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A little February madness as 3 top 10 teams fall

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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St. John's coach Chris Mullin hugs guard Shamorie Ponds (2) after a victory against top-ranked Villanova in Philadelphia.
© USA Today Sports Images

Huge upsets as #1 Villanova suffers its second loss of the season…#3 Purdue and #8 Auburn their third on a wild Wednesday. Details plus a gut-check win for LeBron’s Cavs and opening win totals in Major League Baseball in a jam-packed edition of VSiN City!

Big East Basketball: #1 Villanova stunned by St. John’s

So much for that huge letdown spot. A few days after shocking then #4 Duke as a double-digit underdog, St. John’s pulled off one of the biggest major conference shockers of the season as a 16-point underdog at #1 Villanova. The Wildcats entered 9-1 in Big East play, compared to an 0-11 record for the Red Storm. 

St. John’s (plus 16) 79, #1 Villanova 75

Two-point Pct: St. John’s 53%, Villanova 45%

Three Pointers: St. John’s 6/15, Villanova 8/33

Free Throws: St. John’s 19/24, Villanova 11/12

Rebounds: St. John’s 35, Villanova 34

Turnovers: St. John’s 10, Villanova 8

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: St. John’s 85-75-88, Villanova 1-1-1

This is an amazing turnaround for St. John’s. You may recall it was getting market respect at home against highly ranked Xavier last week. That was a nailbiter in the final moments. Then, outright victories over two other top 10 teams.

Here, it was just hard-nosed basketball. St. John’s won the inside game clearly…outscoring the previously 22-1 Wildcats by a 61-51 count on 1’s and 2’s. We’ve talked all season about how condensed the field is this season across the major conference landscape…and about how all highly regarded teams turn mortal when the treys aren’t falling. Villanova was below 25% from long range on the night.

St. John’s improves to 12-13 on the season, 1-11 in the Big East. Obviously, it’s playing better than those numbers would suggest in recent action. Villanova is now 9-2 in the Big East, and still holding a firm grip on a #1 Dance seed because other elites are also losing games. More on that in a moment as we run through boxscores tonight in poll ranking order. 

Big East estimated “market” Power Ratings: Villanova 87, Xavier 81, Butler 80, Seton Hall 79, Creighton 78, Marquette 76, Providence 75, St. John’s 74, Georgetown 70, DePaul 68.

Also Wednesday in the Big East: Marquette (plus 6.5) upset Seton Hall 88-85, Creighton (-7) edged DePaul 76-75. 

ACC Basketball: #2 Virginia dodges an upset with tight win at Florida State

The Cavaliers could very easily have joined the victims list Wednesday. They trailed by 10 points at halftime in Tallahassee, and only led by two with 10 seconds to go. Two free throws iced the win and cover in this dangerous spot. 

#2 Virginia (-3) 59, Florida State 55

Two-point Pct: Virginia 39%, Florida State 48%

Three Pointers: Virginia 7/17, Florida State 6/20

Free Throws: Virginia 8/10, Florida State 13/19

Rebounds: Virginia 27, Florida State 31

Turnovers: Virginia 6, Florida State 11 

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Virginia 2-3-2, Florida State 23-19-24

Not the work of art that we often see from Virginia. It didn’t shoot well and was outclassed on the boards. But, committing just six turnovers on the road still suggests sharp play. Clean basketball always gives you a chance to win. The problem with asking the Cavs to run the table in the Dance is that they hit a ceiling against good teams on neutral courts. FSU didn’t have to play over its head to make this a thriller. Note that the computers currently see the Seminoles as a top 25 team even if the pollsters don’t. Joe Lunardi’s bracketology has FSU as a #8 seed. They will be a dangerous floater if that ends up being the case. 

Oh…the fact that Virginia is GREAT and plays low scoring games because of excellent defense and a very slow pace is far from a secret. Yet, the combination of “Virginia and Under” is now 18-3-1 over its last 11 games.  

