BettorIQ’s College Basketball Betting Preview: ACC
With the college basketball season less than two weeks away, we are going to focus on the Power Conferences, and take a look at some schools within each conference, and where they stand heading into the year from a betting perspective.
Out of respect, we go longest with the champs. After a dominant regular season that saw Tony Bennett’s Virginia team go 28-2 SU and 22-6 ATS, the Cavaliers went onto win The 2019 NCAA tournament. The tournament itself was no cakewalk, as Virginia won the six straight games required to get the title, but went only 3-3 ATS. Miraculous finishes against Purdue in the Elite Eight and Auburn in the Final Four were required to finally get Tony Bennett his first national championship.
While a 22-6 ATS regular season record, good for a preposterous 73.7% cover rate, it’s not immediately apparent that there will be a drastic fall off in Virginia as a value spread bet club. After all, since 2013 Virginia is an incredible 104-62-2 ATS. The cover rate of 62.6% is 7.1% higher than the second-best ATS record in the ACC, which belongs to Virginia Tech. It makes sense that Virginia are almost always competitive against the number. This all begins with Tony Bennett, who is perhaps the top coach in the entire nation. His now-famous pack-line defense is fully ingrained in the culture of this program and has allowed the Cavaliers to consistently compete in arguably the most talented conference in America. The patience and deliberation with which Virginia treat almost every possession is a true testament to Bennett’s program, and the way that players may come and go, but when they are on campus, they almost always buy-in.
The consistency of Bennett and Virginia’s success will face a serious test this year. Gone are last year’s three best players. Fourth overall NBA draft selection De’Andre Hunter is gone. He was the team’s major isolation threat, their best off-the-ball shot creator, and a phenomenal wing defender. Perhaps sensing that they may not get a better opportunity at the next level, the backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy left their last year of eligibility on the table and were both picked in this summer’s NBA draft. Jerome was the quintessential Tony Bennett player. A preposterously patient playmaker, whose cerebral style bled into everything Virginia did on both ends of the floor, Jerome was a crucial leader as Virginia rose to national prominence. Kyle Guy was a sharpshooter who had an underrated ability to get to the rim. The loss of production is staggering. Virginia return only 40% of their minutes from last year, and the top returning scorer on the roster is Mamadi Diakite, who averaged only 7.4 PPG.
However, there’s a possibility that the public may over-correct itself here. With that much talent departing, Virginia may weirdly fly under the radar even though they are defending national champions. The incoming talent is solid but unspectacular, led by top 100 recruit Casey Morsell, who, you guessed it, is best known for his defensive ability. The front-court, led by Diakite, will feature Braxton Key and Jay Huff. All three of these players offer the size and mobility that will make them a nightmare as key cogs in Bennett’s defensive scheme. Kihei Clark, who combined with Diakite on the miraculous buzzer beater to take Purdue to overtime in March, is a skilled point guard who likewise is tuned into what this team wants to do.
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that, despite the losses, nobody in college basketball is better at playing the game on their terms. They simply refuse to be dictated to. This makes them difficult to prepare for, not just in an attempt to stop their offense. But rather, it is difficult for many offenses to have to play at this tempo. The average tempo of a NCAA Division I game last season was 67.8. Virginia did not play a single game against a high-major team that went above 64. Now, having to reset and move on from a championship core, expect Bennett to be even more devout to these principles. On preparing for this new chapter, Bennett said, “You have some non-negotiables, things that are constants in your program that lead to success. You have to be sound in certain areas and you just don’t budge on those.” Given this discipline, and how well Bennett’s message is received, there still may be value on the champs. Likewise, with a lack of offensive firepower, you’ll be dared to play under the total this season, but it will still be a great bet in spots.
Florida State Seminoles
Last season was a good one for Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles. They finished 4th in the ACC, and ended the season with a 25-6 SU record. However, they limped to a 14-16-1 ATS mark. They followed that up with a run to the Sweet 16 where they lost to Gonzaga. This season could be a difficult one in Tallahassee, as Hamilton loses six key contributors from a team that featured eleven different players logging at least 10 MPG. Most importantly, they lost wing Terence Mann and massive big Mfiondu Kabengele to the NBA. But, they’ll also have to replace important backup center Christ Koumadje as well as veteran leaders Phil Coker and PJ Savoy.
