If you’re like me, you’re only just getting over your Super Bowl hangover. But that’s OK. Shake out the cobwebs because it's time to start fresh. Another football season in the books and you know what that means – more free time to watch college hoops.
If you’ve been spending your Saturdays paying attention to playoff football, then you’ll need a quick refresher on the season to this point in the NCAA.
Best ATS Performers
Drake Bulldogs (15-3): After the show these guys have put on so far on this year, everyone in the sportsbook is quoting that old Seinfeld line, “Love the Drake!” And why not? In a conference that's quickly making a bid to have the “mid” removed from their label of mid-major, nobody can touch these guys. They don’t have great size or mind-blowing talent, but that’s why they’re such a great bet. The doubters still aren't convinced and Drake is still getting favorable pointspreads (like +4 at Illinois State), so I say keep betting this team.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (12-6-1): Although a few teams technically have better ATS records, I see a more profitable future for UNLV. If you haven’t heard yet, the Rebels are pretty damn good. They’re on top of the Mountain West standings and more importantly, they’re covering spreads all over the place. The best part about this team is that they’re only going to get better. They gained a little bit of depth with 6-foot-5 guard Troy Cage coming back from a knee injury and star scorer Wink Adams is getting more dangerous every game, averaging 25.4 points in two wins last week. Their pressure defense is their biggest weapon, as MWC second-place team BYU can attest after losing 70-41 earlier this season.
Top "Over" Bet
New Mexico Lobos (15-6): No other team in the country is anywhere near the Lobos’ 15-6 over/under record. It seems like the oddsmakers don’t really have a good handle on this team, considering both their over/under and ATS (15-6-1) results are completely lopsided. But that’s not surprising. One night the Lobos go out and score just 60 against UNLV and then three days later put up 91 on Colorado State. Still, as long as the totals stay low, bettors might as well follow the trend.
Top "Under" Bet
Bowling Green Falcons (5-15): Considering the state of the MAC, it’s not all that surprising that the Falcons are playing under in almost every game. Only two teams in the conference score more than 70 points a game and, as a direct result, MAC teams have a combined 93-122 over/under record. Bowling Green doesn’t have a great defense, but they don’t have to be in this league to keep playing under. Their offense, on the other hand, is downright terrible. They can’t shoot from long range, they’re bad from the free throw line and they have trouble rebounding on the offensive end. I don’t see this trend changing anytime soon.
Potential No. 1 Tournament Seeds
Memphis Tigers: Last year Memphis was good enough to burn up the NCAA Tournament all the way to the Elite Eight before getting snuffed out by Greg Oden and the Buckeyes. This year they added one of the best freshmen in the country, Derrick Rose, and the result has been an undefeated season thus far. Although the competition in C-USA is about as tough as the prime rib at Morton’s, John Callipari made sure their non-conference schedule was a gauntlet of some of the country’s best.
Tennessee Volunteers: This might be the most complete team in the NCAA. With senior guard Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith firing bombs from the perimeter, defenses are stretched to the limit against the Vols. Tyler Smith and Duke Crews are taking care of things in the paint. If Tennessee could hit a few more free throws and improve on interior defense, this would be a sure-fire Final Four team. I’m sure Bruce Pearl is already working on it.
North Carolina Tar Heels: The potential in Chapel Hill is scary. Last year this team made it to the Elite Eight on pure, uncut talent. Now they have all but three players from that squad back plus a year of experience in Roy Williams’ system. No wonder they’re the best rebounding team in the nation, the second best offense and the No. 2 ATS team. The loss to Duke would have been different if Ty Lawson was in the game and I expect that game to serve as a wake-up call as the season continues.
Kansas Jayhawks: Sure they lost to Kansas State for the first time since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, but don’t read too much into that game. The Wildcats were at home with a lot more on the line than the Jayhawks. At 22-1 straight-up, Kansas is still one of the best basketball teams anywhere. They have a strong inside-out game, four players are averaging more than 12 points a game, two guys are in the top five in the Big 12 in assists, and they also have the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country. What else do you want?
Best offensive teams
VMI Keydets: If Reggie Williams was playing anywhere other than the Big South, we might be talking about him in the same breath as guys like Michael Beasley. But because he’s on the Keydets, you probably haven’t heard about the straw that stirs the drink in the nation’s most productive offense. The 6-foot-6 forward scores 27 points per game to go with nearly 10 rebounds and four assists. As a team, VMI pours in 92.6 points a game. Too bad they’re among the nation’s worst defensive squads.
North Carolina Tar Heels: Tyler Hansbrough + Wayne Ellington + Ty Lawson = 91 points per game
Duke Blue Devils: The biggest knock against this Duke team is that they’re soft in the middle and completely devoid of a low-post presence. They’ve managed to overcome that weakness with fast-paced offense that depends heavily on transition scoring. As long as the shots are falling, Duke is going to put up big-time points.
Best defensive teams
Georgetown Hoyas: Everybody likes to talk about the Princeton offense run by John Thomson III, but this team is really all about defense. With 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert in the paint and great perimeter defenders like Jesse Sapp and Jonathan Wallace, it’s no wonder they’ve allowed only one team all year to score more than 70 points.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: Jarvis Varnado is a huge problem for opposing offenses. He’s not a monster at 6-foot-9 but his incredible athleticism and instincts have made him the No. 1 shot blocker in the nation with 4.9 per game. As a team, the Bulldogs lead the nation with 8.7 blocks per game and they’re second in opponent shooting percentage. They're kind of lost in the shuffle of SEC teams, but keep an eye on what's going on in Starkville.
Potential Cinderella Teams
St. Mary’s Gaels: The WCC has been a one-team conference for almost as long as Mark Few has been at Gonzaga, but finally another team has risen to the challenge. After finishing behind Gonzaga in the conference standings for the last seven years, the Gaels beat the Zags in an overtime thriller on Feb. 4, giving the Gaels a shot at earning the WCC title and an NCAA berth. The Zags are only the latest on a list of impressive wins for St. Mary’s that also includes Drake, Oregon and Seton Hall, so there's no reason they can't catch fire in March.
South Alabama Jaguars: I know the Sun Belt isn't the most obvious place to look for a Tournament shocker, but there are a lot of reasons to like the Jags. They have a great point guard in Doan Merritt, a pure scorer in Demetric Bennett and they played very close games against a two of the SEC's best teams. But more than that, I like their experience. Not just that they made the Tournament two seasons ago, but also because they blew a chance to make it last year after going on a 13-game winnings streak and then losing their last five games. I don't think they'll let it happen again this year.