ACC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Duke 87, Virginia 86, North Carolina 83, Louisville 81 at home…79 on the road, Florida State 80, Clemson 79, Virginia Tech 78, Miami 78, Syracuse 77, Notre Dame 75, NC State 75, Georgia Tech 74, Wake Forest 73, Boston College 73, Pittsburgh 64.

Also Wednesday in the ACC: Miami (-8.5) beat Wake Forest 87-81, Virginia Tech (-6) beat NC State 85-75. 

Big Ten Basketball: #14 Ohio State rallies to stun #3 Purdue on a tip-in with 3 seconds left

Purdue worked its way to what looked like a comfortable 53-39 lead with just over 10 minutes to go in the game. Ohio State would win the “fourth quarter” 25-10 to make its case as a top 10 team entering the final month of the regular season. 

#14 Ohio State (plus 9.5) 64, #3 Purdue 63

Two-point Pct: Ohio State 50%, Purdue 43%

Three Pointers: Ohio State 6/18, Purdue 8/20

Free Throws: Ohio State 10/16, Purdue 15/19

Rebounds: Ohio State 32, Purdue 32

Turnovers: Ohio State 8, Purdue 12

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Ohio State 16-22-16, Purdue 3-2-3

Ohio State has very much been “for real” in Big Ten play, while Purdue seemed to turn into a pumpkin (at least compared to market expectations) a couple of weeks ago. We noted that at the time when they snuck past Michigan as an 11-point favorite. It’s been nothing but non-covers since (now 0-5 ATS on the current run, missing the market by 7, 1.5, 6, 13.5, and 10.5 points). 

Note here how generic Ohio State’s stats seems. The Buckeyes didn’t shoot lights out from long range. They lost the free throw category and tied rebounds. Not a one-night fluke. Obviously battling Purdue to a draw in West Lafayette is a compliment in itself. But a lot of our upset recaps show the favorite shooting horribly on bombs, or the victor having a hot run. Here, the loser shot better on bombs, while the market underdog won scoring on 1’s and 2’s by a 46-39 count despite taking the worst of it at the charity stripe. A big compliment to OSU that it can win a huge road game despite shooting just 6 of 18 on treys. 

Surging Ohio State takes over first place in the Big 10 with this heads-up win as a tie-breaker. Both are now 12-1 in league play. Ohio State is 20-6 for the season, while Purdue falls to 23-3. As we go to the “market” Power Ratings, it’s clear that pricing has been too high for the Boilermakers during this recent stretch.  

Big Ten estimated “market” Power Ratings: Purdue 87 at home…86 on the road, Michigan State 85, Ohio State 82 at home…81 on the road, Michigan 80, Penn State 78, Maryland 77, Nebraska 75, Northwestern 75, Indiana 74, Wisconsin 72, Iowa 72, Illinois 72, Minnesota (still all over the place), Rutgers 68.

Also Wednesday in the Big 10: Penn State (-4.5) beat Maryland 74-70. 

SEC Basketball: Another power trips as #8 Auburn falls flat against resurgent Texas A&M

Maybe Auburn got too complacent watching Florida and Kentucky struggle so much in recent action. Instead of coasting to a three-game lead over both in the SEC standings, the Tigers now have a one-game lead over Tennessee, two over Florida, and three over Kentucky. 

Texas A&M (plus 6) 81, #8 Auburn 80 

Two-point Pct: Texas A&M 56%, Auburn 66%

Three Pointers: Texas A&M 9/18, Auburn 7/21

Free Throws: Texas A&M 6/9, Auburn 21/24

Rebounds: Texas A&M 33, Auburn 22

Turnovers: Texas A&M 16, Auburn 14

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Texas A&M 25-26-32, Auburn 8-18-15

Because Texas A&M was supposed to be the SEC threat to depose Kentucky this season, let’s catch up with the Aggies. This is their third straight impressive result, beating the market by 9, 17, and 7 vs. Arkansas, South Carolina, and Auburn. Texas A&M is still just 5-6 in the SEC. But, the computers had them as a composite top 30 team entering the night. That only got better given how great Auburn has been playing. 

