Handicapping College Basketball Gets Tougher As Teams Head for Conference Tournaments And Shot At NCAA

Handicapping College Basketball Gets Tougher As Teams Head for Conference Tournaments And Shot At NCAA

Strangers George Mason, Utah State, Wichita State Find Themselves On Kelso's Sweet Sixteen List 

By Kelso Sturgeon

There is never an easy day in handicapping any sport, whether one is a better or a bookmaking. Both sides of the counter have their ups and downs. For bettors right now it is adjusting to the added challenges and day-to-day changes that alter the college basketball landscape. For bookmakers it's those bad National Hockey League totals lines that are almost always a ridiculous 5 ½.

College basketball bettors can overcome all the obstacles they face on the way to the winner's circle but bookmakers can do nothing about that universal 5 ½ until they man up and kidnap someone who actually knows how to make an NFL number.

For college basketball bettors who have been asleep the past week, the rules have changed. Incentive-driven basketball is the world in which we are now functioning. Teams who have hopes in the post-seasons are doing everything they can to win-playing far over their heads, stalling the basketball in hopes of keep it close against superior teams, preparing and inciting home crowds days before a game is played and even roughing up star players on opposing teams.

It is simply no-holds-barred basketball as desperate teams take their best shot to stay alive, be it for a conference championship, a better seed in the conference tournaments, or a chance at the NCAA or the NIT.

All is far in love, war and late-season college basketball.

There are several games of significance this weekend, but none more so that the Missouri Valley Conference showdown in Springfield between Wichita State (22-6) and Missouri State (21-7)-both 13-3 in conference play heading into tonight's games.  Missouri State won the first meeting, in Wichita by three points.

Another showdown game of significance finds BYU (25-2) at San Diego State (27-1) with the first place in the Mountain West Conference on the line. BYU won the first meeting in Provo, 71-58. San Diego State is 12-1 in conference play while BYU is 11-1.

It has become a bit tougher to pick a winner but the reality remains that one can still find the edges-both objective and subjective-that win games.

For the record, I am so confident of success that I will be releasing 50-unit and 100-unit plays almost every day, including tonight.

Strangers In My Sweet Sixteen

The college conference basketball tournaments get underway this coming Tuesday with the Horizon League first up to bat and then kick into high gear the following  week-and that means it is time for me to stick my neck out and predict which of the teams heading for the NCAA Tournament will make it to the Sweet Sixteen round. You are entitled to disagree with any and all of these teams and to contest the absence of such national powers as Kentucky and Connecticut.

There is a reason for dismissing each. For instance Kentucky is going to find it difficult to advance deeply into the tournament because of a lack of depth, an absolute requirement at NCAA Tournament Time. Each of the top teams I have left out of my Sweet Sixteen picks all have a major weakness that makes them vulnerable.

Keep in mind that while this is my Sweet Sixteen, it has little to do with my Top 25 rankings.
Here are the teams I believe will get to the round of sixteen, with their records straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS), with comments about each. They are ranked from 1-16 on the basis of talent and their talent and ability to get to this round.

