Sincerest apologies fellow degenerates for the inexplicable delay on the 2nd release of the "ATS Winners & Losers" segment. If you chose to hire a temporary gambling consultant to help guide you through the unforgiving wagering waters over the past 2+ months, his or her services are no longer needed - DJ Dimes is back.
Those of you who are loyal readers already know the drill, but I'll paraphrase (aka copy and paste) the old instructions you'll find in Part 1 of the 'ATS Winners & Losers' segment for the new kids on the block. The purpose of this series is to cover teams who have been both red hot and ice cold against the worthy adversaries that are the Las Vegas oddsmakers. For example...
- Will Kansas continue losing money for their monetary backers, despite sitting comfortably atop the Big 12 standings with a 2-game lead? yes, that's right - the Beakers are 2-8-1 against the number in Big 12 play, despite rocking a cool 9-2 overall record*
- Will Gonzaga continue stomping on inferior WCC competition, while simultaneously scaring even the sharpest of money away from betting against them? Unlike the Jayhawks, Mark Few and the boys are an absurd 9-2-1 against the spread in conference action, to go along with a 12-0 overall record*...
*data as of Wednesday, February 8th
A new twist I have incorporated this season is to provide my own prognosis on how I see certain teams trending against the spread over their next few matchups. Let's take Gonzaga for example - If I believe their recent success against the spread is sustainable, then I will slap a 'Buy' rating on the Zig Zags, implying you should continue to wager on them in the near-term. The reverse is true if I feel this streak is an anomaly and a regression is likely to come soon ('Sell').
Easy enough? Good, let's get into it shall we...
Below are the teams with the best and worst returns over the first 10 or so games of conference action (again, data as of Wednesday, February 8th):
Now, let's take a deeper dive into interesting case studies that jump out from the chart above (depicted in bold/highlighted boxes)...
With Valentine's Day fast approaching, it's about that time of year when the national pundits begin to question the legitimacy of the Zags' elite level status and discuss whether or not this is yet another year when Marky Mark Few falls short of the Final Four stage. The lazy argument that's so often regurgitated in this debate is that the Zags weak WCC schedule hasn't prepared them for the gauntlet that national title teams must go through to in order to cut down the nets. I guarantee you'll hear the following quote, or some minor variation of it, at least 15 times over the next month: "I question whether this team is battle-tested for March. They've beaten up on a bunch of nobodies for two straight months now, but are you telling me Duke or Kentucky wouldn't do the same thing?" My response to this is simple: No, they wouldn't. At least not this year...
The Zag's are currently stomping WCC foes by an average of 27 points a game (!!!), which is 7 points higher than the next most dominant team in their respective league (Wichita St.'s avg. margin of victory in the MVC is 19). But this raw number without any context should not impress you - it's how dominant the Zags have been relative to the expectations of oddsmakers that continues to baffle me. Not only are the Spokane natives smacking WCC teams by an average of almost 4 touchdowns a contest, but they're are also beating the line by an average of 8 points a game - the highest average cover margin of any team in America since conference play began. They've already beaten a sure fire top-25 team in Saint Mary's by 23 and haven't won by less than double digits since before Thanksgiving, which, oh by the way, was a 7-point victory against Arizona at the Staples Center (aka NOT at the Kennel). The bottom line is this: You're more than welcome to bounce Gonzaga in the sweet-16 or elite-8 in your office pool bracket when March Madness commences, but before doing so, please know this: We are almost halfway into February and Gonzaga holds claim to a top-5 nationally ranked adjusted efficiency on offense AND defense. Dating back to 2002 (aka the "kenpom era"), only five schools have been able to maintain a top-5 offense and defense for an entire season. You may recognize a few of these squads:
- 2015-16 Villanova (last year, duh)
- 2009-10 Duke (survived a Gordon Hayward 'Hail Mary' to win the title)
- 2007-08 Kansas (Mario Chalmers' national title winning trey ball shot sank Derrick Rose and Memphis)
- 2003-04 Duke (lost to eventual title winner UCONN in the Final Four)
- 2001-02 Duke (only team ever to rank #1 in both offense and defense, but got stunned by Indiana in the Sweet 16)
Final Prognosis: Let me step down from my soapbox and get down to business. The Zags travel to Saint Mary's Saturday night for what will be their biggest test of the WCC campaign BY FAR. The line will likely be Gonzaga -5, which to me actually presents some value for a legitimate top-20 Saint Mary's team that has a great home court advantage in my opinion. However, the on paper matchup strongly favors the Zig Zags, and even though the entire world will probably have financial capital on them, I will likely be joining the masses here.