All in all, FSU return only 43% of their minutes from last year, and just two starters, Trent Forrest and M.J. Walker. A major concern for the Seminoles is their outside shooting. With the three-point line being pushed back this year, this will be an even greater area of weakness for Florida State. Last year, the team shot only 33.6% from beyond the arc, and it’s hard to see them getting to that sort of number this time around. They struggled against zone defenses last season, and they’ll face even more of it in 2019-2020.
All indications are that this roster has enough length and athleticism to play Leonard Hamilton’s preferred brand of basketball, and they will likely attempt to speed things up even more. They lack the sort of bigs they have recently relied on in the half court, so there will be an adjustment on offense, and without the shooting to mitigate the losses, they might struggle in early conference play. However, Trent Forrest looks like he’s ready for a bigger role, and the program is excited about freshman Patrick Williams, who ranked 28th on ESPN’s top 100 recruits. This team could take time, and should play its way into the NCAA tournament. It’s just a little hard to be too bullish on their chances out of the gates.
Last year’s disappointing campaign came to a fitting end with a wire-to-wire defeat at the hands of middling Big Ten outfit Minnesota. Being outclassed by Rick Pitino’s kid could not have gone over easily for one of the proudest college basketball programs in America. The Cardinals’ 19-12 SU regular season record is simply not good enough for Louisville. 16-13-2 ATS did little to inspire confidence. But, if the preseason hype is to be believed, Louisville is primed for a revenge year. Ranked fifth in the AP Preseason poll, the Cardinals are ready to reassert themselves in the national landscape.
It could take sometime for Louisville to come together. They start the year without freshman guard David Johnson and junior big man Mark Williams. Johnson, who head coach Chris Mack has called “special” could miss the first month of the year. Once healthy, he’ll join a Louisville team that returns 67% of its minutes, and is laden with quality upperclassmen. Three seniors and three juniors will serve key rotation roles, and they’ll be led by Preseason ACC Player of the Year Jordan Nwora. Coach Mack is hopeful that this experience will help them avoid giving up big leads, which they did at times last season. They also lost three overtime games. If his guys have learned there lessons, there could be a marked improvement in their overall performance.
Despite returning a lot of important players, there’s no doubt this is also a more talented group, especially when factoring in a healthy David Johnson. They’ll likely pick up the tempo this year, which could provide returns on the over. Last year the team averaged 17.7 seconds per offensive possession, which was the slowest mark for a Chris Mack team since 2015. Look for that to change.
It is a testament to the arrival of hope for Pitt’s basketball program that they were chosen 10th in the preseason ACC rankings. While it might not seem like much, when contrasted with last season’s standings, that saw Pittsburgh finish tied for last with a dreadful 3-15 conference record, it’s clear that better things are expected this year. Overall, the Panthers limped to a 13-18 SU regular season record. They were a touch better ATS, coming in at 14-15-2.
There are a couple of underlying factors that do suggest this team could improve on the floor and at the book. Despite everything that went wrong last year, Pitt ranked in the 99th percentile in transition defense, and in the 88th percentile in pick and roll defense. These fundamentals are only getting more important as the college game speeds up and ball screens are used more and more. This defense should surprise the public. In addition, it looks like their 3 point-defense fell victim to some bad luck. Overall, the team held opponents to 33.6% from three, but that rose to 38% during ACC play. That number will likely come back to earth this year.
Pitt returns 60% of minutes from last season. Critically, their two best freshmen, double-digit scorers Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens return and they should get even better. The outside shooting is still a weakness, and no one is suggesting this team will threaten at the upper echelon of the ACC. However, a jump from the cellar to the middle of the road is a real sign of progress for Head Coach Jeff Capel. There’s optimism at the University of Pittsburgh, and it’s warranted.