Friday’s Sweet 16 Situational Spot to Consider
Ben Queen – USA Today Sports
Welcome to the weekend…things you can only say on Thursday in March. It’s been almost two weeks since the college hoops betting card warranted a situational spots article, but I found a few worth mentioning over the next two days in the Sweet 16. For those not familiar with situational handicapping, I included a glossary of some of my favorite angles at the bottom of this story.
The analysis below specifically contains my four favorite Sweet 16 spots, which span across Thursday and Friday’s card. I will specifically touch on two first-half angles and two teams I believe have an emotional edge. I do also have a number of futures bets that are still alive, which I briefly touch on from a hedging perspective.
YTD: 49-31-2 +15.4 units
Kansas State 1H +3 (vs. Kentucky)
9:37 p.m. ET on CBS
In full disclosure, I have a 40-1 future on Kentucky that I bet right before the NCAA Tournament so this serves as a partial personal hedge.
Having said that, I do like the situational spot for Kansas State. With only the No. 9 seed and either the No. 7 or No. 11 seed in its path to San Antonio, most are viewing this game as a coronation for Kentucky in “Catlanta.” The young Cats might also start thinking this way, which could cause a false sense of overconfidence. You never want to get caught peeking ahead in March. After watching Kentucky dismantle Buffalo, we all just saw Kansas State win a very ugly game against No. 16 seed UMBC, struggling to pull away until the final two minutes. In fact, “EMAW” never even got outside of the number all game. Recency bias is providing some line value here.
Also, Kansas State actually ranks as the slightly better defense, which gives me added confidence (20th nationally in defensive efficiency vs. 23rd for Kentucky). KSU has the fourth-highest steal percentage in the country, ranking ahead of “Press Virginia.” Kentucky’s young guards can be turnover prone at times. Another thing to consider for K-State is that forward Dean Wade could return tonight. He is the key to the offense, as illustrated by the lack of production against UMBC (just 0.76 points per possession).
I prefer the first half, but think this will remain close throughout.
Loyola Chicago +1.5 (vs Nevada)
7:07 p.m. ET on TBS
After mounting second half comebacks of 14 and 22 points in its first two tournament games, you have to wonder how much gas Nevada has left in its tank, as it is simply not a deep team. Moreover, the “Cardiac Pack” were underdogs in their first two games. No more “us against the world” mentality, as Nevada comes into this game as the better seed and betting favorite.
Yes, Loyola has won its first two games on buzzer-beaters, but I wouldn’t call them lucky. (Although the Ramblers do have a good luck charm in team chaplain Sister Jean along for the ride.) This is a really good team and the numbers back it up. Loyola ranks seventh in effective FG% and sits in the top 14 nationally in both 2PT and 3PT FG%.
It’s been well documented that Nevada is only playing six players. I expect them to wear down in the second half against a Loyola team that will slow the tempo (319th nationally) and force the Pack to defend for 40 minutes. One credo that I hold to be true is that it takes more effort to play defense than offense. I think that proves true tonight with a Wolfpack team that might be running on fumes.
Michigan ML -145 (vs Texas A&M)
7:37 p.m. ET on TBS
The Aggies finally resemble the squad that I backed at 100-1 to win it all before the season started. They are as healthy now as they’ve been all year. However, after dominating North Carolina, the bandwagon is now overloaded, and I want off before it tips over.
Most “experts” had A&M going out against Providence in the first round and then again in the second round against UNC. I rode the Aggies in both games, but now see a little value on the favorite. This is a Michigan team that has failed to break the 1.0 ppp mark in either of its two tourney games, scoring only a total of 125 combined points. I think Michigan was dealing with a lot of rust from the long layoff and pressure as the favorite. After that improbable buzzer beater win against Houston, we should you see a much looser group tonight. As I’ve previously mentioned, I like to back teams in the tournament after surviving a scare.
Very few coaches run better offense to get open shots than John Beilein, who is one of the best tournament coaches in the biz. I trust Beilein to come up with an effective game plan to exploit the Texas A&M immobile bigs in pick and roll. Additionally, Michigan has shot just 13-of-46 from deep in the tourney. This looks like a spot where water finds its level here.
West Virginia First Half +3 -115 (vs Villanova)
7:27 p.m. ET on TBS
I have another preseason future in play here with 27-1 on Villanova. However, I think the Wildcats will really have to earn their spot in the Elite Eight on Friday night. Nova has drained a total of 31 triples in its first two NCAA Tournament games. A break in rhythm and a new venue could contribute to a little regression from the perimeter. On paper, Nova should eat West Virginia’s 300th-ranked defensive 3-point percentage alive, but a lot of that can be attributed to West Virginia’s pressing style. When it doesn’t create a turnover, the ‘Neers become vulnerable to open transition 3s.
We’ve seen No. 1 seeds struggle out of the gates in the tourney thus far, including these Wildcats against Alabama. I expect West Virginia’s senior backcourt to come out with more energy, creating havoc early against a Villanova side playing with all of the pressure.
I prefer the first half for a number of other reasons as well. Nova should eventually settle down and start breaking the press with ease with its plethora of ball-handlers. West Virginia could also get into foul trouble the longer this goes. Also, Nova is an outstanding free throw shooting team, which makes it more likely it could extend a tight game to a 6-7 point victory in the final minute. Lastly, we’ve seen West Virginia build and then blow a number of leads this year against Kansas. I think this game might follow a similar script against an elite point guard and dominant transition offense.
Glossary of situational handicapping terms
1) Fat and Happy: I look for this angle from the second week of January through conference tourneys. It entails going against a ranked team on a winning streak of three or more games. As teams win, the lines, perception and power ratings all rise, which may offer 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 a team loses a marquee game or has a long winning streak end, it can have a negative carryover effect.
3) Letdown: We see this 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: 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.
Editor’s note: The opinion on these games is from the individual writer, and is based on his research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.
Top photo: Kentucky head coach John Calipari; credit: Photo credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports