- Matt Cox
Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@3MW_CBB) for daily gambling picks - our current YTD record is 47-30-2
With the whirlwind of Thanksgiving tournaments now in the rear view, we have a sufficient sample size to breakdown the college basketball gambling market. The delightful part about non-conference action is that many low major teams - whose games will not be lined once conference play rolls around - are being handicapped by most of the major oddsmakers, giving us degenerates a dangerously large spread of games to feast on.
Hopefully the endless supply of betting options has helped you build a nice bankroll buffer to start the year, but the journey is far from over. Below, we capture some of the hidden gems (‘Darlings’) and landmines (‘Duds’) that have brought both fortune and despair to gambling portfolios everywhere.
*Note: ‘ACM’ = Average Cover Margin
ATS Winners (‘Darlings’)
What they’ve done: After putting a screeching halt to the Duke runaway hype train in the Maui title game, Mark Few put a muzzle on the shrinking contingent of nay-sayers who question Gonzaga’s legitimacy as one of the nation’s elites. By now, this foolish group of individuals is nearing extinction, but the Zags got the marquee performance they needed last week to firmly solidify they belong in the same breathe as the blue bloods this year.
After dusting off Idaho State and Texas Southern in two quick tune ups to start the season, the Zig Zags were unfazed by the subsequent step-up in competition, as they blitzed Texas A&M at home before rattling off three straight victories against Illinois, Arizona and Duke in Maui. Their flawless resume to this point has been built without the services of Killian Tillie, an NBA-level talent, model of efficiency and poster child for the big man in today’s modern game, who should return from an ankle injury towards the end of December.
If there’s a weakness on this team, it showed some minor symptoms in the showdown with Illinois and Brad Underwood’s intensive defensive pressure - that is, ball security and the inconsistency of Josh Perkins. Perkins coughed up the rock 7 times against the Illini, as the fully healthy Illinois three-headed guard attack disrupted the Gonzaga guards with relentless ball hawking (Geno Crandall also turned it over 5 times). Crandall was brought in this summer to add some stability to the backcourt, but neither Perkins or Crandall - both experienced veterans who have played on big stages - have been exceptionally sound with the basketball thus far. Again, this is a nitpick in the big picture, but it has revealed a minor Achilles heel for the Zags, one that must be corrected when they face hyper active pressure-driven defenses moving forward.
Where they’re going: The Zags still have some tough tests remaining in their murderer’s row of a non-conference schedule, but can’t afford to hit cruise control once WCC action ramps up in January. Last year, the oddsmakers finally caught up with the Zags’ WCC dominance and beefed up their spreads to never before seen heights. Notice the disparity between the average spread last year (17) and two years ago (10), the same year Gonzaga marched all the way to the National Championship:
· 2017-18 WCC performance (last season):
Against-the-Spread record: 9-11
Average Margin of Victory: 19 points
Average Spread: 17 points
· 2016-17 WCC performance (two years ago):
Against-the-Spread record: 15-5
Average Margin of Victory: 25 points
Average Spread: 10 points
Another headwind facing Gonzaga from a betting perspective (once conference play begins) is the fact that the WCC is the most competitive the league has been since 2015. Saint Mary’s and BYU will once again be tough outs and an ascending middle tier of San Diego, San Francisco and Loyola Marymount will not be cakewalks either, particularly on the road. The bookmakers will likely keep spreads juiced up to numbers that compare with last season, so do tread lightly before blindly betting the WCC juggernaut Zags once the calendar turns to 2019.
What they’ve done: It’s WAY too early to make definite statements about coaching hire decisions, but Utah State may have knocked it out of the park with Craig Smith. Formerly the head man at South Dakota, Smith flew under the radar during his 4-year stint in the Summit, but his wizardry led to the turnaround of a program glued to the bottom of the league standings prior to his arrival. Smith inherited a robust roster at his new employer - headlined by a premier playmaker in Sam Merrill - which is thriving under Smith’s track meet tempo. This blazing fast pace is a far cry from the painfully slow, shot-clock milking possessions seen under Tim Duryea and Stew Morrill.
Where they’re going: The Aggies’ surgical destruction of Saint Mary’s last week was proof that Smith is a mastermind at dictating the game to play to his liking. Utah State sped up the methodical Gaels to their highest possession game of the season, something a Randy Bennett coached team rarely falls prey to. The bottom line is that Smith’s system can’t be exploited or derailed against even the most extreme styles, which should make the Utah State a steady performer game-to-game throughout the course of the season - just refer to their impressive showing last Wednesday against Arizona State, a team loaded with athletes that loves to run up-and-down.
What they’ve done: Defend! Last year’s defensive catastrophe was bound to correct this season after opponents made everything they threw up against Samford last year. Evidence of this turnaround was seen against Ohio State, when the Bulldogs held the Buckeyes to 29 1st half points and a 1.00 points per possession scoring efficiency for the entire game. Scott Padgett has appropriately cleaned house and the rejiggered roster has a renewed focus on defending, spearheaded by lightning quick point guard Josh Sharkey (the only notable returner from last season).
Where they’re going: Samford’s revitalization is coinciding with drastic improvements all across the SoCon - 7 of the league’s 10 teams are shattering preseason expectations and the Bulldogs will have to fight tooth and nail just to crack the upper half of the conference standings. In the near-term, this squad should continue to have value in the betting markets as high-major transfers Ruben Guerrero (USF) and Brandon Austin (Alabama), as well as freshman Robert Allen and JUCO addition Myron Gordon, become increasingly familiar and comfortable with Padgett’s multiple defensive looks.
Detroit & Pitt
What they’ve done: It’s been a dream start for two programs looking to wipe away dark memories of the past two seasons. A pair of failed coaching experiments sent the Titans and Panthers into disarray - Kevin Stallings was put on the grill for his incompetence at Pitt, and former John Beilein assistant Bacari Alexander didn’t even make it to year 3 at Detroit.
Mike Davis has replenished the talent pool in the Motor City, thanks to his son Antoine Davis’ scorching hot start, while returning veteran Josh McFolley is posting his most efficient offensive season since arriving at Detroit four years ago. Jeff Capel is also injecting a jolt of young talent to Pitt, as the former Duke assistant has inserted three freshmen into the starting lineup and opted to bring the older Jared Wilson-Frame (Pitt’s best player last year) off the pine.
Where they’re going: As much as I love where both programs are headed, I’d caution against extrapolating the blistering hot starts for both teams as sustainable for the rest of the year. Detroit is shooting 46% from 3-point land on a high volume of attempts, a clip that will almost certainly settle much closer to 40% by year end (and even that’s probably optimistic). On the other hand, Pitt seems more ‘for real’ than Detroit, but the reliance on freshmen may be exposed once they run into stiffer competition in the ACC - though, the 65-63 win versus SLU last Wednesday showed they could withstand the pressure of a grind-it-out style of game against an opponent that rivaled their athleticism.
ATS Losers (‘Duds’)
What they’ve done: It’s what West Virginia hasn’t done - that is, force turnovers and turn defense into offense - that’s caused the ‘Neers to come limping out of the gates this season. The typical ‘Press Virginia’ mantra that used to instill fear in opposing guards now appears to have lost its fangs. Jevon Carter’s tenacity at the point of attack is nowhere to be found and his most qualified heir apparent, James ‘Beetle’ Bolden, has been a shell of himself so far for a variety of reasons (multiple injuries and a brief stint in Huggins’ doghouse). We assumed the Bog Huggins assembly line of guards would simply replace Carter and his sidekick Daxter Miles with another wave of ferocious guard clones, but Brandon Knapper, Jordan McCabe, Chase Harley and Jermaine Haley have failed to replicate the defensive disruption of their predecessors.
