College Basketball Betting: Pre-Holiday Matchups to Watch
Starting next week, college basketball essentially grinds to a halt with only a handful of games during the holidays. But over the next week, there are some key games that should have a postseason-type feel to them. Let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing matchups and what bettors should key in on.
Providence vs. Florida (12/17) – This matchup is game 1 of a doubleheader at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. It features two teams that have vastly underachieved which is why they are a combined 5-15 ATS. Providence began the season 30th in KenPom’s rankings but after four losses to teams outside the top 100, finds itself 75th. The Friars have plenty of experience but have for whatever reason decided to play a much faster brand of basketball which isn’t ideal for a team littered with inefficient shooters. It’s also totally uncharacteristic of head coach Ed Cooley whose past teams are generally moderately paced with an emphasis on defense. What’s alarming is the offense has struggled despite playing only one team (no. 80 Rhode Island) currently in KenPom’s top 100. Even more alarming, they don’t face another team currently outside the top 100 the remainder of the season! The Gators have personified underachievement for much of the Mike White era. None of their losses (Butler, UConn, and Florida State) are shameful but some of their lackluster wins sure qualify as such. Marshall is 3-6 and the Gators needed a big second half at home to eek out a six-point win. St. Joe’s just lost to Temple, 108-61, but lost in competitive fashion to the Gators, 70-62. Towson went 6-12 in CAA play last season and Florida never led by more than six over the Tigers in Gainesville. Not wanting to touch either side, the under will be a strong consideration.
North Carolina vs. Gonzaga (12/18) – I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a recruiting junky. Most programs are able to maintain a certain quality of player. Some years the talent pool may dip or rise beyond the norm but it generally doesn’t stray far. North Carolina is really testing that theory. The Tar Heels lost a lot of talent but that’s nothing new. Reloading is a staple of all of the Blue Blood programs. But this year’s squad looks like it may struggle to finish .500 in ACC play. Roy Williams is one of the few coaches who runs an offense based on NOT taking 3-pointers. Get out in transition, attack the paint, and go grab it off the glass if it misses. It’s worked for decades. This year’s team still grabs a bunch of offensive rebounds but if it isn’t an immediate put back, there’s a good chance it isn’t going in. Without two or three NBA-caliber players on the floor at all times, they look like an outclassed mid-major trying to score in the half court. Making matters worse is the health of point guard Cole Anthony who was held out of Sunday’s home loss to Wofford. Anthony is no Coby White but he’s also the only player on the roster who looks like he belongs wearing argyle. Can’t shoot threes, struggles in the half court, needs to offensive rebound in order to survive…sounds like a recipe for disaster against a Gonzaga front line that goes 6-11, 6-10, and 6-10. I’m 0-3 playing North Carolina games over the total this season. It’s going to take some courage and a really good number for me to try to snap the streak.
Maryland at Seton Hall (12/19) – Seton Hall hasn’t had a lot bounce its way. They lost to Michigan State by three despite leading by five with less than two minutes to play. They led Oregon by 19 in the second half and ended up losing by two. They lost Myles Powell to a concussion (he played 15 minutes) in an embarrassing 68-48 loss to Rutgers. Maryland is a notorious fast starter. Under Mark Turgeon they enter January on average with an 11-2 record. The Terps don’t necessarily flame out but life comes at you fast in the Big Ten. Case in point; a one-point win over Illinois at home and seven-point loss at Penn State. Despite that, they’ve looked the part and it shows in their statistical profile (top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency). So why then are they only 5-6 ATS? Me thinks their top 10 KenPom rating may be a tad rich. Powell is everything to this matchup. He went for 27 points in last year’s 78-74 Hall win.
Butler vs. Purdue (12/21) – Like Maryland, it’s odd to see Butler ranked in the top 10. I remember vividly that the Bulldogs were a bottom-tier Big East squad a year ago. Two things I don’t like: One, LaVall Jordan doesn’t impress as a head coach — and yes, I’m accounting for that fact that few are on the level of Brad Stevens and Chris Holtman. Second, they rely a LOT on Kamar Baldwin. Baldwin is great but he was great last season and Butler finished 16-17. Speaking of possession chewers, Purdue really misses Carson Edwards. The Boilermakers’ Trevion Williams and Matt Haarms are shooting a combined 63% from the floor and yet as a team, Purdue ranks 229th in effective field goal percentage. The schedule has been littered with elite defenses so better offensive days are on the horizon — but not that much better considering the nature of the Big Ten and Butler who checks in at 17th. How low does this total need to be to play over? 110? 105?
