Stock Up and Stock Down College Basketball Betting Report
Now that the NFL season has officially concluded, the focal point of the sports betting universe shifts to basketball. We are midway through conference play in college hoops as teams try to position themselves for the “Madness” in March. The goal for most head coaches is to have their teams peaking down the stretch run heading into the postseason. Every year, we see teams catch fire in February and head into the NCAA Tournament with a full head of steam. On the contrary, there are always a handful of schools that limp in with momentum working against them.
Today we’re going to look at three college basketball teams that have seen their stock rise over the last couple of weeks as well as three teams that have experienced a sharp decline recently. The goal as a sports bettor is not to identify these situations but to project if they will continue or reverse course. Properly valuing a basketball team is not all that different from valuing a company in the stock market. Identifying undervalued and overvalued teams can both lead to strong profits for a bettor. It’s those who are first to the party that reap with biggest benefits. I stressed that in my article on “Getting Ready for the Grind That is College Basketball” before the season.
Let’s start with the teams that have been on the rise and how we project them going forward in the near term.
Villanova – The defending National Champion Wildcats have performed like a Fortune 500 company in recent years. Led by head coach Jay Wright, Villanova has brought home the trophy in two of the last three seasons. The sentiment coming into the season that this was going to be a bridge year of sorts for the Cats. They lost a ton of production to the NBA over the summer and the talent on this year’s roster is nowhere near where it has been in recent campaigns. After a troubling non-conference season that included losses to Furman and Penn, Nova headed into Big East play at a mediocre (by their standards) 9-4 record. Wright did a lot of experimenting with lineup combinations early on as he tried to figure out which guys were going to carry the load for this year’s team. That has paid off for the team in conference games as Villanova is 9-0 straight up and 7-2 against the spread (ATS) in the Big East. This team does have a lower ceiling than normal, however. They rank 14th in the Associated Press poll and 13th in the Coaches Poll as of this week. I expect continue success for the team, but I’m not certain there’s a ton more upside. They could surely sneak into the Top 10 in the coming weeks. But they clearly don’t have the same level of skill to match up with the likes of Duke and Kentucky once we get into the NCAA Tournament. I think Nova continues at this level play and stays in line with the betting market’s expectations. RECOMMENDATION: HOLD
LSU – Will Wade made LSU immediately relevant again after taking over the reins last season. He quadrupled the teams’ conference wins last year and has the Tigers in the Top 25 in the nation this year. That’s quite impressive for the former Shaka Smart protégé. LSU is immensely talented and his team is young. I like backing young teams in the second half of the season because they usually get better with a good leader. Wade certainly fits that bill and I think guys like Tremont Waters, Naz Reid and Ja’vonte Smart will continue to benefit. They’re coming off of a gut-wrenching one-point loss versus Arkansas but I think there are some good spots to back the Tigers ahead. They play some heavy hitters in the SEC with games against Mississippi State, Auburn and Kentucky next. LSU will be an underdog in at least two of those contests and I think there’s still value here to be had. RECOMMENDATION: BUY
Wofford – It’s not just the power conference teams can that experience huge increases in their value. Wofford is a perfect example of how good coaching, fundamentals and team basketball can go a long way. Coming off of a mediocre 2017-18 season, not much was expected from the Terriers this year. But here they are with a 19-4 record, including 11-0 in the Southern Conference. They’re receiving votes in the Top 25 and are primed for an NCAA Tournament bid this season. However, I think this team has reached their peak. They’ve teed off on some weak competition and the results haven’t been good when they’ve stepped up in class. In their four toughest matchups of the season (North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi State), Wofford has lost by an average of 14.8 points. It’s tough to continue covering numbers when you’ve started to get recognition along the same lines of power conference teams. I’d sell at the top here with Wofford. RECOMMENDATION: SELL
Now let’s shift gears to some teams that have experienced a downswing recently. Remember that a downward trajectory can create an opportunity in either direction.
Penn State – Many pundits thought that Penn State’s program had finally broken through after a big 26-13 campaign last season that was topped by an NIT Championship in March. They expected it to carry over into the 2018-19 campaign with the culmination of an NCAA Tournament berth. That’s not happening. The Nittany Lions are 1-10 in the Big Ten and they’re projected to be an underdog in their next eight contests. Penn State has burned its backers with an awful 7-14-1 ATS on the season. They suffered a heartbreaking 99-91 loss at home in overtime against Purdue in their last week. It’s the kind of loss that can set a team reeling further into despair. Penn State is 13th (out of 14 teams) in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency and ranks 11th in defensive efficiency. They have been particularly woeful at the three-point line on both ends of the floor. That’s a huge problem in today’s college basketball where the three-point shot has taken over the sport. This isn’t Penn State’s year and they’re not a team I want to be on right now. RECOMMENDATION: SELL
Oklahoma – What a terrible week the Sooners experienced last week. They started with a 30-point loss at home to Baylor on Monday night. They had a full four days off to think about that loss and regroup during practice. How did they respond on Saturday? Oklahoma lost 79-71 to West Virginia, who was a dreadful 1-7 in conference play coming in. That’s not like Lon Kruger’s teams. The veteran coach has always been able to keep his teams on an even keel with very little volatility from one game to the next. Consistency if Kruger’s calling card. But Oklahoma has clearly started going off the rails a bit. They’re just 3-6 in the Big 12 and now are squarely on the bubble in terms of an NCAA Tournament bid. Given Kruger’s past and the talent on this team, I think the Sooners can play better basketball. They’re going to be an underdog in their next few games, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they can nab the outright win in one or two of those games. That would bring home a nice return for Sooners backers in the short-term. RECOMMENDATION: BUY
Xavier – Just like a company’s success is reliant on a strong CEO running the show, college programs need a strong leader at the helm to get the best out of the youngsters on the roster. Xavier had that great leader in Chris Mack for the last nine years. Mack guided the Musketeers to eight NCAA Tournament appearances (including four Sweet 16 or better showings) and a 215-97 (.689) overall record. He was the best the school ever had. But when Mack left for a big contract at Louisville last off-season, Xavier turned to assistant coach Travis Steele. While Steele was given high praise by his former mentor, he clearly still has a lot to learn. After a respectable 8-5 non-conference mark, Xavier is 3-7 in the Big East right now. They are also just 6-15-2 ATS overall. Xavier has dropped five straight games including a 22-point beating at the hands of Creighton last time out. I think things are going to get worse before they get better for the Musketeers. Many programs have to hit the reset button when they lose a coach as talented as Mack and it could set the school back years. RECOMMENDATION: SELL