Isaac Jones' Cougars are featured in the Top-25 College Basketball Betting Preview

Top 25 College Basketball Betting Preview: After Upset at Arizona, Wazzu Is Under the Radar No More

The first time Washington State’s basketball team played a game on national television, it was an early afternoon tip-off on ESPNU against Rhode Island. Didn’t notice? Don’t feel bad. The Cougars played on the U again in January against Oregon, a game they lost to fall to 10-5 overall. For all the world, it felt like Wazzu was just an afterthought of a program playing out the string in the final year of the Pac-12.

Until, that is, the thunderbolt that struck the top of the national rankings last Thursday night, when Washington State became the first visiting team this season to win in the McKale Center. The Cougars used a four-point play in the final minute to shock 13.5-point favorite Arizona 77-74 and run their winning streak to eight games. And then a mere 48 hours later, they themselves were upset at Arizona State.

It was the yin and the yang of college basketball in 2023-24, all along one stretch of I-10 in the Grand Canyon State. The Cougars were no fluke, having broken into the AP Top 25 last week, and traveling to Tucson as the No. 21 team in the country. And yet, sports bettors could be forgiven for knowing little about a team that’s played the overwhelming majority of its games on Pac-12 Network, which only commissioner Georgia Kliavkoff and a few of his buddies actually seem to get.

At least it feels that way—Pac-12 Network is in all of 12 million households, right there on the cable fringes with ShopHQ and Newsmax. You had to be a pretty diligent follower of college basketball to know that Washington State prior to traveling to Tucson had covered the spread in 10 of its last 12 games and had a couple of high-impact transfers in Isaac Jones and Jaylen Wells. The win at Arizona was just the fourth game WSU had played on a network other than Pac-12.

Against Arizona State, they played for the first time on ESPN2—and promptly lost to a very mediocre Sun Devils squad. But hey, it was that kind of weekend, with Duke also losing at Wake Forest, Creighton losing at St. John’s, Texas Tech losing at UCF and BYU losing at Kansas State. Through this past Saturday, 131 unranked teams had beaten ranked teams, according to CBS, tied for second-most since the 1995-96 campaign. And 47 of those unranked teams had knocked off top-10 opponents.

Much of that certainly has to do to the transfer portal, given the massive difference one or two impact newcomers can have on a basketball team. Time and time again this season, we’ve seen little-known teams playing largely on regional TV networks break through on the national stage—New Mexico, BYU, Indiana State, Utah State, South Carolina, now Washington State. South Florida, on a 13-game win streak, cracked the national rankings on Monday. There are surely more to come.

Does that all muddy the waters from a sports betting perspective? Maybe—with so many transfers, there are more moving parts to keep track of than ever before. But it also means more opportunity for sports bettors, and the chance to spot a potentially overlooked team like Washington State on the rise. And with that, here are some notable sports betting winners and losers from the season’s past few weeks.


South Florida: After leading Kennesaw State to its first March Madness berth, Amir Abdur-Rahim is working a similar miracle at USF, which has had 11 straight losing seasons and never been to the NCAA tournament.  With eight transfers on the roster, the Bulls entered this week having won 13 straight outright and 15 of their last 20 ATS. USF’s cover rate of 74% is best among Top 25 teams, according to, and the Big Dance beckons.

Tennessee: Among the nation’s truly elite teams, the Vols have been one of the worst spread bets in the country. But they’ve turned things around in recent weeks, beating the spread in five of their last seven games entering Monday. Three times in that span they covered as a double-digit favorite, and once as an underdog—+1.5 at Kentucky, where the Volunteers won by 11. But check out Tennessee’s last four games of the regular season: Auburn, at Alabama, at South Carolina, Kentucky. Yikes.

St. Mary’s: The Gaels continue to pummel opponents in a bad West Coast Conference, and cover big numbers in the process. Entering Monday, St. Mary’s had won 15 straight outright, and beaten the spread in nine of their last 12. They’ve covered recent spreads of 27, 23.5, 20, 19 and 18.5 points, and their average margin of victory in WCC games is 21.4. Saturday brings the home finale against rival Gonzaga.


BYU: The team that opened the season 12-1 has fallen out of the AP Top 25 after dropping five of its last 10 games outright as of Monday. It’s been worse on the sports betting front, where the Cougars have covered the spread in just one of their past six, and just four of their past 15. And things are unlikely to get better soon with a game at Kansas coming up Tuesday night. 