The Zags will then return home to prepare for a sneaky good and red hot San Francisco team, who has won 8 of their last 9, after starting out 1-4 in conference play. The Zags didn't exactly blow the doors off the Dons in their first matchup back in earlier January (won by 15 @ SF), so if there's ever a spot to fade this juggernaut, it may be next Thursday against the fighting Bill Russells.
Final Recommendation: Buy vs. Saint Mary's; Sell vs. San Francisco
Despite having lost only once since the month of November, which happened to come at the hands of a top-15 Cincinnati team on the road, it seems like no one is talking about a team formerly coached by Larry Brown - the SMU Mustangs. When the Stangs lost their floor general and clutch playmaker Nic Moore this offseason, the SMU hype train began to lose some steam, even though they returned almost every single meaningful piece from last year's roster, including a budding sophomore star in "Shimmy" Shake Milton. The knock on this team was that they lacked a true point guard, but Mr. Milton has quietly transitioned into that role brilliantly. And even though Milton isn't a "pure point guard" per se, it simply doesn't matter once they can get setup into their half-court offense. Every player on this team is a competent and willing passer, which reduces the reliance on late shot-clock "hero ball" and results in almost no wasted possessions. The Mustangs are currently 7th in the country in % of field goals assisted, which confirms just how unselfish this team is. It also helps Semi Ojeleye, who was buried into oblivion by Coach K at Duke, has absolutely exploded on to the college hoops scene, and is now looking like a stone-cold lock to take down AAC player of the year.
Final Prognosis: The important wagering dynamic that recently came into play with this SMU squad is that they are now ranked in the AP top-25, which will immediately draw public betting attention. For those of you who follow us on Twitter (@_3MW_), you've noticed how much we love to wager on the Stangs, which has paid out almost as consistently as a US Treasury bond so far this year. However, the final stretch of their conference schedule is a bit tricky, which includes a date against Cincinnati at home Sunday, followed by a practice game against South Florida, before a 2-game roady to UCONN and Houston. In the first meeting @ Cincy, the Mustangs came up a bucket short of notching a massive road win, but still managed to slip inside the +5 number for a cover. The SMU home crowd, led by ex-POTUS George W. Bush, should be rocking when a top-10 Bearcat team comes to Dallas, especially as the Bearcats are now gaining more and more momentum nationally. I love the matchup for SMU here, which requires precision passing and some long range shooting to bust Cincy's zone.
Assuming the Stangs get it done at home and earn another marquee resume win this Sunday, expect a slightttttt hangover when the Green Wave come to town, but SMU freshly drunk would probably still wax this Tulane team by 30. It's the roady to Houston next Saturday, February the 18th, that concerns me a bit from a matchup perspective. The Cougars can throw out an array of potent outside shooters, including Rob Gray, Damyeon Dotson and Wes VanBeck, all of whom shoot a high percentage on a high volume from beyond the arc. The only frustration I've had all year with this SMU team is their lackadaisical approach to running shooters off the 3-point line. While some of these tendencies are natural in a zone defense, even when Jankovic goes man, the Stangs don't show much urgency closing out hard to shooters. In the Cincinnati game, Troy Caupain was licking his chops floating around the perimeter and finding open spot-up 3s with minimal resistance. I foresee the Cougars feasting off a sagging, interior-focused SMU defense (SMU is has allowed the 9th most 3 point attempts in the country) and getting white hot from the land of plenty.
Final Rating: Buy vs. Cincinnati; Sell vs. Tulane; Sell vs. Houston
After a somewhat disappointing non-conference showing, which resulted almost no resume boosting wins outside of a road win @ Alabama, the Flyers seemed to have found their stride in A-10 action. They currently are boasting a 9-2 conference record and an equally impressive 8-3 record against the spread. A key reason for this resurgence has been the improving health of forward Kendall Pollard, who is finally getting re-accommodated with the core rotation, after missing a good chunk of time earlier this season. Per kenpom.com, Pollard has still only played less than 50% of all total minutes so far this year, but he's trending back toward the ~27 minutes per game he got last season and has been much more efficient went he's been on the floor. His 107 O-Rating is a significant uptick from his sub-100 O-Ratings the past two seasons, much of which is due to more consistent finishing around the rim and an improved stroke from the charity stripe. At 6'7 240 pounds, Pollard will often play the 5 for Archie Miller, which allows him to attack slower bigs off-the-dribble and also creates additional floor spacing for Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke and Kyle Davis to drive it themselves. Dayton is an excellent off-ball cutting team in general and Pollard epitomizes this skill, as he's always looking to dive to the basket when one of the Flyer guards begin to penetrate.