Illinois vs. Missouri (12/21) – Coaches can be stubborn and no two are better examples of that than Brad Underwood and Cuonzo Martin. Martin thinks he can take his team to the promise land by bogging down games and becoming Virginia of the Midwest. But then you lose to no. 294 Charleston Southern at home by eight. Underwood though may have gotten the “adapt or die” memo. Since arriving in Champaign, Underwood thought he could win in the Big Ten by speeding up the game and creating “havoc.” To some degree it worked as the Illini forced a bunch of turnovers. But they also fouled a ton and when they didn’t get a steal, teams scored with regular ease. This year has been completely different. Illinois’ opposing free throw rate went from 338th to 1st. And rather than sell out on pressure and steals, they’ve played more base defense with an emphasis on keeping teams off of the glass. Basically they are forcing teams to beat them by more traditional methods. Michigan coughed it up only eight times but shot 3-of-18 from three and attempted only six free throws. Illinois meanwhile shot 1-of-11 from three and turned it over 13 times but also killed it on the glass (44-28) and won comfortably, 71-62. Give me the coach who welcomes change rather than eschews it every time.
Utah State vs. Florida (12/21) – Because the Mountain West was so weak last year, Utah State was firmly on the bubble despite closing the regular season on a 14-1 run. They won the MWC tournament and kept it out of the committees’ hands but had they lost, it would have been close. The reason I mention this is the MWC looks down again this year, especially with Nevada taking a step back. San Diego State is the only team that projects to be a top 50 team meaning the matchup vs. Florida is huge. The Aggies do have a quality win over LSU but they had one last year over St. Mary’s, went 15-3 in MWC play and again, were on the bubble. It’s a potential quality win for Florida too but make no mistake, this is a tournament game for Utah State.
LSU at USC (12/21) – Like Mike White at Florida, USC’s Andy Enfield never seems to produce a team that correlates to their level of talent. And it looks like more of the same this year with a 70-61 home loss to Temple and embarrassing 101-79 loss to Marquette. Beating TCU by two on a neutral floor doesn’t do much for me. The PAC-12 looks better this season. Oregon and Arizona are top 15 caliber. Washington and Colorado should go dancing. And Stanford, Arizona State, Oregon State, and Utah all have a shot as well. Meaning 10-8 or even 9-9 puts you in the hunt. But that’s assuming you have a quality win or two outside of conference play. Here’s your chance, Trojans.
Ohio State vs. Kentucky (12/21) – Savvy move by Calipari; schedule Ohio State on a neutral floor but play someone three days prior at the same venue. The Wildcats play Utah on the 18th at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena and then circle back for a huge showdown vs. the Buckeyes. Since the infamous loss to Evansville, Kentucky has won six straight though covered only twice including one by a hook. Betting Kentucky in November and December is essentially a guessing game of when they’ll “get it.” To their credit, they almost always do at some point and you can usually ride them for a few weeks before the markets really catch on.
Indiana vs. Notre Dame (12/21) – Indiana caught Florida State is a great spot a few weeks back and didn’t disappoint with a 80-64 win. They followed that up with a 20-point loss at Wisconsin and then took advantage of 22 UConn turnovers in an ugly 57-54 “win.” Last time out, they needed overtime to beat a Nebraska squad that may be the worst team in the Big Ten outside of Northwestern. The point is, we can’t trust Indiana. I love Mike Brey but he’s been in South Bend since 2001! Part of it is the rough and tumble ACC but I also think the talent level is heading in the wrong direction. When the Irish are good they carve teams up with great ball movement and a bunch of shot makers. I don’t see that with this year’s group. In fact, it looks a lot like the waning years of a legendary coach who is just hoping for one more tournament berth.