Baylor: But hey, BYU’s misery has company. The grind of the Big 12 is so punishing that even steady Baylor has run up against rocky shores, as of Monday losing three of its last five outright and covering in just three of seven. The Bears feel a little radioactive right now from a betting standpoint, given that they’re facing lots of single-digit lines and losing lots of close game—never an ideal combination. Their average winning margin on the season has shrunk to just 10 points. 

Purdue: Zach Edey is having a historic season for the Boilermakers in the paint, and Purdue is pointed straight at a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed. And yet from a sports betting standpoint, things have gotten a little dicey lately. Entering this week, Purdue had failed to cover the spread in eight of its last 15, a span that includes an outright loss to an Ohio State team with an interim head coach. Purdue hasn’t covered in three consecutive games since January, likely the result of a great team getting saddled with double-digit lines night after night.

Upset Alert

Some games involving Top 25 teams to watch this week as potential point-spread upsets:

Gonzaga at San Francisco: The Zags are back in the Top 25 this week, but before they head to St. Mary’s, they’d better worry about the Dons. USF entered this week at 22-7, and having covered the spread in three straight. They dropped a four-point game to the Gaels, lost at Gonzaga by five, and are 4-2 against the spread as an underdog.

Tennessee at Alabama: Quad 1 opponents have been the great Achilles’ heel for Alabama this season, as their occasionally-iffy defense can get strafed by elite teams with great scorers. The Vols certainly have one of those in Dalton Knecht, who put up 25 in a 20-point win over the Tide in Knoxville last month. But Alabama entering Monday had covered in nine of 12, and seems due to take one of these high-profile games eventually.

Florida at South Carolina: These are nervous times for the Gamecocks, who after back-to-back losses righted a listing ship last weekend with a needed road win at Ole Miss. But South Carolina had covered just twice in their last five games entering this week—and here comes red-hot Florida, which as of Monday had won eight of 10 and covered seven times in that span.

Player Prop Watch

Some players on Top 25 teams to watch for potential prop bets, should they be made available:

  • Zack Edey, Purdue center: Entered the week with averages of 23.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, having posted double-doubles in 11 of his past 12 contests.
  • Hunter Dickinson, Kansas center: Entered the week with averages of 18.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, having scored 20 points in two consecutive contests.
  • R.J. Davis, North Carolina guard: Entered Tuesday with a scoring average of 21.7 points, having scored 20 or more in four of his past six outings, including 42 in his most recent game.
  • Kyle Filipowski, Duke center: Entered the week with averages of 16.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, scoring in double-figures in four of his past five outings.
  • Dalton Knecht, Tennessee guard: Entered the week with an average of 20.1 points per game, having scored 20 or more in four of his past six outings.
  • Antonio Reeves, Kentucky guard: Entered the week with averages of 19.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, having scored at least 22 points in three consecutive outings.
  • Terrence Shannon Jr., Illinois guard: Entered the week with averages of 21.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, having scored 27 or more in four of his past five outings.
  • Mark Sears, Alabama guard: Entered the week with averages of 20.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, having scored 20 or more in nine of his past 10 outings.
  • Armando Bacot, North Carolina center: Entered Tuesday with averages of 14.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, having posted double-doubles in six of his last seven outings.

Top 25 Pick 3

Kentucky to cover against Arkansas: While still prone to the occasional upset on the road (hello, South Carolina and LSU), the Wildcats entering Monday had won and covered in two straight home games against likely NCAA tournament teams (Alabama and Ole Miss). Arkansas is most definitely not an NCAA tournament team, and has yet to win a conference game anywhere against an opponent likely to be in the Field of 68.

St. Mary’s to cover against Gonzaga: The Zags have turned things around, winning 11 of 12 entering Monday, but much of that has come against WCC competition that’s less than stout. Gonzaga more importantly is 1-5 against Quad 1 competition, which included a two-point loss to St. Mary’s in Spokane. The Gaels are playing even better now, and this time are at home.

Washington State to cover against USC: Let’s end where we started—with the Cougars, who play their final three games of the regular season at home, and will be favored to win all of them. That stretch begins with disappointing USC, which entering the week had won three of its last 11 outright and three of its last nine against the spread. Wazzu, meanwhile, has covered in five straight Pac-12 games at home.

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