It’s been an unpredictable early season in college basketball, as evidenced by the results of the past week.
No. 1 Purdue goes to Northwestern and falls in overtime. Duke is tripped up by unranked Arkansas and Georgia Tech in back-to-back games. Kentucky is beaten at home by 18-point underdog UNC Wilmington. Southern, with a 1-6 record, goes into Starkville and knocks off 26-point favorite Mississippi State.
And that doesn’t include James Madison upending Michigan State, Bryant shocking Florida Atlantic, Penn stunning Villanova or any of the other head-scratching upsets we’ve seen in the Top 25 so far in this college basketball season.
Can't Skin A Wildcat
And yet, through all the upheaval and uncertainty, there remains one constant: the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats, who keep winning and covering the spread in the process.
For the first time since 2014, the Wildcats are the # 1️⃣ team in the country 🐻⬇️ pic.twitter.com/gYifIQAo7F— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaMBB) December 4, 2023
We’re a month into the season now, and Arizona remains perfect both overall and ATS, covering in all seven of their outings entering the week. Only BYU could match that mark, and the Cougars don’t have marquee victories at Duke and against Michigan State on a neutral floor.
The Wildcats are putting up 93 points per game, have an extremely balanced attack with all five starters averaging in double-figures, and are routinely covering huge spreads ranging into the 30s against undermanned opponents.
The same Southern team that just upset Mississippi State? Arizona handled them by 38, covering a 31-point spread in the process. The Wildcats stayed perfect this past weekend in a 27-point victory over 23-point underdog Colgate.
Beginning this week, though, the path gets more difficult for coach Tommy Lloyd’s team, which plays ranked opponents in three of its next four games: home against No. 23 Wisconsin on Saturday, followed by neutral-court contests Dec. 16 against No. 4 Purdue and Dec. 23 against No. 11 FAU.
The Badgers have won five straight and covered in three of those contests, including a home upset of 3-point favorite Marquette last weekend.
Wisconsin had a conference game at Michigan State on Tuesday before it headed to Tucson—where, in the din of the McKale Center, it will be tough to bet against the Wildcats keeping their overall and ATS win streaks alive. Here are some other notable sports betting winners and losers from the first month of the college basketball season.
BYU: As mentioned earlier, the Cougars are off to an unbeaten start that includes notable victories over San Diego State, Arizona State and North Carolina State.
BYU is also winning with authority, with no margin closer than nine points. They play their first road game of the season Saturday at rival Utah, which entered the week having won two straight overall and against the spread. After that, the schedule is easy until the rigors of Big 12 play begin.
Colorado State: The Rams broke into the AP Top 25 last week and since then have continued to rack up notable victories, beating Creighton and Washington on neutral courts and in between downing in-state rival Colorado at home.
Colorado State entered the week at 8-0 overall, having covered seven straight—including a five-point win over the Buffaloes as a 3.5-point favorite, and a five-point victory over Washington as a 4-point favorite.
This is another case where bettors could take advantage of a rather easy schedule, given that no opponents really jump out until San Diego State in January.
Clemson: The Tigers sent a message last week when they won at Alabama as an 8-point underdog, and then followed that up by winning at 1.5-point favorite Pittsburgh in their ACC opener.
Clemson entered the week unbeaten and having covered in three of their last four, and with a massive Palmetto State showdown set for Wednesday against surprising South Carolina, which opened the week 7-0 overall and 6-1 against the spread.
Duke: As we mentioned last week, warning signs went up when we watched Duke slog past Southern Indiana at home. Those fears proved to be justified as the Blue Devils were completely outplayed as 4.5-point favorites at Arkansas, and then stunned as 12.5-point favorites at Georgia Tech.
Duke has covered just twice in its last seven games, isn’t hitting 3s, isn’t defending the perimeter, and is now without guard Tyrese Proctor due to a leg injury. The schedule, though, eases until a neutral-court game against Baylor on Dec. 20.
Villanova: The most Jekyll-and-Hyde team in America, the Wildcats beat North Carolina, Texas Tech and Memphis to win the Battle 4 Atlantis—and then proceeded to plunge out of the Top 25 after a home loss to 12.5-point underdog St. Joseph’s and a neutral-floor loss to 11-point underdog Drexel.
Villanova’s shooting is streaky, which opponents have capitalized on by playing zone. And the schedule only gets tougher, with UCLA awaiting this weekend and Creighton coming up Dec. 20.
Texas: The Longhorns opened the week at 7-1 overall, but from a betting perspective they’ve proven a dismal play.
Texas has covered in just one of its last six games against a ridiculously easy schedule loaded with spreads in the 20s and 30s. Unlike, say, Arizona, Texas doesn’t have the manpower to cover numbers like that with regularity.
A rare tough test awaits Wednesday at Marquette before Texas goes back to feasting on the likes of Houston Christian and Texas A&M-Commerce.
Some games involving Top 25 teams to watch as potential point-spread upsets:
Alabama at No. 4 Purdue
The Crimson Tide have fallen out of the Top 25 after losing two of four, and failing to cover in any games during that span. But Alabama has a very capable big man in 6-11 Grant Nelson to match up against Purdue star Zach Edey, and Northwestern showed how an athletic team that pushes the ball into transition can give the Boilermakers fits.
Saint Mary’s at No. 13 Colorado State
The Gaels are another team that’s fallen off the radar, struggling to a 3-5 start against a very difficult early schedule. But St. Mary’s problems are largely rooted in an inability to hit outside shots, an issue that sooner or later should rectify itself. Plus, the Rams are in the national spotlight now—how will they handle it?
Washington vs. No. 7 Gonzaga
The Zags have won seven straight against their in-state rival dating back to 2006, but the games in Seattle are almost always close. Washington had covered three of its last four to enter the week, a span that included games against San Diego State and Xavier. Gonzaga looked great last week in dismantling USC, but this remains an interior-oriented team that’s not very reliable outside the paint.
Memphis at No. 21 Texas A&M
The Tigers entered the week having dropped two straight against a tough schedule, while the Aggies entered having lost two of three. On paper this looks like a very even matchup between teams with prolific scorers: A&M guard Wade Taylor IV, and Memphis forward David Jones. The Tigers have played four games this season involving spreads of 2.5 points or less, and have covered in three of them.
Player Prop Watch
Some players on Top 25 teams to watch for potential prop bets, should they be made available:
College Hoops Top 25 Pick 3
Once again here's my Top-25 College Basketball pick 3 for this week.
Arizona to cover against Wisconsin
Wisconsin entered the week on a nice run, but can get a little loose with the basketball and have a game at Michigan State looming before their trip out west. The Wildcats meanwhile are shooting 50 percent from the floor, are hammering opponents on the boards, and have lost just twice at home in the past two years.
TCU to cover against Clemson
The Horned Frogs entered the week unbeaten against such an easy schedule, they hadn’t yet faced a point spread in the single digits. And yet, it’s tough to discount a confident team with five double-figure scorers shooting 54 percent from the field. The Tigers are very good, but this is a tough game on a neutral floor (in Toronto) on the heels of an emotional in-state showdown against South Carolina.
Utah to cover against BYU
Speaking of rivalries, the Cougars’ first true road game is a doozy—against their archrival Utah in Salt Lake City. While this isn’t a great Utah team, it enters having won two straight both overall and against the spread. The Utes will also have the best player on the floor in standout forward Branden Carlsen, who’s averaging 17.3 points per game.