing how bad they are because of Tuesday night’s fight.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: I thought the line would open around Kansas (-14), which means (-13.5) is tasty.

SUNDAY

No. 17 MARYLAND at INDIANA, 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Maryland 67, Indiana 66
  • TORVIK: Indiana 67, Maryland 65
  • HASLAM: Maryland 66, Indiana 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Maryland is 1-4 on the road this season. Their one win came at Northwestern in a game where they trailed by 14 points in the first half. The Terps might be the worst road team in the Big Ten, a league where road teams have been terrible this season.

BEST BET: If Indiana is getting points, take the ML. I also will be interested in betting the Indiana first half line. Fade Turgeon is in full effect this weekend.

No. 11 MICHIGAN STATE at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 70
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is a tough spot for me. Michigan State has not been great away from East Lansing this season and they are coming off of a road loss at Indiana on Thursday night. That said, their loss came after erasing a 16-point first half deficit in a game where Xavier Tillman missed a wide-open layup that would have forced overtime.

BEST BET: I will be staying away from this game.

Best Bets: Previewing the best games of the weekend in college basketball

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As of this publication, the lines for the Friday games were the only ones posted. Games on Saturday and Sunday will be discussed using projections from KenPom.

No. 20 WASHINGTON vs. TENNESSEE (-3); 135, Sat. 5:00 p.m. (Toronto)

As weird as it may sound, this looks like it is going to be the best game of the weekend.

And I will be fascinated to see where the line actually opens up, because Tennessee (-3) just seems like it is too high. I make this to be closer to a pick-em and would probably have Washington favored by a point or two, and that’s largely because I think that they just matchup really well with the Vols.

The issue with this Tennessee team is their frontcourt, which is not ideal going up against a Washington team that is going to be featuring Isaiah Stewart on the block. He’s a beast. He made Baylor’s big men look normal last weekend, and Baylor’s bigs are better than Tennessee.

Now, I do think that the Vols have some pieces that will be able to operate against that Washington zone, especially if Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden are actually shooting the ball well. Tennessee is better than where they are ranked right now.

But I think this matchup favors Washington, and if you can get the Huskies (+3), you take them.

PICK: Washington (+3)

No. 15 FLORIDA (-2) at UCONN; 138, Sun. 3:00 p.m.

This is a weird matchup. Florida has looked terrible early on this season, having gotten worked over by Florida State in Gainesville before nearly losing to Towson at home. That’s not ideal.

But UConn is coming off of an absolute mollywhopping at home at the hands of a St. Joseph’s team that has somewhere in the neighborhood of eight scholarship players on the roster.

Put another way, both of these teams stink right now, but Florida is the team that has more talent. They showed some flashes late in the win over Towson of playing their optimal lineup – two guards with Keyontae Johnson and Scottie Lewis around Kerry Blackshear – and I’m still in on them as a contender.

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PICK: Picking small favorites on the road is always risky, but I like to live dangerously. Florida (-2).

MARQUETTE (-1) at WISCONSIN; 131, Sun. 1:00 p.m.

Marquette had one of the most impressive wins that I saw in the Gavitt Games. They erased a 13-point deficit against Purdue without having Markus Howard go nuts. They did it with their defense and with Koby McEwen. This is a different Golden Eagles than we are used to seeing. I think they are going to be able to guard all season long.

Now that said, I do not feel good about betting on them to go into the Kohl Center and win a rivalry game on a Sunday in November, even though I don’t think Wisconsin has a guy that can slow down Howard, who struggles with length and athleticism.

PICK: This game will be a stay-away for me if Marquette is laying points. If Wisconsin opens up as a favorite, however, that’s a line that I will jump on.

No. 12 SETON HALL (-7) at ST. LOUIS; 139, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

St. Louis is playing at a faster place than they have played in recent seasons, and while I’m still not entirely convinced that they are somewhere in the neighborhood of “good” offensively, I do think that they’ll be able to create enough possessions to put up points. Seton Hall, obviously, can score, so if the total is 139 here I think I lean towards the over.

The one question mark is Myles Powell. I think his ankle is actually bothering him and that his 37 point outburst against Michigan State had more to do with his toughness and the way that adrenaline can make pain go away than anything else.

