College Basketball Betting: Early Season Observations
The college basketball season is a week old, so let’s take a look at some early observations, as well as some teams that have surprised and disappointed in the early going.
It’s the Under, Stupid
Much was made of the NCAA’s decision to push the three-point line back this year. Since 2008, the three-point line has been 20 feet and nine inches from the center of the basket, until this season when it was pushed back to the international basketball distance of 22 feet 1 and three-quarter inches. This is a fairly substantial change, and one that has played no small part in keeping scoring down. The UNDER has paid dividends in the opening week of the year, going 195-148. The market was always going to struggle to adjust to this change, so expect a correction in the coming weeks. In addition, free throw attempts are down, as the referees appear to be calling a looser game. It is difficult to say what is driving this, although reducing the amount of flopping has been a point of emphasis. Oftentimes, these early season changes come back to earth as the season goes on, but free throws per game will be an important stat to monitor through November.
The Champs are Back
It was difficult to know exactly what to make of the Virginia Cavaliers before the season began. Tony Bennett’s roster underwent a lot of turnover, particularly with the loss of Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter. However, perhaps we should not be surprised that, so far, it’s been business as usual. Through two games, Virginia are giving up 34 points per game. Yes, you read that correctly. While one of those games came against James Madison, holding ACC rival Syracuse to 34 points on 23.6% field goal shooting is a testament to how good of a job Bennett is able to do ensuring that his team play his brand of basketball. Virginia started the year ranked 11th in the AP Preseason poll, and have since climbed to 9th, but there may still be value on a Virginia team whose public perception is not one of guaranteed title contender. KenPom already has the Cavaliers up to 3rd, and the schedule is a cakewalk. This should allow Virginia plenty of time to improve before a tough road game at Purdue in early December.
Oregon Still Riding High
After a spirited run to the Sweet 16 last season, Oregon looked like a team with potential, but one in flux. Payton Pritchard returned, but there were plenty of new pieces to fit in. While the Ducks were ranked 15th in the preseason poll, KenPom had them listed at only 29th. Now, after a solid 3-0 start, including a quality win against fellow ranked opponent Memphis, Oregon sits 18th in KenPom. The win against Memphis was particularly encouraging, as the Ducks did not get great performances from Chris Duarte and C.J. Walker, both of whom are expected to emerge into bigger roles for this team. Duarte scored only seven points, while C.J. Walker played only five minutes and was held scoreless. In a 31-point blowout win against Boise State, Oregon was without starting center Francis Okoro. The Ducks have gotten good performances out of Anthony Mathis and Shakur Juiston, which bodes well for any concerns about the team’s depth. We will get a better idea about Oregon’s staying power in a couple of weeks, when the Ducks square off against Seton Hall.
Florida was a trendy pick to win it all during the offseason, and a lofty ranking of 6th in the AP preseason poll suggested that the Gators were ready to take their place back on the national stage. Florida’s season started with an unimpressive 74-59 win, in which the Gators failed by some distance to cover the 21.5 point spread. Florida followed that up with perhaps the most disappointing performance of the season so far, limping to a 63-51 home defeat at the hands of cross-state rival Florida State. The Seminoles easily dealt with a stuttering Florida offense, holding the Gators to a 14-for-50 shooting performance. It was thought that Florida would be able to improve on its three-point shooting this year, after converting only 33.4% of its attempts from distance last season. So far, life beyond the arc has been a disaster for the Gators, as they’ve gone 7-for-37 behind the new three-point line. The ball movement was dire against Florida State, as the offense only managed to generate 6 assists. There are a lot of mouths to feed on what should be a very good offensive basketball team, but so far head coach Mike White has failed to get a group from which he expects so much, to mesh together as a unit. The schedule is not particularly easy for Florida, particularly from a travel perspective. While many big time programs will run off a group of non-conference home games, Florida is taking to the road. The Gators have to travel to Connecticut, then down to South Carolina, before eventually heading to face Butler in early December. It could take awhile before Florida start playing the kind of basketball that was expected coming into the season.
No. 1 Kentucky Falls to Evansville
It can often be difficult to trust Kentucky, particularly early in the season. As usual, this is a young team and the performances can be frustratingly inconsistent. The Wildcats’ early results are a testament to this. Kentucky came screaming out of the blocks with a 69-62 neutral-court victory over preseason number one Michigan State, and then followed that up with a 91-49 blowout of Eastern Kentucky. The Wildcats were promptly took the top spot in the AP poll, only to undo all of that goodwill with a stunning 67-64 defeat at home to Evansville in a game where Kentucky were a 25-point favorite. Kentucky had been 39-0 at home against unranked, non-conference opponents when ranked number one in the AP poll, and yet were undone on both ends of the floor. Preseason SEC first-team All-SEC point guard Ashton Hagans had a particularly bad night, putting up three points on 1-for-8 shooting, to go along with four turnovers. The lack of depth and physicality has emerged as an early concern, with Head Coach John Calipari seemingly only trusting eight players in his rotation. Kentucky needs its talented starting lineup to produce consistently in order to earn the trust of bettors, and the loss to Evansville will hardly build confidence. However, a defeat like this can often embolden a young team like Kentucky, who will have learned that nothing good can come from underestimating anybody. Expect a highly-motivated Kentucky team to roll in its three games against Utah Valley, Mount St. Mary’s, and Lamar this week.