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Closer look as conference play begins

Closer look as conference play begins

Closer look as conference play begins

New Year's means NFL playoffs, bowl games and a chance to see whether college basketball teams such as Baylor, Vanderbilt and Villanova will live up to the expectations that their current records suggest.

Conference action heats up this week as UCLA heads to the Bay Area to face Stanford and the Lopez Twins on Thursday — the same day that Notre Dame travels to West Virginia and Ohio State goes on the road to face Bruce Weber's Illinois program.

Now that the first part of the season is in the books, we'll give you a quick rundown of the BCS conferences heading into league play:


Favorite: North Carolina — The Tar Heels remain unbeaten and are ranked No. 1 in the country. Even with the loss of reserve guard Bobby Frasor for the rest of the season due to a knee injury, Roy Williams & Co. still have more than enough depth and talent.

Surprise: Miami — The Hurricanes were picked dead last in the preseason poll and Frank Haith's club suffered its first loss the other day to Winthrop. With the struggles of N.C. State, there's no reason to think that the 'Canes can't battle for third place in the ACC.

Need Help: Maryland and Georgia Tech — The Terps lost three straight home games to the likes of Boston College, Ohio and American. Gary Williams' team just doesn't have enough talent. The Yellow Jackets dropped their league opener at home to Florida State and Paul Hewitt's team lacks a quality point guard.

Dark Horse: Florida State — The Seminoles are thin and small, but they have four veteran guards and will be tough to defend with 6-foot-3 Jason Rich at power forward.

Player of the Year Frontrunner: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina — Psycho T is putting up the best numbers of his three-year career.

All-ACC Team: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina; Sean Singletary, Virginia; Tyrese Rice, Boston College; Kyle Singler, Duke; J.J. Hickson, N.C. State

All-Underrated: Cliff Hammonds, Clemson — He provides leadership, takes care of the ball and is able to defend.

Key Player: Marques Johnson, N.C. State — With the loss of starting point guard Farnold Degand, the Wolfpack need stability at the point. Johnson, a Tennessee transfer, has plenty of talent around him.

Best Early Game: North Carolina travels to Clemson on Sunday

Prime-Time Matchup: March 8 — North Carolina at Duke

BIG 12

Favorite: Kansas — Now that the Jayhawks are getting healthy, Bill Self's team is capable of rolling through the league. Kansas has all the pieces — talent, experience and depth. Just wait until Brandon Rush gets all the way back from a torn ACL.

Surprise: Baylor — The Bears haven't exactly played a brutal schedule, but they've beaten everyone they were supposed to get past — and also knocked off Notre Dame. The lone loss came to Washington State and there's no shame in that.

Need Help: Oklahoma State — Sean Sutton's team is 7-5 and has some quality losses with Marquette and Pittsburgh and a couple of bad ones with North Texas and Oral Roberts. The Cowboys don't have enough up front.

Dark Horse: Nebraska — Doc Sadler has done a nice job as the Cornhuskers are off to a 10-2 start, with the losses coming against Creighton and Western Kentucky in overtime. Nebraska has beaten Arizona State, Rutgers and Oregon.

Player of the Year Frontrunner: Michael Beasley, Kansas State — Everyone else is playing for second, even Texas point guard D.J. Augustin. Beasley is among the nation's leaders in points and he ranks first in the country in rebounding.

All-Big 12 Team: Michael Beasley, Kansas State; D.J. Augustin, Texas; Blake Griffin, Oklahoma; Darrell Arthur, Kansas; DeMarre Carroll, Missouri

All-Underrated: Mario Chalmers, Kansas — It seems like everyone else on the Jayhawks gets more pub, but Chalmers is a terrific defender and makes shots from the perimeter.

Key Player: Gary Johnson, Texas — The Longhorns freshman power forward has been cleared to play and will make his collegiate regular-season debut on Wednesday against TCU.

Best Early Game: Kansas at Nebraska on Jan. 12.

Prime-Time Matchup: Feb. 11 — Kansas at Texas


Favorite: Michigan State — It's a close call between the Spartans and the Indiana Hoosiers, but we're giving the edge to Michigan State because of a blend of youth and experience — as well as Tom Izzo's past success.

Surprise: Wisconsin — Even though Bo Ryan lost Alando Tucker, he has managed to keep the Wisconsin Badgers more than just competitive. They won at Texas, have beaten Georgia and the two losses have come against Duke and Marquette.

Need Help: Michigan — John Beilein doesn't have enough talent or enough players who fit his system. The Wolverines will find a way to stay competitive at times, but it's going to be a long year in Ann Arbor.

Dark Horse: Purdue — The Boilermakers are up and down because of their youth, but if Matt Painter can get these guys to come along quickly and display some consistency, they can make a run in conference play.

Player of the Year Frontrunner: Eric Gordon, Indiana — The Hoosiers freshman is nearly impossible to contain. He can shoot it from deep and get to the basket with his strength and quickness and is a terrific teammate.

All-Big Ten Team: Eric Gordon, Indiana; Drew Neitzel, Michigan State; D.J. White, Indiana; Kosta Koufos, Ohio State; Geary Claxton, Penn State

All-Underrated: Jamar Butler, Ohio State — The Buckeyes senior leads the league in assists and is among the leaders in scoring and is the only true experienced player on the team.

Key Player: Jamarcus Ellis, Indiana — The Chicago native does all the dirty work, provides vocal leadership and is the glue that holds the Hoosiers together.

Best Early Game: Ohio State at Purdue on Jan. 12.

Prime-Time Matchup: Feb. 16 — Michigan State at Indiana


Favorite: Georgetown — The lone loss came on the road against Memphis, but John Thompson III has a team that is able to play different styles this year. With Pittsburgh losing Levance Fields and Louisville struggling, the primary competition appears to be Marquette.

Surprise: South Florida — After losing the first three games of the season, first-year Bulls coach Stan Heath has seen his team win nine of the last 10. He's got three players who can compete in the league with Dominique Jones, Kentrell Gransberry and Chris Howard.

Need Help: DePaul — Jerry Wainright's team has some legitimate losses among its 4-7 record (Kansas, Mississippi, Clemson, Vanderbilt), but it has also lost to N.C. A&T and Illinois-Chicago. The Blue Demons host Villanova, Providence and Georgetown in succession, so they will need to grow up quickly.

Dark Horse: Notre Dame — The Irish have one of the toughest backcourts in the league with Tory Jackson and Kyle McAlarney, a steady forward in Rob Kurz and a brute down low in Luke Harangody. If Ryan Ayers continues to shoot the ball as well as he has thus far, Mike Brey's team will be dangerous.

Player of the Year Frontrunner: This one if fairly wide-open. Pittsburgh's duo of Sam Young and DeJuan Blair have a shot, Georgetown big man Roy Hibbert was the preseason pick, Syracuse freshman Donte Greene is in the running and even guys like Scottie Reynolds (Villanova), Dominic James (Marquette), Luke Harangody (Notre Dame), Paul Harris (Syracuse), Joe Alexander (West Virginia), Earl Clark (Louisville) and Jeff Adrien (UConn) all have a chance.

All-Big East Team: DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh; Donte Greene, Syracuse; Roy Hibbert, Georgetown; Dominic James, Marquette; Earl Clark, Louisville

All-Underrated: Luke Harangody, Notre Dame — He does all the dirty work for the Irish and is among the conference leaders in scoring and rebounding.

Key Player: Derrick Caracter, Louisville — If the sophomore big man can somehow get his act together, the Cardinals still have the ability to make a deep postseason run.

Best Early Game: Marquette heads to Morgantown to face West Virginia on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET

Prime-Time Matchup: March 8 — Georgetown at Louisville


Favorite: UCLA — Even though the Bruins lost a home game to Texas and Washington State remains unbeaten, Ben Howland's team still gets the edge. Darren Collison is still getting back to true form. When they get clicking, UCLA will be as dangerous as any team in the country.

Surprise: Stanford has gotten off to a 11-1 start even while playing the majority of the season without its most talented player, Brook Lopez. A key has been the Cardinal's ability to take care of the ball.

Need Help: Oregon State — You've got to feel for Beavers coach Jay John, one of the true nice guys in the industry. He's in the toughest conference in America and just doesn't have enough horses in the stable.

Dark Horse: California — True, the Bears have lost at Kansas State and against Utah. However, the key for Ben Braun's team is that it's healthy for the first time in a long time. He's got a terrific frontcourt tandem in Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin and a pair of quality guards with Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle. Cal also added Duke transfer Jamal Boykin at the semester break.

Player of the Year Frontrunner: There are three legitimate options: UCLA's Kevin Love, Cal's Ryan Anderson and Arizona's Jerryd Bayless. Love is putting up a double-double, Anderson leads the league in scoring (22.2) and is fifth in rebounding (9.4) and Bayless was sensational prior to his injury this past weekend.

All-Pac-10 Team: Kevin Love, UCLA; Ryan Anderson, California; Jerryd Bayless, Arizona; Jon Brockman, Washington; Kyle Weaver, Washington State.

All-Underrated: Maarty Leunen, Oregon — Aaron Brooks got all the attention a year ago and now it's split between a few of the Ducks. However, Leunen has been fairly consistent, except for one game against Nebraska.

Key Player: Jordan Hill, Arizona — If the Wildcats big man can stay out of foul trouble and display consistency, Kevin O'Neill could lay claim to three of the elite players in the Pac-10 with Bayless, Chase Budinger and Hill.

Best Early Game: UCLA travels to the Bay Area and faces Stanford on Thursday at 10:30 p.m. ET

Prime-Time Matchup: Feb. 7 — UCLA at Washington State


Favorite: Tennessee — Even though the Vols were blown out by Texas on a neutral court, Bruce Pearl's club is still the class of the SEC, especially with the recent addition of J.P. Prince to the lineup.

Surprise: Mississippi — It was a tough call between Vandy and Ole Miss, but we're going with the Rebels because even less was expected of them. Andy Kennedy got good balance and a nice inside-out combination of Dwayne Curtis and Chris Warren.

Need Help: Kentucky — I'm sick and tired of hearing that it's Tubby Smith's fault that the Wildcats are struggling. Smith wouldn't have lost to Gardner Webb and/or San Diego in Lexington.

Dark Horse: Alabama — If Mark Gottfried can get some decent point guard play out of Rico Pickett and/or Mikhail Torrance, the Crimson Tide have a chance to make some noise. They have one of the top big men around in Richard Hendrix and quality wings with Mykal Riley and Alonzo Gee.

Player of the Year Frontrunner: Shan Foster, Vanderbilt — The Commodores senior leads the league in scoring (20.1), is averaging more than five boards per game and is shooting 54 percent from the field and 53 percent from beyond the arc — and his team is still unbeaten.

All-SEC Team: Shan Foster, Vanderbilt; Richard Hendrix, Alabama; Patrick Patterson, Kentucky; A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt; Chris Warren, Mississippi

All-Underrated: Tyler Smith, Tennessee — The Vols athletic forward does everything.

Key Player: Chris Lofton, Tennessee — The senior needs to re-discover his shooting touch if the Vols are to make a legitimate Final Four run.

Best Early Game: Mississippi at Tennessee on Jan. 10 at 8 p.m. ET

Prime-Time Matchup: Feb. 26 — Tennessee at Vanderbilt

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Auburn approaches SEC play short-handed
January 3, 2008

Associated Press

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- The Auburn Tigers will have to rely on the shoot-and-shuffle approach to winning games.

The short-handed Tigers are preparing for life in the Southeastern Conference without their best inside player, Korvotney Barber, and possibly center Boubacar Sylla. Coach Jeff Lebo is having to shuffle the lineup and players' roles to compensate.

"It's a tough situation, there's no doubt about it," Lebo said Thursday. "We've got to have everybody playing. We've got to shoot the ball very, very well at all our spots.

"We have to shoot the ball extremely well from the perimeter to have a chance because we really don't have any inside presence. It's always harder when you don't have anybody in there."

The Tigers (9-2) are left with only seven scholarship players, forcing Lebo to rely on walk-on Larry Williams for depth.

They won their first game since Barber broke his left, non-shooting hand, easily beating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Wednesday night. Barber is set to have surgery on Friday and is expected to be out into February.

Auburn plays Xavier Sunday, then the Tigers host Arkansas four days later to start SEC play.

Sylla injured his left ankle against Kennesaw State Nov. 13, and will have an X-ray Friday before getting a clearer picture of when he can return.

Forward Lucas Hargrove returned Wednesday from a broken hand with no practice time. Forward Josh Dollard is taking a redshirt season for medical reasons, and guard Archie Miaway is academically ineligible for the season.

"It's hard to not feel like we are a little snake bit, but that's just how it is," point guard Quantez Robertson said. "We have to play the cards we are dealt."

The 6-foot-8 Quan Prowell, who normally plays small forward, is having to guard opposing teams' centers but has scored 45 points in the last two games. When Frank Tolbert got into early foul trouble against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 6-5 shooting guard Rasheem Barrett had to fill in at power forward.

"We've got some odd lineups out there," Lebo said.

Barber was leading the nation by hitting 72 percent of his shots while averaging 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds. His absence makes outside shooting even more important for the Tigers.

"If we don't make shots and people don't guard us out in the perimeter, we're not going to have any room to get inside at all, even off the drive," Lebo said.

Williams, a redshirt freshman, played 19 minutes and scored seven points Wednesday night. The former all-state player from Altamont High School in Birmingham turned down scholarship offers from East Carolina and Eastern Kentucky to walk-on at Auburn.

"I thought Larry played pretty well," Lebo said. "He passed the ball pretty well and made some shots and was in the right spot at the right time."

Hargrove played 8 minutes after lobbying to get into the game despite the lack of practice time. He didn't score.

"He just gave us some defense, and really offensively didn't give us a whole heck of a lot," Lebo said. "He wasn't ready yet. He just wanted to get in and help the team. He knows what kind of situation we're in."

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Sharp eye for the square guy: Betting conference play

The first two months of the season have served as foreplay for the upcoming college hoops schedule.

Sure. Cashing in on little-known schools or betting on non-conference blockbusters is awesome. But I’ve had my fill of matchups like Valparaiso at North Carolina.

Bring on the drama. Bring on the hatred. Bring on conference play.

These are the games that really matter. Roy Williams and the Tar Heels might have coasted through tune-up cupcakes in November and December, but come January – it’s business as usual.

This dramatic shift in competition also demands a big shift in how we handicap games. But before you start rummaging through old stats or reviewing all 341 NCAA programs, take to heart something an old basketball coach used to say.

Kiss. Keep it simple stupid.

The best method for capping conference competition is to simplify. It’s easy to get overwhelmed at this time of the year. So here are a couple tidbits from some of today’s top handicappers on how to survive the next two months of college hoops.


Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know.

Most conference foes have a good idea what to expect from each other during league play. Unlike non-conference games, where teams may have never faced each other, these programs are well aware of their opponents’ style of basketball.

Mismatches are harder to find during conference play because within a league, most teams are comparable to each other. And some conferences even take on a style of play.

The Big Ten is notorious for its slower tempo and hard-nosed defense. Conferences like the ACC or the Big 12 have a more athletic pace that can lead to more scoring and higher totals.

“Conference play is a much better opportunity to find value,” says professional handicapper Marty Otto. “You get a good base knowledge about teams and what to expect from them night in and night out.”

Otto says that the best process for anyone starting to handicap NCAA basketball is to focus solely on one or two conferences. Bettors will find it easier to learn those conferences members and track the ins and outs in the local papers rather than spread themselves out over the country.

Rivalries and revenge

Payback is a bitch, especially when you have money on the losing side.

The rivalries of college basketball are one of my favorite things about conference play. Years of bad blood add up to incredible games and can give a team hidden value when it meets its classic rival.

While it isn’t a conference rivalry, this season’s Crosstown Shootout between Cincinnati and Xavier proved this point. The Bearcats came into the game as 19-point underdogs and managed to scrape out a payday in the 64-59 loss to the Musketeers.

“I like to look for significant revenge angles like where one team knocked the other out of the conference tourney last spring,” says Scott Rickenbach of Covers Experts.

The Duke Blue Devils, who usually have their sights set on UNC, have a score to settle with North Carolina State at the end of the month. The Wolfpack upset the Blue Devils in last year’s ACC tournament winning 85-80 as 10-point underdogs. These teams meet again Jan. 31 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Home-court advantage

Of all pro and collegiate sports, home court offers the biggest advantage in college basketball. This is sometimes undervalued by oddsmakers.

Visiting teams not only have to travel, stay in hotels and face a well-rested opponent, but they also have to play with thousands of screaming students breathing down their neck. If you’ve ever sat in the student section, you know what this is all about.

Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham is probably the most infamous home court in the NCAA. The Cameron Crazies don’t stop shouting from jump ball to final horn and it can wreak havoc on visitors’ concentration and play calling.

Ted Sevransky of Covers Experts not only looks for great home-court teams but he also keeps an eye out for squads that have just taken a beating in front of their fans. Sometimes a crushing loss like this can leave a team reeling for the upcoming schedule.

Traps and bad habits

The next two months of the schedule is a long and hard road. It’s easy for bettors to lose focus or get into bad habits.

Checking local papers for game-related news is a must for any successful handicapper. College sports don’t get the same exposure as the pro leagues do so you do have to dig in order to find that edge.

It is tempting to get lazy and rely on the general media or, god forbid, the top-25 polls.  Every sharp bettor knows that the national rankings mean squat when it comes to betting. It means even less when it comes to wagering on conference games.

“Don't fall in love with teams just because they’re ranked,” warns Sevransky. “And don’t discount a team because they’re not ranked.”

Another simple practice is checking how many players a program has returned. A squad of talented underclassmen might cut the mustard against non-conference waifs. But when those greenhorns run into a tough and experienced conference foe, they usually fall short.

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College Basketball Handicapping: Conference Play
by T.O. Whenham

One of the big challenges of college basketball handicapping is that things are constantly changing. In the NFL, for example, every game during the regular season is a regular season game, and can be looked at in much the same way. In college basketball, though, the season goes through many distinct phases, and each must be handled differently: preseason games give way to early season tournaments, followed by non-conference action, then conference play, followed by the conference tournament and then whatever postseason action the team may qualify for. If you aren't making adjustments in your handicapping for each different part of the season then you are not maximizing your potential results. As we head into two months of conference action, here are six handicapping tips you need to keep in mind:

1) Familiarity changes everything - In non-conference play you often see games between teams that have never played before, or that only rarely see each other. In conference play, depending on the conference, most teams see each other twice a year, every year. The familiarity built over time means that a unique system or outstanding payers won't necessarily be as effective in conference play as they are at the start of the year. If you play a player or an offense every year then you learn how to minimize the effectiveness. If a team does well in early season play, and that success can be attributed to the incredible success of a single player, or to an offensive or defensive system that is unique, then the team is a candidate to fall back to earth a bit as conference play comes along.

2) Non-conference records can be overvalued
- It's easy to be seduced by a team that only lost a game or two in the non-conference schedule, but that doesn't necessarily matter. Some teams play extremely tough non-conference schedules designed to have them battle-hardened by conference play. Others turn the first two months of the season into a cupcake factory. It's far more important to look at how the team did relative to the strength of their opposition than it is to look at their record. It is not only possible but common that at team that went 9-4 or so is a significantly better team than one that went 12-1. Teams with inflated records can create real opportunities for value if the public is more impressed by the record than they should be.

3) Look at the three best games, and the three worst
- There's more to be learned from the extremes of a team's schedule than from the average performance. Because of the wide range of opponents that teams play, getting a real sense of the shape a team is in coming into conference play can be almost impossible. Instead of trying to sort through every game every team played, a more meaningful comparison can be made by looking at the three best games and the three worst games every team played. In that way you can see what the teams did well when they were successful, and why they struggled when they weren't. That, in turn, can help you to spot mismatches and opportunities in the team's conference schedule.

4) Put yourself in the minds of the public - The start of the conference season corresponds with the end of college football, and with the NFL playoffs. That means that there are far fewer football games every week. As a result, a lot of public money is directed towards basketball for the first time. To take maximum advantage of this situation, you need to be aware of what teams the public is likely to blindly support. That means that the public will inflate some lines more than they should be. You can find value if you are on the lookout.

5) Watch the travel plans - Some teams set up their non-conference schedule so that they rarely have to leave the cozy confines of their home court. In conference play, a team has to play half of their games away from home. If a team hasn't played away from home much, or if they haven't played well when they have traveled, then they could be in trouble in conference play.

6) Understand strength of conference - It just as important to understand how good a conference is as it is to understand how a particular team has played. A decent team can look fantastic if it plays in a conference that is weaker than it is or its opponents have been. Conversely, a very good team could be set to struggle if they play in a conference that is very strong from top to bottom. Evaluating the conference strength can give you a sense of how a team should perform, and will allow you to compensate if the team performs better or worse than that for a stretch of games.

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College basketball conference stats
January 15th, 2008

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With college football off the radar for another six months or so, it's time to focus our thoughts on the hardwood, where conference tilts are the norm from now until March Madness.

Last year about this time, I compiled a list of the top six conferences and their home success rates from the 2005-06 season. What I found was startling to say the least.

The Big Ten was by far the number one league in terms of home winning percentage inside the conference at a hefty 70.5%. Only the Big 12 came close at 67%. The ACC and Big East finished in a tie for third, each with a 62.5% mark, followed by the SEC at 60% and the Pac-10 at 57%.

Road teams were surprisingly competitive in the Pac-10 as one can see from the above numbers. Forty-three percent of those clubs came out victorious, a far cry from the 29.5% from the Big Ten.

The next question that comes to mind is an obvious one. How did those numbers play out last season?

In some instances, they were extremely similar. In '05-'06, home teams in the Big Ten won 70.5% of their games and were triumphant in 71% in '06-'07. The pendulum also almost failed to swing in the Big 12, as the winning percentage went from 67% to 66%.

On the other hand, the SEC shot from 60% all the way up to 75%. It was almost an impossible task for a road team to come out on top in that league, as only one squad (South Carolina) finished below .500 at home. The Southeastern Conference was by far the number one league, with the Big Ten (71%) the only other one over 66%.

Speaking of South Carolina, the Gamecocks were one of nine SEC teams to win two or fewer conference games away from home. What makes these numbers so mystifying is the fact that while the league was ranked number one at home SU, it finished next-to-last of the six conferences against the spread. Take away Mississippi State (7-1) and the best home ATS record of the other 11 teams was 5-3.

The Bulldogs were one of only two teams from the six top conferences that 1) finished the season over .500 at home in league play and 2) had a better ATS home conference record then its SU home mark. They ended the year 7-1 ATS while winning one fewer league game SU. Can you guess the other club? The answer will appear at the end of this column.


Most casual sports fans only care if their favorite team wins or loses. The average gambler, though, rarely glimpses at the final score as it relates to a straight up win. He's more concerned if his team covered the spread.

With that in mind, let's examine how home teams fared ATS last season in conference play compared to the year before. Two years ago the Big Ten was tops with a 57% home-team ATS advantage, but that figure dropped to 52% last season. The league was the only one of the six to show a decrease in home ATS covers.

The most remarkable numbers came from the two conferences that ranked fifth and sixth last season at 50% and 49%. The SEC and Pac-10 both failed to show a winning percentage, but still improved dramatically from the previous year when home teams combined to cover just 43% of conference games.

The Big 12 displayed a slight progression from 52% to 54%, but two other leagues were far superior. The ACC improved five percentage points from 47% to 52% and the Big East went from 45% to 52%.

Gamblers, who have consistently wagered on the home team in conference play, have not encountered too much success in past seasons. However, if these numbers continue in the right direction, the odds will be in their favor and a profit will be in the cards.


Individual clubs can show a marked difference between their home and away ATS records, regardless of their SU marks. Some examples from last season include Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Cal, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

The Yellow Jackets were a .500 team in the ACC at 8-8 both SU and ATS. However, they were two completely different teams at home and on the road. In the friendly confines of Alexander Memorial Coliseum, the Ramblin' Wreck finished 6-2 ATS, but went just 2-6 on the road.

The Spartans dominated the Big Ten at home last season, winning and covering seven of their eight games. That success didn't translate to the road, where they went 1-7 SU and 3-5 ATS. MSU is staying on the same course this season with a 2-0 SU home mark and an 0-1 SU road record after scoring just 36 points in a seven-point loss at Iowa.

The three other clubs ran the opposite side of the gamut, sporting poor home ATS marks with solid road records. The Golden Bears covered only two of nine home games last year, but went 6-2-1 ATS on the road. Oklahoma covered just one home Big 12 contest, but was efficient away from home in conference play with a 6-2 ATS mark.

Finally, South Carolina was an impressive 7-1 ATS on the road in the SEC despite a 4-12 SU conference mark. Unfortunately, the Gamecocks couldn't reach the .500 mark at home, covering just three of eight at the Colonial Center. That trend is playing out very early this season, as they are 1-0 ATS on the road and 0-1 ATS at home.

TRIVIA ANSWER - Oklahoma was the only other club to sport an improved ATS home record than its SU mark. The Sooners were 5-3 SU in Norman, but finished 6-2 ATS.

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Pac-10 Notebook
By Brad Young 

The Pac-10 Conference has undergone quite a transformation the past few seasons. This basketball conference used to be known for its run-and-gun style typified by the high-octane offenses of Arizona, Oregon, Stanford and Washington.

Call it the Ben Howland Effect and the success the UCLA coach has had since coming to Westwood in 2003. Howland brought a tougher, slow-down mentality to a league that used to be considered track meets. The Bruins struggled in mediocrity under former head coach Steve Lavin, who preached a more wide-open attack.

Howland came to UCLA via the Big East and Pittsburgh, preaching an aggressive man-to-man defense and a half-court mentality on offense where every possession becomes more critical. Totals have also been affected by this new approach, dropping by 20 points over the past few seasons.

Just this year alone, UCLA and fellow-defensive minded Washington State collided where the total was 117½. The Bruins won a surprisingly high-scoring affair, 81-74, ending back-to-back ‘under’ outings.

The defensive-minded approach is probably best exemplified by Washington State and head coach Tony Bennett. The Cougars have traditionally been at a disadvantage from other Pac-10 schools with no winning tradition and the fact that it’s hard to recruit athletes to such a remote spot in Pulman, Washington. Wazzu had no real choice but to slow the pace down and shorten the game in an effort to stay close.

Ironically, Washington State hired Dick Bennett the same week UCLA inked Howland to lead the Conference of Champions in fewest points per game ever since. Dick led Wisconsin to the 2000 Final Four before taking a brief hiatus, and was replaced at Wazzu by his son just last year.

Coaching changes at Southern Cal (Tim Floyd) and Arizona State (Herb Sendek) have speeded up the defensive mentality in the Pac 10. The Sun Devils have used their newfound defensive intensity to being ranked in the Associated Press top-25 for the first time since 1995.

Arizona State toppled rival Arizona in overtime January 9 as a three-point home underdog, 64-59. The combined 123 points failed to topple the 129-point closing total even though the game went an extra period. The Wildcats were playing without leading scorer Jerryd Bayless, but the Sun Devils’ defense controlled the contest.

Speaking of Arizona, the Wildcats are no longer the high-octane offense that outscores teams. Veteran coach Lute Olson is taking a year-long leave of absence due to personal issues, and the team is now led by defensive-minded Kevin O’Neill.

Arizona upended UNLV earlier this season as a three-point road ‘chalk,’ 52-49, in a defensive slugfest. These rivals used to be involved in 89-86 games between teams running up and down the court.

Stanford is another team that isn’t posting points like it used to under head coach Trent Johnson. The Cardinal were a national power under previous head coach Mike Montgomery, going 30-2 his final season in Palo Alto.

This marks Johnson’s fourth year on The Farm with a lower-scoring team. Thursday’s conference clash between Arizona and Stanford has a listed total of 129 points. The Cardinal have seen the ‘under’ go a solid 11-2, limiting a pair of Pac-10 teams (USC and Oregon State) to just 46 points.

Success breeds imitation, and with UCLA making consecutive Final Four appearances, expect to see more grind it out games in the Conference of Champions.

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ASA: News and Notes
January 17, 2008


Boston College – The Eagles suffered one of the ugliest losses of the season when they lost 57-51 at home to Robert Morris. Following the game, a players-only meeting was called, where the players called each other out. It appears to have worked as Boston College responded with a 112-73 pasting of Wake Forest and downing Miami 76-66.

Florida State – The Seminoles rotation could receive a boost with the return of two key players. Suspended center Ryan Reid has missed the last nine games but is on the verge of returning while forward Julian Vaughn will see his minutes rise after returning from an undisclosed medical issue. Florida State is a tired unit right now and the return of Reid and Vaughn will greatly improve its depth.

Maryland – Guard Erik Hayes, who is averaging 11 points and 5.4 assists on the season, could return by this weekend. He’s missed the last three games with an ankle injury and the Terps could use his ball handling in the backcourt.

NC State – Slow starts have plagued the Wolf Pack recently, leading to just 55.3 points per game over their last three games. The slow starts have head coach Sidney Lowe pondering some lineup changes in order to infuse some energy into the starting unit.

Big 12

Kansas – One of the lone struggles the Jayhawks have had over the last two seasons has come from the charity stripe. Kansas is still just 252nd in the nation in free throw percentage but it has hit 76.1 percent of its free-throw attempts in January, a full 10 percent better than its season average. Just one more thing the Jayhawks have going for them.

Kansas State – Senior point guard Clent Stewart, who averages 8.1 points and 3.4 assists, hasn’t missed a game since the season opener but back spasms have been occurring on a regular basis over the past two weeks, making him day-to-day.

Nebraska – The Huskers may have lost to Kansas by 19 points at home but head coach Doc Sadler believes the team actually received a confidence boost from the game. Sadler believes his team should not be judged by the final score in that game as he believes the team played better than the final score of that game.

Oklahoma – As if starting out the Big 12 season 0-2 weren’t bad enough, the Sooners are looking at playing an extended period without freshman sensation Blake Griffin. The standout forward left just five minutes into the Kansas game with an injury that is suspected to be a sprained MCL. Griffin, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, will be out four weeks.

Big East

Cincinnati – The Bearcats are a young team has predictably struggled on the road this year. But they’ve balanced that out with increasingly better performances at home, covering four straight home games and picking up wins over Villanova and Syracuse while giving undefeated Memphis a battle.

Louisville – The Cardinals, much like last year, have struggled with injuries this year. Big men Juan Palacios and David Padgett have now returned from injury while fellow big man Derrick Caracter appears to be back on Rick Pitino’s good side. Louisville came alive down the stretch last year once it got healthy. The same thing could happen this year.

Pittsburgh – The injury bug that has bitten the Pittsburgh program has resulted in a different practice philosophy for Jamie Dixon. With starting forward Mike Cook and reserve forward Austin Wallace out for the season and starting guard Levance Fields out for six more weeks, Pittsburgh practices have focused more on conditioning and less on physicality. It has worked so far as the Panthers have won three straight outright and ATS.

Villanova – Center Casiem Drummond, who is second on the team with seven rebounds per game, returned to action Wednesday against DePaul in a limited role. He played just three minutes but his action will grow as he heals from an ankle injury. Drummond gives the Wildcats some much-needed size down low.

Big Ten

Indiana – Guard Erik Gordon has all but locked up freshman of the year in the Big Ten. Lost in the Gordon hype has been a former Big Ten freshman of the year, forward D.J. White. The burly forward has been the conference’s best big man this year with double-doubles in 10 of his last 11 games. White, along with Gordon, provides the Hoosiers with one of the nation’s best inside-outside tandem.

Michigan – Starting forward Ron Coleman saw his 114 consecutive games played streak snapped Saturday at Northwestern. He returned Wednesday at Illinois but was limited to a season-low eight minutes by the ankle injury. Coleman doesn’t put up huge statistical numbers but he provides the young Wolverines with much-needed veteran leadership.

Northwestern – Forward Kevin Coble’s return to the lineup has provided the Wildcats with some much-needed offense. It has not done much for Northwestern’s record, though. Despite getting 18.4 points per game in Coble’s five contests, it hasn’t been enough to get Northwestern some wins as it is just 1-4 SU and ATS in those games.

Penn State – The Nittany Lions suffered a devastating blow when leading scorer and rebounder Geary Claxton was lost for the season with a knee injury. Claxton tore his left MCL just seven minutes into Penn State’s game with Wisconsin, leaving the Lions without their primary offensive weapon for the remainder of the season.


Arizona – Freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless’ importance to the team was felt in his four-game absence as the Wildcats went 1-3 SU and 0-4 ATS over that stretch. His return to the lineup sparked Arizona to an impressive 85-71 road win over a good Houston team, with Bayless dropping a career-best 33 points. The ‘Cats averaged just 68 points in his absence.

USC – Freshman stud O.J. Mayo took a wicket tumble Saturday against Washington and he’s still feeling the effects. Mayo scored just 15 points against the Huskies due to the injury and he says his ability to “explode” is limited.

Washington State – The Cougars may be one of the country’s top teams with a 14-1 record but they’ve been hampered by slow starts throughout the season. Head coach Tony Bennett has rectified the problem by tweaking the offense to get senior guards Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver more shots early in the game.


Auburn – Injuries have wreaked havoc on the Auburn roster but there’s help on the way. Leading scorer Quan Prowell and third-leading scorer Rasheem Barrett were injured within 10 seconds of each other Jan. 12 against Florida but both were able to return against LSU, leading to a 74-67 Auburn win. Second-leading scorer Korvotney Barber is not expected back until late January.

Kentucky – Head coach Billy Gillispie’s first season in Lexington hasn’t exactly gone as planned but the Wildcats are showing signs of improvement. They started by handing Vanderbilt its first loss of the season Saturday and carried that momentum over into Tuesday’s loss at Mississippi State. Kentucky played without guards Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper in the Mississippi State loss and could see even more improvement upon their return.

LSU – Perhaps no team in the SEC has suffered more major injuries than LSU. Four significant contributors – Tasmin Mitchell, Dameon Mason, Chris Johnson and Quinton Thornton – are likely lost for the season, with those four players averaging 25.4 points per game in 81.4 minutes per contest. The lack of depth has led to the Tigers losing six straight games by 11.8 points per game.

Mississippi State – Guard Ben Hansbrough, the team’s fourth-leading scorer, missed the Kentucky game with a broken finger in his left hand. Hansbrough may have been absent but second-leading scorer Charles Rhodes returned to full-time action after missing three games and seeing limited action in another. Hansbrough is listed as day-to-day and could return Saturday against Alabama.

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