College Basketball Prime Time Previewer Kansas vs. Kentucky & Syracuse vs. Virginia Tech 1/26/19

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With the first weekend free of football looming on the horizon, now is the logical time when many look fill that newly created void with a transition into the world of college basketball. College hoops are a different animal for those used to who focusing on football – especially the NFL – because there are so many teams, and so many games, played on every single day of the week. Keeping up with it all, enough to be able to handicap your own games, at a proficient enough level to turn a profit, is nearly impossible for those of us who don’t do this full time.

That is why there are articles and picks available at sites such as BangtheBook.com to help you do that. Kyle Hunter’s Picks, for instance, are tailored to those who are more specifically interested in simply turning a profit through edges in often softer markets such as totals and half-game totals, as well as smaller conference games. There are also those who do this as a form of recreation, as more of a hobby, and rather than find the value in obscure games, where the most value is often found, they’d rather watch the biggest games of the week and have a little something riding on them to increase interest levels and add some excitement.

For those who view sports betting as more of a form of entertainment, hoping to turn a profit, but are most satisfied betting the biggest games – realizing that these often aren’t the most profitable ones to bet long-term – this article is for you. In this article, on a bi-weekly basis, I’ll preview a few of the biggest games of the week, with a betting focus, looking for a solid lean. In my analysis, I’ll include situational spots, matchup-based considerations, market analysis, and trends all in hopes of providing a nudge in one direction or the other for the big game side bettors. This should give solid basis from which to derive an educated play on those Prime Time games that are infinitely more entertaining with a little something extra on the side to spice things up.

Kansas (16-3, 11-0) @ Kentucky (14-3, 4-1)
6 pm ET ESPN

Open: Kentucky – 5
Spread: Kentucky – 6
Consensus: Kentucky 55%

Situational Spots:

Kentucky has started off the year strongly, and since that opening loss to Duke to start the season, the Wildcats have only lost two games (Seton Hall, Alabama), both by a single possession. The transfer of star G Quade Green in mid-December looked to be a potentially crippling blow to the championship hopes of the “blue blood,” but they haven’t missed a beat, losing only one game since then, and ripping off five straight wins heading into Saturday.

Their latest victory, on Tuesday, was over a 14-4 Mississippi State team, at home, 76-55. Kentucky was on fire from beyond the arc, hitting 8 of 16 (50%) to State’s 15% from three, and won the game easily, 76-55.

Now, with Kansas on deck as the second game of a two-game home stretch, Kentucky will look to stay hot in this matchup with another “blue blood” in what should be their one of their biggest games of the year, in prime-time, on Saturday night. We can expect Rupp Arena to be wild and that home court advantage, which is rated 4.2 (7th, Ken Pom), may be even more valuable in such a big, “see how we stack up” kind of spot.

Just a little over two weeks ago, Kansas lost a big name of their own for the season, in 7’ C Udoka Azubuike; but like Kentucky, the Jayhawks have rebounded for the most part from the loss of one of their star players. They have gone 4-1 since the loss of the big man, with that sole loss coming last Saturday, in West Virginia (9-10), by one point – the mountaineer’s first win in six games. Kansas would bounce-back, on Monday, however, with a big win over Iowa State (14-5), destroying the Cyclones inside, with 29-point output from star center, Dedric Lawson.

Now Kansas will head back out on the road for the 5th time this season – where they are 1-3 – as the first of a two-game road stretch, at a venue that is about as hostile as it gets.

Keys to the Matchup:

This matchup is esentially about as even as it gets on both sides of the ball: with Kansas’s offense (27th efficiency, KenPom), against Kentucky’s D (11th), and Kentucky’s O (21st) vs. Kansas’s D (10th). It is important to note, however, that Kansas did this against the toughest schedule in the nation, compared to Kentucky’s 43rd ranked.

When Kansas has the ball, the key for them will be exploiting the one weakness of the Kentucky Defense; their perimeter defense (248th). Kansas have been better than average from three (107th), percentage-wise with G Lagerald Vick capable of knocking it down at a 46 percent rate, and Devon Doctson the only other player on the team exceeding 40%. But the fact of the matter is that Kansas only scores 22.9% of their points from three (337th), which mean they rely on the inside game and foul shooting, both of which are Kentucky’s strengths on defense (23rd and 35th, respectively).

On offense, Kentucky’s Achilles Heal has been turnovers (202nd), turning the ball over on over 19% of possessions. Fortunately for the Wildcats, this is one of the few areas of the Kansas defense that hasn’t been great (182nd). Kentucky too, strongly relies on the inside game (45th in point distribution) and Free-throws (24th), which isn’t a great matchup, considering perimeter defense is really the only other weakness on this Kansas defense that teams have been able to exploit.

