NCAA Basketball Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 1/27/2014
This could be the week that determines whether top-ranked Arizona actually has a chance at running the table in the regular season. While I don't consider it likely, I do think UA has a shot because the Pac-12 really isn't all that great. Other than a scare at UCLA, the Wildcats have had little trouble against their conference foes thus far.
However, on Wednesday they play at a solid Stanford team that has beaten ranked clubs Connecticut and Oregon this season. On Saturday, Arizona visits a Cal team that's better than Stanford is. The Bears are on a two-game skid after getting swept in their swing through Los Angeles last week. They might need this win to get an at-large NCAA bid, especially since Arizona is the only ranked team left on the schedule. Arizona and Syracuse are No. 1 and 2 in the AP Poll for the eighth straight week. The record for the same two teams at the top in consecutive weeks is 12 by UCLA and Marquette in 1971-72. I was shocked to read that. It seems short. Somehow Arizona (+700) isn't the national title favorite at Sportsbook.ag. Kansas (+450) is.
I happen to think the Orange might get tripped up on Wednesday at Wake Forest. It's a huge trap game because then Duke visits the Carrier Dome on Saturday in one of the toughest tickets in Syracuse history.
Jump On Gators Now
Right now I believe the best betting value on the board for the National Championship is Florida at +1000. And this could be a huge week for the Gators. There is some scuttlebutt that highly-touted freshman Chris Walker could be cleared to join the team in time for Thursday's game at Mississippi State.
Walker, projected as an NBA lottery pick, is awaiting an eligibility ruling by the NCAA. He has been practicing with the team. I have no idea what the NCAA is waiting for -- isn't this its job? He's either eligible or not. One of the sites that covers Florida basketball mentioned that Coach Billy Donovan was a little more upbeat about Walker's status on Monday than he's been all season. The guy is an athletic freak at 6-foot-10 and won the McDonald's All-American Game dunk contest last year. He would make the Gators incredibly tough to beat. The SEC stinks this season as usual, so the only thing likely standing in Florida's way of going unbeaten in conference action is a Feb. 15 visit to Kentucky.
Michigan State's chances of winning the Big Ten regular-season title took a double hit last week. First, forward Branden Dawson apparently had a temper tantrum while watching film on Thursday and broke his hand. He's expected to miss 4-5 weeks. In addition, star big man Adreian Payne continues to sit with a foot injury that's really not going to get better unless he sits for months.
Predictably, MSU was upset at home on Saturday by surging Michigan without those two. Tom Izzo had to play guys he normally wouldn't. Matt Costello’s 28 minutes were a season high, for example. Russell Byrd got 13 when he rarely leaves the bench. It wouldn't surprise me to see MSU lose on Tuesday night at No. 15 Iowa, which opened as a 5.5-point favorite. Then Sparty faces Georgetown on Saturday in a nonconference tilt at Madison Square Garden.
That's a perfect segue because the other big player news last week was to the Hoyas' Joshua Smith. Georgetown was the preseason Big East favorite but has massively underachieved. Now the Hoyas won't have the 6-foot-10 Smith, a UCLA transfer, for the rest of the season because of academic issues. He played in 13 of Georgetown's 19 games and averaged 11.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 19.9 minutes. At 11-8 entering Monday's game against Villanova, the Hoyas seem a long shot to earn an NCAA tournament bid without winning the Big East tournament.
Other Games To Watch
While Syracuse and Arizona could each suffer its first loss this week, No. 4 Wichita State seems safe. The Shockers are 20-piont favorites for Tuesday's game against Loyola Chicago and will be a double-digit favorite on Saturday at home against Evansville. WSU has the best ATS mark in the nation at 14-3-1.
Kansas, back up to No. 6 in the polls, has a tough week ahead. The Jayhawks host No. 16 Iowa State on Wednesday and visit surging No. 25 Texas on Saturday. The Longhorns have saved coach Rick Barnes' job and have won three straight games against ranked teams. They also have all week to prepare for KU without another game.
I also don't expect Michigan to make it through this week without its first Big Ten loss. U-M will beat visiting Purdue on Thursday but lose Super Sunday at Indiana.