The Long and Winding Road
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – The college basketball regular season is
winding down and many clubs are fighting for their tournament lives. At this
stage of the game, its imperative to keep an eye on said teams, especially if
their opponents have already clinched a top-seed or if they are out of the
picture all together.
A perfect example came earlier this week when Wisconsin went into East Lansing
to take on Michigan State. The Badgers will no doubt be a number-one seed come
tournament time, but the Spartans needed a big-time victory to solidify an at-
large bid. What happened? The home underdog Spartans upset the top-ranked team
in the country, 64-55.
Scenarios like that will be few and far between with most conference
tournaments starting up in early March,. However, the key for a successful
handicapper, is to spot them when they do arrive.
With just a short amount of time before the postseason, lets go through some
key conferences to see what teams have the best chance of reaching the NCAA
Tournament and which clubs might be solid investments down the stretch.
Six solid candidates (North Carolina, Boston College, Duke, Virginia, V-Tech
and Maryland) are likely to go dancing, but Florida State will not be among
the rest. The Seminoles were relegated to NIT duty last season, despite going
18-9 (9-7 in conference play), including a win over Duke. This year, FSUs big
win came against Florida, but will that be enough? The selection committee
usually does not choose teams on a downward spiral heading into March, and
losing their last five games does not bode well for the Noles.
Clemson is another interesting candidate. The Tigers, one of two undefeated
teams back in early January, have hit rock bottom in ACC play, losing eight of
their last 10. With road games still left at Boston College and Virginia Tech,
dont expect to see Clemson in the field of 65.
If the ACC gets seven bids, Georgia Tech is the team to keep an eye on. The
Yellow Jackets have three huge games left with the Cavaliers, Tar Heels and
Eagles and they will be underdogs in all three. With one SU win, Tech should
make it to the big dance and if that doesnt occur vs. Virginia, look for the
Jackets to cover the number against NC and BC.
Two of the nations top eight teams (Texas A&M and Kansas) reside here, but
our focus today falls on the bubble clubs, such as Oklahoma State and Texas
Tech. The Cowboys are under .500 in the conference and look nothing like the
team that began the season 11-0. Okie State has won just one of its last seven
and has not covered a game in 2007 (0-11-1).
A fifth conference bid, after Texas and Kansas State, could come down to
Saturdays match-up between the Cowboys and the Red Raiders in Lubbock. Texas
Tech has resurrected itself with two wins in its last three games after five
consecutive defeats. Tech lost only by two in Stillwater, so a win at home
could lift the Raiders into the NCAA Tournament. It doesnt hurt having three
huge victories over Texas A&M (2) and Kansas on their resume. Regardless of
what the line is for the rematch, go with Texas Tech.
One team that could boast a claim for the big dance is Missouri. The Tigers
have defeated both Oklahoma State and Tech, but those two “Ws” are the top-
rated wins on their schedule, unless one wants to include Miss State and
Arkansas. In this writers opinion, the SEC, especially the West, is a shell
of its former self.
WHAT TO MAKE OF THE BIG TEN?
Wisconsin and Ohio State are the current top two teams in the country.
However, the Big Ten could be the most overrated conference in the nation.
This would be nothing new for the league since both Ohio State and Michigan
failed miserably when given the limelight in football earlier this year.
Indiana is the only other school thats more than two games over .500 in
conference play, while Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State are a combined
6-34. There is no way that Iowa belongs in the field of 65 at 16-12, yet the
Hawkeyes are tied for fourth place at 8-6.
One team that will make the tournament that doesnt deserve to go is Illinois.
The Fighting Illini are 20-9 but have only one credible win on their schedule,
a home victory over Indiana.
This is a conference to wager against come March Madness. Even the Badgers and
Buckeyes, who will be heavily favored in their opening round games, are good
teams to play the other side early in the tournament.