Here are the turnover totals for each of West Virginia’s opponents over the first five games of the season:
Western Kentucky: 13
Saint Joseph’s: 7
When adjusted for number of possessions, kenpom.com indicates that the Mountaineers’ turnover rate currently sits at 17.2%, good for 259th in the country - since the inception of the KenPom era in 2002, a Bob Huggins team has NEVER posted a turnover rate that low.
Where they’re going: What’s interesting is that the ‘Neers offense has been operating on all cylinders, which has helped cover up some of the defensive short comings thus far. The development of Wesley Harris, the breakout of Sagaba Konate and the reincarnation of Esa Ahmad have helped carried the offensive torch forward while the guard musical chairs continues. From a gambling perspective, WVU’s value lies in the hands of this retooled backcourt - be sure to continue to monitor the status and availability of Bolden, who has missed the past two games with injuries and disciplinary reasons. Bolden is banged up, but none of his injuries are known to be serious, so it appears he should be back in action against Rider on Wednesday.
What they’ve done: It seems like whoever has the hot hand on any given night just so happens to be playing Kentucky. Big Blue Nation has been burned and burned badly by a few outlier shooting displays - most everyone witnessed Duke go unconscious against UK in the Champions Classic, but VMI and Winthrop also transformed into walking flamethrowers, raining in a combined 32 of 66 from downtown (48%), while North Dakota and Tennessee St. each converted 37% of their triples.
Compounding this string of bad luck is the fact that the Wildcats have completely ignored the 3-ball themselves, which has put them in a tough position against the aforementioned hot shooting opponents. Currently, only 18% of Kentucky’s field goals have been from behind the arc, the 4th lowest rate in the country. While much of this is intended, given the massive size and athletic advantages over inferior mid-majors, it could also be an early sign that the long range shooting woes so often tied to Kentucky teams in years past may be resurfacing again this year. I still firmly believe that this will wither away, with the shooting pedigree of Herro and reputation of Quickley both likely to start knocking down shots at a higher rate going forward.
Where they’re going: Kentucky is primed for a buy low opportunity in the betting markets. Not only do I see the above 3-point shooting trends correcting in their favor, but Calipari is still in midst of a ‘trial and error’ period with his lineup rotations. Per kenpom.com, not one lineup has played more than 8% of all possessions together this season, a clear sign that he is mixing and matching his pieces together in a variety of ways to see what will eventually click:
SMU, St. Bonaventure & Wyoming
What they’ve done: While there are a slew of other teams ailing with injuries, the SMU, St. Bonnies and Wyoming trainers are already working overtime. This trio has endured a tumultuous string of injuries, which has led their respective seasons astray in the early going. Looking ahead, any rebound will be contingent on the health and reintegration of some key pieces.
Where they’re going: This is all about pinpointing when the key cogs will return for each team, all of which have immense value for their respective teams:
6’6 Jarrey Foster is set to return to the lineup TONIGHT against Lamar, which will mark his first action since tearing his ACL in January. Foster is undoubtedly the Ponies most important player, and many NBA draft experts pegged Foster as a potential early 2nd round selection in preseason big boards.
6’6 Courtney Stockard and 6’6 LaDarien Griffin have both been sidelined with knee injuries for all of one game this season (Griffin played in the season opener vs. Bucknell, while Stockard has yet to take the floor). Stockard is expected to return within the next two weeks, and Griffin’s timetable is closer to mid-December. The Bonnies have been starved for production on both ends of the floor without their two athletic wings.
6’10 Jordan Naughton was a fixture in the starting lineup back in 2016-17, but back and ankle problems kept him sidelined for most of last season. He has yet to play this year, but could return as early as mid-December
6’7 Hunter Maldonado has been hampered by back spasms, causing him to miss the Boston College game on November 19th, before returning to the lineup two nights later against Richmond. It doesn’t appear to be anything serious, but his status must be monitored on a game-to-game basis. He was an everyday starter as a freshman last year and many thought he was primed for a breakout this season.
6’10 Hunter Thompson, a freshman who started in place of Naughton opening night, suffered a concussion and has been out the past five games. He will be day-to-day as he progresses through the Return-to-Play concussion protocol.