In what should be a close game, and quite possibly a defensive one, foul shooting could also be a determining factor worth considering as the disparity is great between the two teams. Kansas ranks 271st in the nation, shooting 67.3%, while Kentucky shoots it at a 75% clip, good for 37th, nationwide.

Trends Worth Considering:

Kansas is 0-3-1 ATS away
Kansas is 3-6-1 ATS in last 10 games

Kentucky is 5-5 ATS at home
Kentucky is 11-1 straight up at home

Market:

Kentucky is taking on a majority of the spread bets, and even a greater percentage of the money early on Saturday morning (60%). This has resulted in a one-and-half point line move in the Wildcats favor. Having Pinnacle at 5.5 is a bit scary, but with Matchbook trading at 6.5 I’m not overly concerned. You’ll definitely want to look for the Wildcats at a reduced price if you’re going to lay the six.

Lean: Kentucky – 6 -105

The number is a tad higher than what season long metrics would predict, but if you factor in the injury to Azubuike, the 4.2-point home court that will be near its Pinnacle of rowdiness, and the hidden matchup advantages for the Wildcats, I think this is the way you have to lean.

Syracuse (14-5, 5-1) @ VA Tech (15-3, 4-2)
8 pm ET ESPN

Open: VA TECH – 5.5
Spread: VA TECH – 6
Consensus: SYR 68%

Situational Spots:

Two teams that appear to be heading in opposite directions as of late: Virginia Tech, after starting the season 14-1, has lost 2 of their last three; while Syracuse has reeled off three straight W’s – one of which was only Duke’s second loss of the season.

It’s not like these two recent losses were bad ones for the Hokies, one being over perhaps the best team in the nation, Virginia, and the other over a top 10 team in UNC; both away from home. Now they’ll head back home following Monday’s loss in Chapel Hill, where they are undefeated so far this season.

Syracuse followed up that OT win at Duke, with quality ACC wins over Pitt and Miami – with the win over Miami being on Thursday – leaving a short turnaround to go back on the road to Blacksburg two days later, where the weekend crowd should be fired up to take on the team one game ahead of them in the ACC standings. The Hokies haven’t played since Monday, so this short turnaround could have a greater impact considering the extra time Tech has to recoup.

Keys to the Matchup:

These two ACC foes matchup evenly and will pit their best and lesser units against either other: the VA Tech offense (7th) vs. the Cuse D (13th), and the Syracuse offense (77th) vs. the VT defense (65th).

Syracuse struggles with shooting (219th), first and foremost, and therefore, where they look to get the most of their points (21.5% 58th) is at the free-throw line. The Orange are affective in getting to the line (48th), but as a bad matchup here, VA Tech’s strength is in keeping teams off the line (18th). The Hokie D isn’t great by any means at overall FG% D (142nd), but are still better percentage-wise than the Cuse offense across all categories. The Orange have played a tougher schedule (74th to 135th), so this could help balance the mismatches here, but the Tech D should have some matchup edges.

VA Tech, on the other hand, has no problem getting shots to fall, ranking 4th in the nation in effective field goal percentage. They shoot the 3rd best three-point percentage in the nation, so it’s no surprise that they generate a near 40% of their points from beyond the arc.

Running a zone defense primarily, Syracuse gives up a vast majority of their points from three (49% 15th) so if you are going to beat this defense, by three is how you do it, and VA Tech can knock them down with the best of them with four players shooting it above 40%. If they can get hot from three, there is no reason can’t cover, at home, in Prime Time.

Trends:

VA TECH is 10-1 straight up at home
VA TECH is 2-3 ATS at home

Syracuse is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games
Syracuse is 3-2 ATS on the road

Market:

The Hokies appear to be a legit sharp position with reverse line movement from open against a heavy Cuse consensus. The higher limit books have gone to 6.5, while the move recreational ones are at six. Relative value to the higher limit positions are readily available with sixes at several of the major off-shores.

Pick: VA Tech -6 -110

The situation greatly favors the Hokies with Syracuse hitting the road on such a short turnaround, while recent losses by Tech may have perceptions down further than they should be given the competition. You beat this Syracuse zone by knocking down threes and if there is any team that can do that it is the 3rd best three-point shooting team in the nation, Virginia Tech.

For more on this ACC battle, check out Jonathan Willis’s preview and prediction.