Saturday’s Seven Best Situational Spots to Target in College Hoops
© Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
As we head down the home stretch of the college basketball regular season, the lines get tighter as teams’ power ratings have mostly stabilized. This is where situational handicapping really comes into play. I have five main situational angles that I look for: Hangover, letdown, sandwich, and what I like to call “Fat and Happy” and “Drop in Class.” I put full descriptions for each of those terms at the bottom of the piece.
This isn’t science: A good spot doesn’t necessarily mean the line has value. One must also consider other variables (coaching, injuries, matchups, etc), but it’s a good place to start.
Let’s dive into the seven situational spots I’m betting on Saturday. If you’re seeing this piece a little later on Saturday, don’t worry. I cover games being played at noon, 2, 6, 7:30, 8:15 and 10 p.m.
Spreads as of 9:30 a.m. ET on Saturday.
Providence at Butler (-7.5)
Potential letdown spot for Providence, which likely punched its NCAA Tournament ticket after beating No. 3 Villanova on Wednesday. On the other hand, Butler comes in with a three-game losing streak, which included a tough OT loss at home to Xavier and a road loss at Villanova. Those two games left it out of gas for Tuesday’s home loss to Georgetown (which was a drop in class spot). The ‘Dawgs are also looking for revenge after a 10-point loss in mid-January to the Friars.
Alabama at Kentucky (-4.5)
2 p.m. ET
This is a difficult time to back the perpetually young Wildcats, who are in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Those four losses were against four teams (at Missouri, Tennessee, at Texas A&M, at Auburn) that I rate better than a solid Alabama team. This isn’t a huge drop in class, but enough of one for the ‘Cats to get right and take out their recent frustration at home in Lexington.
Michigan State at Northwestern (+7.5)
2 p.m. ET
This game falls into that “Fat and Happy” scenario. Before their romp at Minnesota, Sparty had failed to cover their past six games (0-4-2 ATS). Michigan State felt disrespected being put on the 3 line when the preliminary seedings were released last weekend. Sparty was clearly out to prove a point against a Minnesota team that looks like it has packed it in. Northwestern has been one of college hoops’ biggest disappointments at 15-12, but this starts a three-game homestand for a team that knows it must do damage in the B1G Tournament. I see the Wildcats treating this as their “bowl game” against the No. 2 team in the country.
Nevada at Utah State (+5.5)
6 p.m. ET
Every professional and amateur bracketologist now has Nevada in the NCAA field. The Wolf Pack come into this game after sweeping their closest conference chaser in Boise State, which secured a 1.5-game lead in the Mountain West. Now, Nevada must go back out on the road against a mid-pack Utah State club. In what is already a difficult spot for the Wolf Pack, they’re also down to just seven scholarship players with Lindsey Drew now out for the year.
Texas Tech at Baylor (+1)
7:30 p.m. ET
The Red Raiders head to Waco on a seven-game winning streak, which includes a win over Oklahoma in their last game , when they held Trae Young to his conference-low of 19 points. Texas Tech beat Baylor by 24 points back in late December. So you get a “Fat and Happy” team against a small home dog with revenge. I’m in on the Bears.
North Carolina at Louisville (-1)
8:15 p.m. ET
Here we have a couple of spots in play. UNC is on a “Fat and Happy” four-game win streak going on the road to play an unranked favorite. The unranked favorite also regains the services of its best player Deng Adel, who missed the previous two games with an ankle injury.
Montana at Idaho (-1.5)
10 p.m. ET
Potential hangover spot for Montana, which lost its first Big Sky game (13-1 conference record) at Eastern Washington on Thursday. The Grizz still hold a one-game lead in the league, but I wonder how they will react after that first conference loss on the road against an Idaho team with four senior starters. Idaho is also very much alive for a league title at 10-3.
Glossary of situational handicapping terms
1) Fat and Happy: I look for this angle from the second week of January through conference tournaments. It entails going against a ranked team on a winning streak of three games or more. As teams win, the lines, perception, and power ratings all rise, which can sometimes provide value on the other side. In the rare occurrence of two ranked teams on these streaks, I look closely at the underdog.
2) Hangover: When teams lose a marquee game, it can affect them in their next outing. A recent example involved Saint Mary’s. After being soundly beaten at home by Gonzaga, the Gaels were -9 at San Francisco, who they defeated earlier in the season 79-43. Saint Mary’s not only failed to cover, but also lost outright.
3) Letdown: One of the most difficult situations for a team to encounter is the classic letdown spot. We see it all the time after a team follows up a huge win on national television by laying an egg in its next outing against a somewhat nondescript opponent.
4) Sandwich: This spot occurs when a team plays an inferior opponent in between two high-profile opponents and/or rivals.
5) Drop in Class: This situation involves a team playing an inferior opponent after a losing streak against quality teams. I call this “Drop in Class” because it’s comparable to a horse being defeated in a stakes race and then dropping in class for a tag in an allowance race.