PICK: Over (139)

UT ARLINGTON at No. 14 OREGON (-15); 139, Sun. 8:00 p.m.

I lean Oregon here for one, specific reason: The Mavericks are shooting more threes than anyone else in college basketball right now: 56.5 percent of their field goal attempts this season have come from beyond the arc. Oregon’s matchup zone forces offenses to shoot over the top of it. This would, in theory, be a good thing for UTA except for the fact that they are shooting just 28.6 percent from three on the season and Oregon is allowing opponents to shoot just 23.2 percent from three.

PICK: The Ducks (-15) assuming that Chris Ogden’s team doesn’t turn into the Golden State Warriors this weekend.

NEW MEXICO STATE at No. 19 ARIZONA (-10); 138, Sun. 2:00 p.m.

New Mexico State is one of the best mid-major programs in the country. They are going to be a threat to pull off an upset if and when they get to the NCAA tournament. Chris Jans can really, really coach, and he has some talent on this roster.

But Arizona has been arguably the most impressive team through the first 10 days of the season, and laying 10 points against a mid-major program at home is just not enough points.

PICK: Arizona (-10)

No. 8 GONZAGA (-7) at TEXAS A&M; 143, Fri. 9:00 p.m

Texas A&M will be without T.J. Starks, who was suspended for this game. Gonzaga has looked really impressive through two wins against mediocre competition. I think I would lean towards the Zags in the Admon Gilder revenge game.

ALABAMA at RHODE ISLAND (+1.5); 149, Fri. 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Alabama has already lost at home this season, dropping a game against Penn in overtime, and now they draw a good URI team that has a talented backcourt in a road game. I like the URI money line here.

Best Bets: National title futures to buy, fade

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We are still more than three months away from the start of the college basketball season, but that doesn’t mean it is too early to start betting on college basketball.

Futures, baby!

There are already plenty of places where you can find lines on next season’s national champions, so we would be in the wrong if we weren’t advising you on who to put your money on considering that now is when you will likely be getting the best odds. 

One thing to note: These odds come from DraftKings Sportsbook, and like a number of the legal Sportsbooks operating in New Jersey, it allows you to cash out futures bets for a profit if the odds get better. So, for example, last year I bet on Marquette at 200/1 odds in September. By late February, their odds had moved to 50/1. When the team lost four in a row late in the year, I was able to cash out that bet to more than triple my investment.

That option plays a significant role in the futures that I am going to be investing in. If you don’t have the ability to cash out, some of your decision-making should be more conservative. A future bet may be a great value, but just because I think Utah State should be 60/1 vs. 150/1 doesn’t change the fact that you won’t get paid unless Utah State wins the title.

So with all that in mind, here is your as-of-today college basketball futures breakdown.

(AP Photo/Jeff Swinger)

THE FAVORITES

  • Kentucky (8/1)
  • Michigan State (8/1)
  • Duke (10/1)
  • Virginia (11/1)
  • Kansas (12/1)

The way I see it, there are four teams that are in the mix as the best team heading into the 2019-2020 season — Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas. As the reigning national champs, it makes sense that Virginia would have their odds in this range as well.

BEST BET: At this point, I think that it is probably KANSAS (12/1) for the simple fact that they have the best odds and there really isn’t all that much of a difference between them and, say, Kentucky or Michigan State. Hell, there are smart basketball people out there that will tell you that the Jayhawks are the best team in college basketball this season. They lost Dedric Lawson and Quentin Grimes with eligibility remaining, but they did bring back Devon Dotson (a potential breakout star next season) and Udoka Azubuike. That wasn’t a guarantee. The addition of Isaiah Moss adds some perimeter shooting while Ochai Agbaji should be in line for a significant jump in minutes and production. Throw in Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Tristan Enaruna and Jalen Wilson, and there is as much versatility on this roster as there is talent.

I do think that KENTUCKY (8/1) and MICHIGAN STATE (8/1) are worth betting as well. That’s decent value. For my money they are the best two teams in the country heading into next season, and the Spartans return my Preseason Player of the Year in Cassius Winston. DUKE (10/1) also seems to be the right price. They don’t have as much talent this year, but the pieces should fit together better. But at 12/1, Kansas is clearly the best value in this tier. 

