Is Ole Miss the most underrated college basketball team in the country? That sure seemed to be the case through the first two months of the season.
If you accept the premise that betting point spreads are the best reflection of how a team is “rated” by a composite of informed sources, there’s not much to debate. Ole Miss went 11-1 against the spread in 12 non-conference games. Then, it opened SEC play with three straight upsets.
▪ Ole Miss (+1.5) won at Vandy 81-71
▪ Ole Miss (+4) beat Auburn 82-78
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▪ Ole Miss (+5) won at Miss. St. 81-77
Those results beat the market by 11.5, 8, and 9 points, even AFTER the fantastic pre-conference campaign that should have earned market respect.
The only other major conference teams with comparable ATS records entering the new week were: Oklahoma 12-2-2, Virginia 12-3, Pittsburgh 12-3-1, and Michigan State 13-4.
Oddsmakers and pro bettors are finally taking notice. Lines are likely to be more reflective of team talent going forward. Something to consider as you handicap this Saturday’s home game against Arkansas (SEC Network, noon).
Both Mississippi schools in the SEC have impressed pollsters and the respected computer analysts that sharps (professional bettors) use to get the best possible read on true talent levels …
▪ Ole Miss ranks is No. 19 this week in the AP poll, while Mississippi State fell from No. 14 to No. 24 after that home loss to the Rebels last weekend. That marks the first time in five years Ole Miss has cracked the poll. Amazingly, they didn’t get a single vote from any pollster the prior week.
▪ Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings showed Mississippi State at No. 28, Ole Miss at No. 30 entering the week (updated as games finish nightly at kenpom.com). While not as gaudy as the poll rankings, both of those clearly represent “NCAA Tournament caliber” performance. Those would equal seeding spots in the No. 7 to No. 8 range come March. Pomeroy’s data is a good proxy for the betting market. Oddsmakers are heavily influenced by his game projections when posting opening lines.
▪ Jeff Sagarin of USA Today was slightly less optimistic. Mississippi State came in at No. 34, Ole Miss at No. 35. That’s still in the range of a No. 9 seed in the Big Dance.
Of course, invitations aren’t given out in mid-January. Plenty of time for both the Rebels and Bulldogs to improve public and media perceptions. Conversely, time for slumps to bring the bubble back into play.
Note that Mississippi State will also be televised by the SEC Network Saturday. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. Saturday’s conference highlight is No. 12 Kentucky at No. 14 Auburn on ESPN at 3 p.m.
Nationally, college basketball fans are awaiting the much-anticipated battle Saturday featuring No. 4 Virginia at No. 1 Duke (ESPN, 5 p.m.). Interesting that pollsters only have undefeated Virginia fourth-best in the country. Pomeroy has Duke and Virginia 1-2, Sagarin has them 1-3. Duke has been flirting with a 67 percent point spread cover percentage all season despite its greatness being no secret. We mentioned earlier that Virginia has been a virtual printing press. Who says you can’t make money by betting on the best teams?!
▪ In championship futures prices, Duke leads the board at +175 (a $100 bet on Duke to win the NCAA Tournament would earn a profit of $175). The Westgate in Las Vegas follows with Gonzaga 7/1, Michigan State 8/1, Virginia 10/1, Michigan 10/1, Tennessee 12/1, North Carolina 14/1, Kentucky 16/1, Kansas 20/1, and Texas Tech 25/1.
Prices will vary wildly across the globe on teams further off the pace like Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Your best option there is to wait to make sure your favorite qualifies for the Dance, then bet a “rolling parlay” through the tournament … re-investing your winnings along the way. That will pay much more than a futures price. You also have the power to stop along the way and pocket a profit.
▪ The South Point in Las Vegas created a special proposition where you could bet a “big four” of Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, and Kansas vs. “everyone else.” That opened at pick-em. Early money on “everyone else” lifted the price to -120 on the field, returning even money if any of the big four cut down the nets on the first Monday of April. Always check with your local sports book to see if oddsmakers have invented any fun props for your betting pleasure.