My Sweet Sixteen

  1. Kansas (26-2, 15-11)-Has lost on road to Kansas State (18-9), 84-68, and at home to Texas (25-2), 74-63. Loaded with blue-chip talent, a deep bench, one of the best coaches in the game and is winning its games by an average of 18.8 points per game.
  2. Pittsburgh (24-3, 11-11)-Has lost on road to St. John's (17-9), 60-59, and at home to Notre Dame (21-5), 56-51, and Tennessee (16-11), 83-76. Has won on road At Villanova (21-6), West Virginia (17-9), Syracuse (22-6) and Georgetown 21-6).
  3. San Diego State (27-1, 16-10)-Only loss at BYU (25-2) in a game that was much closer than final score of 71-58. Loaded with prime-time talent, most athletic team in the country and is coached by Steve Fisher who won NCAA championship at Michigan. A very athletic team.
  4. Duke (25-2, 15-11)-All five starters back from last year's national championship team and is winning games by an average of 18.9 points. Losses were on the road, at St. John's (17-9), 93-78, and at Florida State (19-7), 66-61.
  5. BYU (25-2, 11-12)-The real sleeper. Only losses at New Mexico (17-10), 86-77, and on neutral floor against UCLA (19-7), 86-79. Led by one of top 2-3 players in the country, senior shooting guard Jimmer Fredette who leads the nation in scoring, averaging 27.2 points per game (31.0 in conference games). BYU is winning by an average of 16.8 points per game.
  6. Ohio State (26-2, 13-10)-Buckeyes are loaded with blue-chipper plays, are one of most athletic teams in college basketball, are coached to the razor's edge and always comes to play. Losses were at Purdue (22-5), 76-63, and at Wisconsin (19-6), 71-67. OSU winning by an average of 18.7 points per game.
  7. Texas (24-4, 17-7)-ATS record says Texas does not get its due respect from linemakers. Any team with this high a profile that covers 70% of the time is rare. Longhorns have improved game by game and have wins at Kansas (25-2), 74-63, and at North Carolina (20-6), 78-76. Losses came at Nebraska (18-8) 70-67, at home to Connecticut (20-6), 82-81, at USC (15-12), 73-56, and on a neutral floor to Pittsburgh (24-3), 68-66.
  8. Arizona (23-4, 15-9-1)-Has prime-time talent, one of the best coaches in the country in the person of Sean Miller, and has played far above expectations for most of the season. The Wildcats were a big question mark when the season began but Miller has moved this team to a much higher than expected level, especially in its last 12 games where it has gone 11-1. The way Arizona is playing right now, it should advance to at least the Elite Eight.
  9. North Carolina (20-6, 12-11)-North Carolina started this season very slowly but has put it altogether and has the talent and focus to get to the Sweet Sixteen round. The Tar Heels also are loaded with prime-time, blue-chip talent and are far better than their record. Two of last three losses came at Duke (24-2) by 6 and at home to Texas (23-4) by 2.
  10. George Mason (23-5, 21-5)-I think it says it all when this George Mason team is one of the most under-rated team in the country, standing 21-5 against the number. It has been lost on the basketball world that this talented and veteran team is better than the Patriots team that went to the Final Four in 2006. Few teams play with the focus and intensity of this team and only a handful get any better coaching that that provided by Jim Larranaga. GM has won 13 straight.
  11. Georgetown (21-6, 15-11)-The Hoyas can beat any team in the country when they come to play-and they should rise to that level in the post-season. Georgetown has impressive road wins at Syracuse (22-6) by 8 and at Villanova (21-6) by three and has proved on several occasions it can slug it out on equal terms with anybody. If the real Georgetown team shows up, get tied on.
  12. Utah State (25-3, 13-11-1)-Utah State showed it was a very serious post-season player in its last game when it went into Saint Mary's and as a 3 ½-point underdog knocked off the Gaels, 75-65. The Aggies have talent, are well coached and run 11 deep and take it right to every opponent. Utah State incurred its three losses on the road, at BYU (25-2), 78-72, at Georgetown (21-6), 68-51, and early in the season at Idaho (15-11), 64-56.
  13. Wichita State (22-6, 13-10)-The Shockers are much better than their record and are the best road teams in the country (11-2, including a record eight-straight conference wins) Wichita State is somewhat of a mystery. Its road losses came on a neutral floor to Connecticut (20-6), 83-79, in a game they lost because of prejudiced officiating and at San Diego State (27-1), 83-69. Ironically it has lost four conference games at home by a total of 10 points. This is a disciplined, well-coached team and has the talent to give anybody a major headache.
  14. Florida (21-5, 10-12)-The Gators have quietly moved to the head of the class in the SEC, ahead of Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee et al. While Florida has not made much, the team has developed into a major post-season player, stands 8-2 on the road and has the talent to go toe-to-toe with anybody. This is a team that is 12-2 in its last 14 games and has certainly peaked at the right time.
  15. Purdue (22-5, 14-7-1)-Most thought Purdue's chances this season were lost and gone when before the season began it lost its best player-Robbie Hummel-with a severe knee injury. That certainly hurt a bit but the Boilermakers have shown this season to be one of the best in the country and put the icing on the cake this past Sunday by knocking off Ohio State, 76-63. This is one tough basketball team that won't have to get very lucky to advance to the next round.
  16. Syracuse (23-6, 11-16)-Syracuse may be a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team but it is difficult to leave this very talented team out of my Sweet Sixteen. The Orange opened the season 18-0 and then fell off a cliff and have gone just 4-6 in their last 10. But in their last six games they have gone 4-2 and have won at Connecticut and South Florida and at home against Rutgers and West Virginia. The talent is there to get it done.

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