Aaron is a college basketball writer and has covered the sport for Fox Sports the Athletic and hosts a podcast every week. I’ve worked with him over the last year and he’s someone I respect highly. He talks to a number of coaches and players every week and has really good insight. So I’m bringing him on every week to provide insight on here – teams trending up or down, recaps from games, teams in tough situations. We’ll try to share as much info throughout February and March as the tournament gets closer.
Here are a few teams, conferences and trends that I’ve liked a bit over the last couple weeks:
The Entire Mountain West: Although I grew on the East Coast I now live out West, and I spend way more of my time watching Mountain West hoops than any human being would dare admit to.
But it’s with good reason: The league is really fun. There are four legitimate NCAA Tournament contenders in the conference (Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State and Utah State) and two other teams that are talented enough to play with most teams on any given night (UNLV and Nevada).
What I love about this league though – especially from a betting perspective – is that the bottom of the league is flat out awful. Like, “your annoying stepdad who doesn’t know sports, trying to talk sports with you at the Thanksgiving dinner table” bad. I need a drink just thinking about it.
Anyway, back to the Mountain West, where New Mexico, San Jose State and Air Force are 6-20 overall in league play, with three of those wins coming against each other. They are also three of the worst teams against the spread in college basketball, with Air Force sitting at 5-10-1 against the spread, New Mexico 5-9 and San Jose State at 4-10.
Point being, when good teams play bad teams in this league (especially in the front end of back-to-backs) the good team wins and covers almost every time.
Oklahoma: Remember that old episode of “Seinfeld” where Jerry calls himself “Even Steven?” He never gets too high, never gets too low and always comes out even. Call me crazy, but that’s just kind of how I feel about Oklahoma. Outside of the two seasons when Buddy Hield and Trae Young took the sport by storm, there aren’t a lot of signature moments for Sooner hoops. Yet they’ve consistently been one of the best teams in college hoops – had there been an NCAA Tournament last year, it would’ve been their seventh appearance in eight seasons.
It will be eight of nine this year, as the Sooners have quietly morphed into one of the most consistent teams in college hoops.
Last week they made headlines for beating three straight Top 10 opponents (Kansas, Texas, Alabama) but what most people don’t realize is, independent of their win loss record, they are one of the safest bets against the spread of late, covering seven games in a row and nine of 10 overall. That included Monday night against Texas Tech, where they lost outright but still covered as a 7.5 point dog.
What might be most impressive however is that they did it without two key players, starters Austin Reaves and Alondes Williams, who have been out with Covid.
In the long run, that should only make the Sooners better, as they’ve become a deeper team because of those absences.
Michigan State: I know what you’re thinking. “Bro, you said you know about college hoops. How could you possibly put Michigan State in a stock up category?”
First off, the names are unnecessary. And second, the answer is simple really: Michigan State is about the safest bet in college hoops, as long as you’re betting against them.
The Spartans aren’t just 8-7 overall this season but a woeful 4-11 ATS. They’re also not even close to covering, losing by an average of 7.4 points per game more than the number, which is second worst of all Power 6 conference teams.
Michigan State’s schedule softens up these next few games, with home dates against Nebraska and Penn State.
But there will be a lot of chances to fade them in the back end of February into March.
Now let’s get to some teams that have been disappointing of late
Creighton: It’s no secret that no matter who you’re betting, the one thing that you want is consistency. And right now, there might not be a more inconsistent team in college hoops than Creighton. A squad which started with preseason Final Four buzz has looked like a title contender some nights (including in January when they beat Seton Hall by nearly 40 points) and a fringe tournament team in others.
And recently, it’s been much more the latter, as the Jays are just 3-3 straight up in their last six. Included in those wins were victories of an injury-depleted UConn team and last place DePaul, and the Jays have also lost outright to two of the three worst teams in the league (Butler and Georgetown at home on Wednesday).
They are a total stay away for me right now.
Tennessee: Speaking of “Stay Away” – Tennessee is a team that you just can’t trust right now. Another team with preseason Final Four buzz, the Vols looked the part early, before falling flat on their faces of late.
In total they’ve lost three of their last five outright and are 1-4 against the spread in that stretch. That one win against the spread of course was a 20-point beat down of Kansas at home, which was immediately followed by a loss at Ole Miss where they made one field goal in the final 13 minutes of game action.
Unlike Creighton which is really up and down, at least Tennessee has been consistent of late. They seem like a strong fade possibility depending on the spot (I’d stay away from them against Kentucky this weekend).
Kansas: Speaking of the Jayhawks, that loss in Knoxville on Saturday put a capstone to the reality that this just flat out isn’t a very good team right now. Yes, they bounced back with a win against Kansas State on Tuesday, but that was thanks in large part to the fact that… Kansas State might be the worst team in the Power 6 in college hoops.
Overall, Kansas is just 2-4 straight up in their last six, with their two wins coming against two of the three worst teams in the Big 12 (Kansas State and TCU). Right now this might be the fifth, sixth or seventh worst team in the Big 12.
Quick thoughts on this weekend’s biggest games: Here are some quick thoughts on this weekend’s biggest games:
No. 10 Alabama at No. 18 Missouri (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET): Alabama remains undefeated in SEC play, and if they win this one, they will have a full four-game lead on the rest of the league. Still, be wary, the one thing Missouri does better than most is defend the three point line – holding opponents to 30.5 percent from behind the arc. That’s bad news for a Bama team that has attempted the second most three-pointers in college hoops.
North Carolina at Duke (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET): Both teams are coming off a loss so it’s hard to feel confident on either side. If there was an advantage it is probably with North Carolina, which crushes teams on the glass. Their +11 rebounding margin is No. 2 in the country – not that it mattered in Tuesday’s loss to Clemson.
Tennessee at Kentucky (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET): We already went over Tennessee above, and if you’ve paid any attention at all this season you know what a mess Kentucky is. If you’re seriously considering betting this game, just go ahead, take your money and burn it. It will be less painful than confidently predicting what happens in this game.
No. 21 UCLA at USC (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET): Quietly one of the better games of the day, and the fact that it isn’t getting more buzz is a testament to what a grease fire the Pac-12 is. Without knowing the number, my best is advice is watch out for USC here. They rank sixth in the country in field goal percentage defense, thanks to nearly three blocks per game from projected lottery pick Evan Mobley. Their length could give UCLA fits on Saturday night.
You can listen to more of Aaron’s insight on the Aaron Torres podcast. He’s had Chris Beard, Mick Cronin and Archie Miller on recently. A lot of really good insight on there.