So much for the Tigers making a run at a #1 seed. Joe Lunardi already had them on his #2 line. Two of the three computers don’t agree. And, closing strong under pressure is going to be a lot harder than catching people by surprise was. Free throw stats suggest Auburn couldn’t win despite home cooking Wednesday. A&M won scoreboard by 16 from the field.  

SEC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Auburn 83, Florida 81, Tennessee 81, Kentucky 80, Texas A&M 80, Arkansas 79 at home…77 on the road, Missouri 79 at home…77 on the road, Alabama 77, Mississippi State 77, Georgia 75, South Carolina 75, LSU 75, Ole Miss 75, Vanderbilt 75 at home…74 on the road.

Also Wednesday in the SEC: Florida (-9) beat LSU 73-64, Vanderbilt (-3.5) beat Georgia 81-66 

Big 12 Basketball: Texas lets down off Oklahoma win, no margin for error in this league

This was a borderline call for inclusion. Once we had an upset, it became a must-view because bettors need to know the weaknesses of Dance-bound teams. Even though Texas had been playing with a purpose lately, the Horns learned they can’t stop to smell any roses. 

Kansas State (plus 5.5) 67, Texas 64 

Two-point Pct: Kansas State 62%, Texas 55%

Three Pointers: Kansas State 6/17, Texas 8/29

Free Throws: Kansas State 3/5, Texas 8/12

Rebounds: Kansas State 26, Texas 36

Turnovers: Kansas State 12, Texas 16

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Kansas State 52-50-54, Texas 34-30-35

Kansas State grades out very solidly in the 50-55 range in the computers. But, it feels like the Wildcats are either a 30-something or an 80-something depending on the night. This was a solid outing, as you can see they didn’t shoot lights out from long range. 

It’s been clear in recent Texas games that giant Mo Bamba has been told to back off defensively in the paint to stay out of foul trouble. Tonight, the virtual moving tree had one blocked shot, ZERO personal fouls, while Kansas State shot 62% on two-pointers. This after having one blocked shot and one foul vs. Oklahoma when the Sooners shot 73% on two’s Saturday evening. Interesting approach…asking a tree to step out of the way!  The bright side is that Bamba had 18 points and 12 rebounds in Wednesday’s loss. May not be a bad gamble. 

Another reminder that Texas isn’t very consistent on three-pointers…and falls into a trap of launching way too many when patience should be a virtue. Combine 16 turnovers with 21 missed treys…and you get some very ugly basketball. 

Big 12 estimated “market” Power Ratings: Kansas 85, West Virginia 83 at home…81 on the road, Oklahoma 82 at home…80 on the road, Texas Tech 82 at home…81 on the road, TCU 81, Texas 81, Kansas State 79 at home…78 on the road, Baylor 78, Oklahoma State 77, Iowa State 73 at home…71 on the road.

Also Wednesday in the Big 12: Texas Tech (-14) beat Iowa State 76-58.

Before getting to the other sports, we wrap up today’s college basketball coverage with Greg Peterson’s look at a pair of Thursday night blockbusters. 

College Basketball: “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson

#9 Duke at #21 North Carolina (8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN)

Opening Line: Duke -1

Offensive Efficiency: Duke #3, North Carolina #30

Defensive Efficiency: Duke #64, North Carolina #80

Rebound Rate: Duke #4, North Carolina #1

Percent of Shots are 3s: Duke #264, North Carolina #263

Free Throw Shooting Percentage: Duke #254, North Carolina #101

Pace: Duke #46, North Carolina #55

The Tobacco Road rivalry renewal has a pair of ranked squads once again. Though both are entering this match up on cold streaks. North Carolina is 1-3 in its past four games while Duke is 2-2.

Quite a few similarities here. Both squads are in the nation’s top five in rebound rate, and like to move the ball up and down the floor without taking a lot of 3-pointers. Both have disappointing defensive efficiency rankings. North Carolina does a poor job of defending the three, while Duke has been unable to create turnovers.