Final Prognosis: Slowing down Dayton's potent drive-and-kick offense requires a rare defensive formula composed of two key ingredients: 1) you must be able to defend the pick-n-roll effectively using multiple bigs 2) you must consistently close out hard on 3-point shooters. Prime examples include VCU, Northwestern, UMASS and Saint Mary's, each of whom feature athletic, or at least mobile, forwards that can defend ball screens and all rank in the top-100 nationally in 3-point attempts allowed. Tonight's rematch with Rhode Island represents another case of this defensive kryptonite, which almost tripped up the the Flyers in Dayton back in early January. As much as I love this Dayton squad, I will absolutely be taking the Rams at home in a revenge spot tonight, who are now only a game back of the Flyers in the A-10 standings. However, Dayton's next two conference games will be against two poor perimeter defensive units, SLU and St. Bonaventure, who are prone to being exploited by pick-n-roll and free spacing offensive attacks (Dayton has already beat both by 16 and 21 this year).
Final Rating: Sell vs. Rhode Island; Buy vs. Saint Louis; Buy vs. St. Bonaventure
Kansas & UCLA
As perennial blue bloods in the college basketball landscape, Kansas and UCLA have captured the hearts of the national media with uber-sexy offenses that are capable of putting up 100 on any given night. The Jayhawks continue to ride their offensive conductor, POTY-candidate Frank Mason, who is thriving in a 4-out, 1-in offensive-focused lineup, which gives him more room than ever to make plays for himself and others. Challenged by the lack of interior depth, Bill Self responded by going away from his traditional 2-big, high-low focused offense, and institutionalized a 4-guard look, which usually places the Ukrainian Bomber, Svi Mykhailiuk, and lottery pick Josh Jackson, at the 3 and 4, respectively. Similarly, UCLA's high-octane offense is powered by a V12 engine at the point guard position in freshman phenom Lonzo Ball, who plays alongside a stable of blue-chip talent that can score from all over the floor.
But while the Jayhawks and Bruins continue to grab headlines with their highlight-reel, top-5 offenses, its the defensive end where both squads are beginning to reveal some serious cracks. So far in conference play, Kansas and UCLA rank 8 out of 10 teams and 7 out of 12 teams, respectively, in adjusted defensive efficiency. The achilles heel for the Jayhawks may simply be a product of their new small-ball lineup - rebounding. The only time in the past decade when KU has ranked outside the top-200 in defensive rebounding % was two years ago, when they were bullied by in-state rival Wichita St. in the 2nd round of the Big Dance. The Bruins on the other hand, who typically play two true bigs, have also dealt with some rebounding woes of their own, but its the complete and utter lack of perimeter pressure that has caused their defensive efficiency to plummet (currently ranked 122nd nationally in defensive efficiency). It doesn't take an NBA scout to notice that their guards just don't appear interested in making opposing guards work for anything and a backcourt that features A+ athletes in Lonzo Ball, Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday should be able to generate a lot more disruption on the defensive end (UCLA currently ranked 315th in the country in defensive turnover rate).
Final Prognosis: Lets begin with the Bruins - After a monster home win against Oregon, I fully expect a letdown against a completely irrelevant Oregon St. team this Sunday, who actually played the Bruins close up in Corvallis earlier this year. They then get almost a week to prepare agains their inner-city rival USC, who beat UCLA by 8 at home a few weeks back. Even with the revenge spot and time to prepare factors in consideration, I'd still lean the Trojans, who are now trending closer their early season ceiling with Bennie Boatright fully healthy.
Kansas faces a tough test tomorrow as they travel down to Lubbock, TX to face a bi-polar Texas Tech team that's loaded with size and length and tends to bring their best when they're on their home floor (5-1 home, 0-6 away so far in Big 12 play). The Beakers will then travel back home to seek vengeance against a West Virginia team that has absolutely owned them as of late. However, I'll likely trust my money with Bill Self and Frank Mason in front of an electric Allen Fieldhouse crowd, even though the 'Neers bigs have routinely exposed a pedestrian Kansas frontline in the past 3 meetings.
UCLA: Sell vs. Oregon St.; Sell vs. USC
Kansas: Sell vs. Texas Tech; Buy vs. West Virginia