They’re located in disparate regions of the country, and their cultural contrasts are as stark as the difference between beef chimichangas and white barbecue sauce. But Arizona and Alabama certainly have one thing in common: their college basketball teams have performed the best against the spread out of any squads in the Top 25.
Entering the week, the Wildcats and Crimson Tide were the only ranked teams who have played more than one game against Division I opponents still unbeaten against the spread. Arizona has one of the signature wins of the early season, a five-point victory at Duke as a 5.5-point underdog, and Tommy Lloyd’s team has been punishing lesser competition by an average of 44.5 points. Alabama’s been feasting on cupcakes but still taking care of business against large spreads, winning by an average margin of 35.25 points.
There’s a lot to be said for that, in a season where James Madison can win at Michigan State, California-Irvine can win at Southern Cal, and Bryant can win at Florida Atlantic. Arizona opened with a 63-point victory over Morgan State as a 32-point favorite, and most recently beat 27.5-point underdog Texas-Arlington by 45. Alabama pummeled 19.5-point underdog South Alabama by 56, and last time out covered a 30-point line against Mercer by a point.
JAMES MADISON STUNS NO. 4 MICHIGAN STATE 😱— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) November 7, 2023
The Dukes go into East Lansing and pull off the huge upset 🔥 pic.twitter.com/o7rb2vhSBu
Things get more difficult for both the Wildcats and Crimson Tide further down the road. Arizona next plays Thursday against Michigan State on a neutral floor in Palm Desert, Calif., while Alabama faces Ohio State on Friday and likely Oregon on Saturday in a tournament in Destin, Fla. And take note of Dec. 20, when Alabama plays Arizona in Phoenix.
Outside of Alabama and Arizona, here are some other notable sports betting winners and losers from the first two weeks of the college basketball season:
College Basketball Weekly Winners
🚨 NEW AP POLL!— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) November 20, 2023
10. Miami (FL)
Miami: The Hurricanes are proving their Final Four run from a season ago was no fluke. Miami has looked dynamite in the early going, starting 4-1 against the spread and covering in high-profile wins over Georgia and Kansas State in a tournament in the Bahamas. Miami has five players averaging double-figures in scoring, and is off until a monster matchup next Tuesday at Kentucky.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles have the second-best true road win (after Arizona prevailing at Duke) of the season so far with a seven-point win at Illinois as a 1.5-point underdog. Marquette has covered in two of three contests to this point, and this week plays in a mega Maui Invitational that also includes Kansas, Purdue, Gonzaga and Tennessee.
Connecticut: The reigning national champions rag-dolled Indiana in a 20-point victory at Madison Square Garden that wasn’t as close as the final score. The Huskies were 3-1 against the spread as of Monday, that ATS loss a 34-point victory over Mississippi Valley State against a ridiculous 42.5-point spread. Monday night at MSG, UConn was set to face a Texas team that survived awful Louisville by a single point.
College Basketball Weekly Losers
Arkansas: We warned you last week about the Razorbacks, who hardly looked convincing in a pair of closer-than-expected victories over Gardner-Webb and Old Dominion. Then came UNC Greensboro, which completely outplayed the Hogs to win by four in Fayetteville as 14.5-point underdogs. Voters and sportsbooks have both overvalued Arkansas, which lost three players to the NBA Draft after last season and has started this year 1-3 against the spread.
USC: With starters Boogie Ellis and Kobe Johnson both out with injuries, the Trojans unforgivably lost by 10 at home to 12.5-point underdog California-Irvine. Ellis was back for the next game against 18-point underdog Brown, which USC managed to outlast by just 11. Coach Andy Enfield has hinted that Isaiah Collier is playing hurt, too. Who knows what to expect from USC against Seton Hall and likely Iowa in a tournament beginning Thursday in La Jolla, Calif.
St. Mary’s: So long, Gaels. St. Mary’s was bounced from the AP poll last week in the midst of suffering three consecutive losses, all as favorites, and two in blowout fashion. The Gaels first lost at home by four to 14.5-point underdog Weber State, then went to a tournament in Las Vegas and fell by 25 to 1.5-point underdog San Diego State by 17 to 2.5-point underdog Xavier. Shooting 25% on the season from 3-point range certainly isn’t helping.
College Basketball Upset Alert
While the schedule is in flux given the number of ranked teams participating in holiday tournaments this week, some intriguing upset possibilities loom.
Should Creighton reach Thursday’s championship game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, the Bluejays could face Colorado State, which entered the event at 4-0 and having covered each of its last three games. Baylor in Friday’s final of the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York could meet Florida, which entered at 3-1 overall with a lone loss to Virginia.
Should aforementioned Alabama reach the final of the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida on Saturday, the Crimson Tide could face Oregon, which entered the week with a 3-0 record that included a victory over Georgia, and has covered in two of those outings. And there’s the conundrum that is USC, which opens the Rady Children’s Invitational on Thursday against a 4-0 Seton Hall team that’s covered in three straight.
Player Prop Watch
Potential players on Top 25 teams to watch for prop bets this week, should they be made available:
College Hoops Top 25 Picks this Week
With Thanksgiving tournament on the horizon, I have a couple of winners for you to consider.
North Carolina to Win Battle for Atlantis, +320
The Tar Heels covered the spread for the first time this season in a rout of California-Riverside. With Villanova (recent loss to Penn), Arkansas (recent loss to UNC Greensboro) and Michigan (recent loss to Long Beach State) all having issues, UNC is the favorite to win the eight-team tournament running from Wednesday through Friday in the Bahamas.
Texas A&M to Win ESPN Events Invitational, +250
While Iowa State and Penn State both enter the event undefeated, they’ve feasted on nobodies while Texas A&M remains unblemished against a good early schedule: win at Ohio State as a 1.5-point underdog, grind one out by 13 at SMU, then hold off a savvy Oral Roberts team that made the NCAA tournament last year. No surprise the Aggies are the favorites to win the tournament running Thursday through Sunday in Orlando.
Arizona over Michigan State
While there was no line on this game as of Monday, it’s hard not to like what we’ve seen so far from the Wildcats, who have six players averaging double-figures in scoring. Arizona is a team that can get contributions from everywhere on the court, while the Spartans have been a little too reliant on guard Tyson Walker and his 23 points per game. We like the Wildcats to win outright Thursday in Palm Desert, and cover a single-digit point spread.