EASIEST FADE: It’s VIRGINIA (11/1) and it’s not close. I’m actually bullish on the Cavaliers heading into next season. I love Jay Huff and I *love* Mamadi Diakite, and Braxton Key should be able to play the three alongside both of them. But there are real questions that need to be answered about their perimeter play. I don’t know if Casey Morsell is going to be ready as a freshman. Tomas Woldentensae can really, really shoot but the staff has concerns about what he will be defensively. Kody Stattman is supposed to be the guy they rely on to be a defender and a floor-spacer on the wing but he is coming off of a 9-for-41 effort from three in the FIBA U-19 event.

I like Virginia this season more than a lot of people. I do not like Virginia at this price.

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

THE CONTENDERS

  • Gonzaga (18/1)
  • Memphis (18/1)
  • North Carolina (18/1)
  • Florida (20/1)
  • Louisville (20/1)
  • Villanova (20/1)
  • Texas Tech (25/1)

BEST BETS: My two favorite futures heading into the 2019-20 season are in this tier: FLORIDA (20/1) and LOUISVILLE (20/1).

We’ll start with the Gators, who have actually seen their odds change significantly over the course of the last month. When Kerry Blackshear announced that he will be playing his senior season in Gainesville, there were still places where Florida was available at better than (50/1). For a team that is going to enter this season in everyone’s preseason top 10, that was insane value. They are certainly priced better now, but at (20/1), the value is still there. Remember, this is a team that already had an elite perimeter – Andrew Nembhard, Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke, Tre Mann – of versatile defenders capable of thriving in small-ball, and they added an all-american redshirt senior that anchored the frontline for a Virginia Tech team that played the same way last season.

Louisville should be obvious, really. They are misspriced. They return Jordan Nwora (my Preseason ACC Player of the Year), Dwayne Sutton, Steve Enoch and Malik Williams, they add a loaded six-man recruiting class and bring in a grad transfer point guard in Fresh Kimble that averaged 15 points in the Atlantic 10 last season. Throw in the fact that their head coach is one of the very best in the business, and I would buy the Cardinals up until they are priced where Virginia is priced today.

TEXAS TECH (25/1) is also interesting to me because Chris Beard always finds a way to win, but I’m not sure there is much value there; they seem to be priced accurately. I’m intrigued by VILLANOVA (20/1), but I’m not ready to invest too heavily in a Villanova team that is going to have as many as five or six freshmen and sophomores playing in their rotation.

EASIEST FADE: For me, it is MEMPHIS (18/1). I already have a Memphis future. I got them at (50/1) way back in April. That was when they were a sneaky value. With James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa on the roster, they are going to have the talent to play with any one in the country this season. My concern is just how young they are. They have just three players on the roster that are returning, and only two members of a seven-man recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the country are guys that can be slotted as surefire one-and-dones. More than 70 percent of that class are program guys, players that should be on campus for two or three years.

Throw in the fact that two of the three returning players are undersized point guards that likely aren’t going to be the starting point guard, and I think Memphis should be priced closer to (25/1) or (30/1). At (18/1), I’m staying far away.

GONZAGA (18/1) is interesting given who they landed in the grad transfer market, but this is not the team that I am betting on to win the first national title for the Zags. And while I love Cole Anthony, I think that NORTH CAROLINA (18/1) is too expensive for a team that will be replacing so many important pieces.

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

THREE MORE FUTURES I LIKE

Maryland (40/1): This is the one team that I just cannot wrap my head around. Personally, I think that Maryland is a team that will deservedly end up being a top ten team in the preseason. They have an all-league point guard in Anthony Cowan and a big man in Jalen Smith that surprisingly returned for his sophomore season. Beyond that, they are loaded with capable role players on the wing – Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, Serrel Smith – and have a sneaky-good sophomore big in Ricky Lindo. There are going to be some deserved questions about their youth, and I understand anyone that is against betting on a team coached by Mark Turgeon, but (40/1) is absolutely nuts. I think they should be priced alongside the likes of Villanova, Gonzaga and North Carolina.