CLASS OF THE COUNTRY
The Big East has five teams currently in the AP Top-25, the most of any one
conference. That achievement is tempered a little by the fact the league
fields a conference-high 16 clubs. Still, no one can deny that Pittsburgh and
Georgetown rank right up there with the top two teams from any conference.
One key question the selection committee will have is how many squads should
come out of this conference. Louisville, Marquette, West Virginia and Notre
Dame are the other locks, but what about two or three more?
Villanova has the upper hand with quality wins over Georgetown and Texas. Two
winnable home games are still left on the docket (Rutgers and Syracuse), and
a .500 conference mark along with 20 wins should get the Wildcats in.
DePaul defeated Villanova and also can claim a win over Kansas. The Blue
Demons, like Nova, have two easy home games left, so a 9-7 record in the best
conference in the country will definitely be enough.
The final slot could come down to Syracuse or Providence, and as luck would
have it, they meet this Saturday in Rhode Island. The early prediction is to
lay the wood with the Friars. They have lost just one game at home since mid-
November and need this more than the Orange. Two road games round out the
regular season, and at 7-6 in league play, Providence will be all out
to show the committee they belong.
Three weeks ago, this conference was one of the tops in the country. However,
it has had more teams stumble recently than any other major conference.
Oregon has won just two of its last seven games, while covering just its
latest: a five-point home win vs. Washington State. The Ducks will still make
the field of 65 since the selection committee will take the top five Pac 10
teams and they fall in that mix. Unfortunately, going into the postseason on a
downward note is not the best way to receive a top seed in the NCAA
Another club falling fast is Arizona. The Wildcats recently dropped back-to-
back home games to the Bruins and Trojans. U of A is just one game over .500
in conference play with three road games left on the schedule, but like
Oregon, will still go dancing.
Despite its recent struggles, the Pac 10 should receive tons of gambler
support come March Madness. Last year proved how good this conference is and
its been even better this season. USC, my dark horse throughout the
postseason, is over .500 away from home this season, both SU (7-5) and ATS
(7-3) and have the right mix to go a long way.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Two other leagues that will receive more than three bids are the Southeastern
Conference (SEC) and the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC).
Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee are locks, but things get pretty
iffy after that. The winner of the West will surely get an invite, but the
more pressing issue is, will that team deserve it? Since presstime,
Miss State and Ole Miss are deadlocked at 7-6 with Alabama at 6-7.
The Crimson Tide has a slight advantage as they get to play BOTH the Bulldogs
and Rebels, and only one of their final three regular season games is on the
road. Both Miss State and Ole Miss must travel outside their home state twice
before the conference tournament.
The Missouri Valley gained a ton of exposure last year and that momentum
should carry over for four bids this season. Southern Ill, Creighton and
Missouri State are all in, so Bradley, Wichita State and Northern Iowa will
have to duke it out for the final slot.
The Braves have just two wins over the other top five clubs in the conference,
so their 9-8 MVC mark is a tad skewed. The Shockers are 3-6 vs. those teams
and their earlier victories over LSU and George Mason do not look as
impressive today as they did back in November. Northern Iowa sports a 5-5
record against the top five and the Panthers get to host Illinois State in
their final regular season game.
The bottom line here is the fourth team to make the NCAAs will be the one
that wins the 4-5 game in the second round of the MVC Tournament. Look for
Northern Iowa to be that team.
With approximately one week of the regular season left, a lot is still on the
line for most teams, but gamblers should not be limited to just betting on the
spreads. The OVER/UNDER plays are a goldmine if handicapped correctly.
Back on January 15, I wrote about VCU and its transition to a more up-tempo
game under new coach, Anthony Grant. The Rams had gone OVER the number in six
of their previous seven match-ups and were obliterating the totals by 20-30
points in some contests.
Since that time, they have played 12 games and gone OVER the total in 10 of
them. In their last 19 games, the Rams are 16-3 to the OVER. Not a bad trend.
I urge all readers to plunge hard and fast into all OVER/UNDER data they find
over the Internet because the margin of error in gambling is so small that any
edge can make a difference and VCU is proof.