It’s been a wild opening week of college basketball, highlighted by James Madison going to Michigan State and winning as a 16.5-point favorite in overtime. Some of that upheaval was evident in the Top 25 at large—ranked teams went 34-17 against the spread versus Division I opponents over the season’s opening week, with San Diego State, Villanova and St. Mary’s joining the Spartans in suffering outright loses to unranked opponents.
Tuesday night, though, the focus shifts to the bluebloods, with Michigan State facing Duke and Kansas playing Kentucky in the Champions Classic in Chicago. Duke, coming off a home loss to 5.5-point underdog Arizona, is a 4-point favorite over the Spartans at most sportsbooks while the top-ranked Jayhawks are favored by six over the Wildcats. There’s also another matchup of ranked opponents in Illinois, where the Illini are 1.5-point home favorites over Marquette.
Michigan State heads to the Windy City winless against the spread this season, with its outright loss to James Madison followed by a 23-point victory over Southern Indiana as a 31.5-point home favorite. Kentucky meanwhile failed to cover a 27.5-point spread in a 20-point victory last time out against Texas A&M-Commerce, and the Wildcats have also fallen under the total in their first two games. Kansas will be facing its first real challenge after steamrolling a pair of small-conference opponents in Lawrence.
Here's a quick look at the college basketball sports betting winners and losers from the season’s first week:
The Wildcats scored the best victory of the season so far with a five-point victory at Duke that vaulted them from No. 13 to No. 3 in the AP poll. And Arizona has been effectively taking care of business against the cupcakes, too, blowing out to lesser opponents by 63—yes, that’s right—and 38 points to remain unbeaten against the spread.
Have they played anybody? No. But this time of year, all you can ask of elite teams is to cover the huge spreads they face against lower-level opponents. The Cougars have done that, winning by 53, 32 and 31 points in their first three games. Houston is the best team in the Charleston Classic, a tournament also featuring St. John’s, Dayton, Wake Forest and Utah that tips off Thursday on the South Carolina coast.
Like Houston, the defending national champions have been covering big numbers with alacrity, winning their first two games by 42 and 40 points. Tuesday the Huskies are a massive 42.5-point favorite—the biggest spread involving a Top 25 team so far this season—over Mississippi Valley State, which has lost by 46 at LSU and 39 at Oklahoma. Indiana and likely Texas await next in a tournament in New York.
Granted, sportsbooks likely saddled the Wildcats with an unfairly large number when they were made 36-point home favorites over Le Moyne, yet the resulting 26-point blowout still counted as a loss against the spread. But there’s no excuse for what happened next and a four-point loss to Penn as 11.5-point favorites in the Palestra. Villanova led for just 53 seconds, gave up 22 points to a freshman guard, and fell to 1-2 against the spread.
The Tar Heels are winning, but they’ve hardly been impressive in slogging past Radford by 16 and Lehigh by 22. In both cases, the underdogs made it a game into the second half, and the result is a winless record so far against the spread. We’ll see if that changes Friday against Cal-Riverside, which lost by 29 to Utah in its most recent game against a power-conference foe.
The Razorbacks blitzed Alcorn State to open the season, but after that it’s been hairier than expected for a team coming off a run to the Sweet 16. Gardner-Webb, a 24-point underdog, led for 10 minutes before the Hogs pulled away to win by 18. And then 19.4-point underdog Old Dominion, coming off a loss to Ball State, was within five late in the second half before falling by nine. From a sports betting perspective, neither of those results inspires confidence.
The one Top 25 game perhaps worth watching as a possible point-spread upset on Tuesday is Texas A&M at SMU, where the Aggies are playing as 13-point road favorites. SMU is coming off a 10-22 campaign, but has since added transfers from Tennessee, Butler, Oklahoma State and Georgetown. The Aggies picked up an excellent road win last weekend when they won by seven as a 1.5-point underdog at Ohio State. But it’s tough to win by double digits on the road, something Texas A&M did just three times all of last season.
Player Prop Watch
Potential players on Top 25 teams to watch for prop bets, should they be made available:
NCAA Top 25 Pick 3
Kansas -6 vs. Kentucky
There’s plenty of talent on the Kentucky roster, which features a trio of star freshmen in D.J. Wagner, Justin Edwards and Rob Dillingham. But John Calipari’s freshmen-laded teams are notorious for starting slowly against marquee competition—they lost to Michigan State and Gonzaga early last season, to Duke the year before that, and to Kansas and North Carolina the year before that. There are no such growing pains in Lawrence, where Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson—averaging 19.5 points and 8 boards per game—has fit seamlessly into a lineup quarterbacked by star point guard Dajuan Harris.
Creighton -12 vs. Iowa
The days of Luka Garza, Keegan Murray, and Kris Murray are over (at least for now) at Iowa, where the Hawkeyes don’t have a proven go-to guy on the roster. That wasn’t a problem against North Dakota and Alabama State, but it should be at Creighton, which returns three starters from the team that reached the Elite Eight a season ago. A legitimate Final Four candidate, Creighton has easily covered in its first two games and should have enough to do the same against an undermanned Hawkeyes squad at home.
USC -12.5 vs. California-Irvine
The Trojans have looked outstanding so far in powering past Kansas State in their opener and then taking care of business against Cal State-Bakersfield. Freshman Isaiah Collier has been a sensation, scoring 18 and 19 in his first two games, and adding to one of the deepest backcourts in the country. While the Anteaters have a solid big man in Devin Tillis, this remains a team that lost at home by eight to San Jose State to open the season.