Seton Hall (50/1): Legal Sportsbooks in New Jersey are not allowed to accept bets on college teams located within the state so there are no odds available for the Pirates, but there are places where you can bet on the Pirates and they are listed at (50/1). Again, this number just doesn’t make sense to me. The Pirates return everyone, including All-American Myles Powell, and look like they could end up being the best team in the Big East. It’s worth a few bucks.

Baylor (80/1): This might actually be the best Baylor team that Scott Drew has had. They are old, they are deep, they are balanced and they are a roster full of dudes with something to prove. There is a chance that this is the best team in the Big 12 not named Kansas or Texas Tech, and (80/1) is a nice price for them right now.

Utah State (150/1): I love the Aggies this year. Assuming that Neemias Queta’s injury is not too serious, they are a top 15 team in my mind. I don’t think they are winning the national title, but if I can get them at 150/1 and cash out at, say, 50/1, that is a nice little win.

THREE LONGSHOTS THAT ARE TOO CHEAP

Xavier (100/1): The Musketeers return their top four from a team that won six of their last seven Big East games a season ago. To me, they are clearly the third-best team in the conference.

Alabama (125/1): Alabama’s loaded with talented guards and wings. Kira Lewis, Herb Jones, Beetle Bolden, John Petty, their three freshmen. If we know anything about Nate, it’s that he knows how to have success with teams that have talented perimeter options. I also really like LSU (120/1) in theory, but I think there’s a non-zero chance that the Tigers end up doing something crazy like self-imposing a postseason ban to try and assuage the NCAA’s enforcement staff.

Davidson (225/1): I think VCU (125/1) is too cheap for a team that won the Atlantic 10 regular season title, reached the NCAA tournament, returns every single member of their top nine that they wanted to bring back and should get their star point guard, Marcus Evans, back to 100 percent. Davidson – who went 14-4 in the A-10 last year, returns their top six and has one of the 10-15 best backcourts in the country – is almost half the price. For me, this is strictly a bet that I will look to cash out before Selection Sunday, but both of these teams are top 25 teams in my mind.

THREE TEAMS TO FADE

Memphis (18/1): We already discussed Memphis, but for me they are easily the easiest fade of the teams in the top two tiers.

Arizona (33/1): I think Arizona is going to be good. I think they are the best team in the Pac-12. I think their recruiting class is loaded. I don’t think that this is a team that is going to be good enough to get to Sean Miller’s first Final Four, let alone win a national title. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that they have this NCAA investigation staring them in the face.

Texas (40/1): The Longhorns are priced as a top 15 team, according to Vegas. I actually think there’s a chance that they will be better than expected – and I can see them getting back to the NCAA tournament this season – but at (40/1), they have worse odds than almost half of my preseason top 25.

Love live-betting? Make sure you’re tracking three-point shooting

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By now, I think we all have probably figured out that Ken Pomeroy, the brains behind KenPom.com, is the best numbers wizard currently analyzing college hoops. If you haven’t figured out that you should be mining his site for score projections that are significantly different from Vegas betting lines, then you are missing out on an edge when it comes to winning money.

I bring this all up because of a study that Ken did last week, one that I think is quite relevant as we get ready to ramp up for another season of betting more than we can afford on college hoops. Essentially what happened is that Ken went through and tried to determine what box score stat had the biggest impact on winning, and he did this by looking at how win probabilities change for conference games that were tied at the half.

The answer is first half three-point percentage. The team that shot worse from three received a 7 percent bump in win probability relative to their opponent if they shot a lower percentage from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.

On the surface, this might seem a bit strange, but logically it makes perfect sense. I don’t have any data to actually back this up, but outside of a star player getting into foul trouble and having to sit for a significant amount of time, three-point shooting is the one aspect of basketball where it is the easiest to have an outlier performance, and where said outlier performance has the biggest impact on the result of a game, or a half.

Think about it like this. Let’s say that your team shoots 40 percent from three on the season and averages 10 threes per half of basketball. That means that in a given 20 minute period, we can expect your team to shoot 4-for-10 from beyond the arc. If you shoot 6-for-10 from three in the first half of a game, that is an extra six points that we cannot project for the second half. The opposite is true is you shoot 2-for-10 from three in the first half.

Now imagine that the team that shot 6-for-10 from three is playing the team that shot 2-for-10 from three and that the score is tied at the half. That’s a 12-point swing on four actions in a game that probably had around 70-75 possessions in the first half. Assuming that three-point shooting will regress to the mean – meaning that both teams return to their average of 4-for-10 shooting – the team that shot worse from three in the first half should be expected to have a better second half performance.

Logically, that all makes sense.

But it is nice for Ken to prove it to us.

And while context will be important in every situation where we use this as a way to try and make money next season, do remember that the team with a lower three-point shooting percentage was the one stat that impacted second half win probabilities the most.

So keep that in mind next season when you are live-betting games at the half.

Best Bets: Previewing the Final Four games

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No. 1 VIRGINIA vs. No. 5 AUBURN, 6:09 p.m.

  • LINE: Virginia (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 131
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 68.75, Auburn 63.25
  • KENPOM: Virginia 70, Auburn 64

What’s fascinating about the way that this matchup is going to play out is that the things that Auburn does well are the things that Virginia’s roster is specifically built to take away.

Specifically, the transition game.

So much of what Auburn does offensively is a direct result of their ability to turn defense into offense, whether it is grabbing a defensive rebound and getting out in transition or forcing turnovers and turning those into layups. The thing about Virginia is that everything they do is specifically designed to take that away. They send two guys to the offensive glass at the most. They are one of the nation’s very best when it comes to avoiding turnovers. One of the keys for Auburn in this game is creating ways to be able to beat Virginia’s defense down the floor and score before they get set, but that is very much easier said than done.

The other part of this is that Virginia will not have to deal with finding a way to stop Chuma Okeke. Talk to coaches who have played Auburn and what they will tell you is that Bryce Brown is their most dangerous player, Jared Harper is their most important player and Okeke is their best player. He is the guy that makes it so that you get punished when you switch defensively. He is the guy that can beat up a smaller defender and pull a bigger defender away from the rim. He is one of the keys to their ability to get out in transition. Without him on the floor, it will be that much easier for Virginia to key in on Auburn’s two best players — Harper and Brown.

The great equalizer here is that Auburn loves to shoot threes and Virginia’s defensive is more or less designed to force someone into shooting threes. If you are going to beat Virginia, you are going to have to make a whole bunch of tough jumpers. That’s precisely what Purdue did when they took Virginia to overtime in the Elite Eight. And not only does Auburn like to shoot threes, but they can make a lot of them on any given night. Danjel Purifoy hit four in a row in the second half against North Carolina. Bryce Brown is capable of reeling off six or seven threes in a half. Jared Harper can get it going from deep. J’Von McCormick and Malik Dunbar can make threes.

Auburn is really, really dangerous, and the thing that they do best is the thing that Virginia’s defense is designed to give up. Put another way, Tony Bennett can live with his opponents taking contested jumpers, but Auburn is good enough that they can beat just about anyone with contested jumpers.

PICK: I lean towards Virginia here, but I think I like the over more than either side.

No. 2 MICHIGAN STATE vs. No. 3 TEXAS TECH, 8:49 p.m.

  • LINE: Michigan State (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 132.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 67.5, Texas Tech 65
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 67, Texas Tech 66

This is another fascinating matchup of strength on strength.

There may not be an offense in the country that is better at getting a star point guard into a ball-screen. There may not be a team in the country that runs more ball-screens or has a more elaborate system of set plays to create those ball-screen actions.

Texas Tech?

Their entire premise defensively is doing what they can to take you out of what you want to do. They are going to keep your entire offense on one side of the floor if they can. They do not want to allow a ball reversal.

Where this becomes interesting is that Michigan State’s offense is exactly the kind of offense that you want to run against a defense that Texas Tech plays. They run a lot of weakside action. They reverse the ball. They have good screeners and execute their offense. This will be a fascinating battle of strength of strength.

PICK: I think Texas Tech is the side that you want to be on. I think that, picking straight up, I tend to lean slightly towards Michigan State because of their transition game. Cassius Winston is the best in the country at those hit-ahead passes, and if I was forced to pick a winner outright, I think that Michigan State’s ability to beat Texas Tech’s defense down the floor is the difference-maker.

That said, we aren’t picking outright. Texas Tech is getting 2.5 points, and if I can get 2.5 points in a game that is, more or less, a pick-em, then I’ll take the 2.5 points.