Duke has had its struggles at the free throw line. That was a key in the losses to Virginia and St. John's. This is due to Duke relying on its big men for a bunch of its scoring.

North Carolina has had great ball movement, leading to a bunch of easy assisted baskets, but the Tar Heels sometimes try to make a bit too perfect of a pass, which has led to an increase in turnovers.

Whichever team can solve its defensive weakness should have the upper hand to win and cover. Ironically, the weaknesses on defense line up with what the other team is struggling with on offense. That creates a chess match. Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski are two masters. This game could easily come down to which one makes the best in-game adjustments.

UCLA at #13 Arizona 

Opening Line: Arizona -8

Offensive Efficiency: UCLA #31, Arizona #7

Defensive Efficiency: UCLA #177, Arizona #159

Rebound Rate: UCLA #103, Arizona #15

Percent of Shots are 3s:  UCLA #152, Arizona #290

Free Throw Shooting Percentage: UCLA #151, Arizona #27

Pace: UCLA #53, Arizona #193

Arizona and UCLA have been two of the worst power conference teams on the defensive end, but know how to light up the scoreboard.

With on and off injuries to guard Rawle Alkins (who’s missed half the team’s game this season), Arizona has been relying on its stable of forwards to jumpstart one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. Alkins is back in the lineup after missing a January stretch.

UCLA has been a good 3-point shooting team and with good size down low, rarely has shots blocked. The size of Arizona could alter that as the Wildcats do a much better job of denying shots in the paint than guarding the 3-point arc.

UCLA does not drive to the basket a lot, but it would be a good idea in this matchup. Arizona has recently been getting into foul trouble, which has allowed opponents being able to make runs while Wildcats stars were on the bench. Ironically, for much of the year, Arizona had been getting off to bad starts before winning with second half rallies.

Arizona will look to offset this by outrebounding and slowing down a UCLA team that usually plays with four guards on the floor while Arizona typically is able to roll with three. Not allowing UCLA second chances could help in keeping the fouls to a minimum while keeping pace in check.

UCLA has been good at getting to the free throw line this year. If the Bruins can continue to do so and shoot a bit above its season average, they will be in a very good position to at the very least cover and could have a decent shot to pull out an outright win. If Arizona can get out of its fouling funk, it will be difficult for UCLA to shut down Arizona's combination of big men and guards that can drive.

NBA: Cleveland bounces back from Orlando debacle with thrilling OT win over Minnesota

Thanks Greg. Now to the NBA. The entertainment benefit of Cleveland playing such horrible defense this season is that the team must play absolute thrillers to win outright over quality. A real barnburner Wednesday went extra time with the Timberwolves in town. 

Cleveland (plus 4) 140, Minnesota 138

Two-point Pct: Minnesota 58%, Cleveland 66%

Three Pointers: Minnesota 19/33, Cleveland 21/41

Free Throws: Minnesota 11/12, Cleveland 15/23

Rebounds: Minnesota 35, Cleveland 41

Turnovers: Minnesota 11, Cleveland 15

Was there a gentleman’s agreement not to guard the arc?! Both teams shot great from long range. The Cavs had to just to stay in the game. Note the horrible defensive numbers again for Cleveland. Not only lights out shooting for the visitor…but just 11 forced turnovers in a game with well over 100 possessions…and then very few trips to the foul line. Cleveland defenders couldn’t get close enough to foul anyone or take the ball away.

LeBron James scored 37 points in 48 minutes. As fun as those performances are to watch…there’s no way he can carry that kind of leadership load NOW and still be fresh for the playoffs. This result temporarily ends the printing press for “fade Cleveland.” Part of that is a big line adjustment. Cleveland would normally be more than -2 at home vs. Minnesota instead of plus 4…at least as of a few weeks ago. LeBron has to be a locomotive just to keep the team in the neighborhood of a victory. 

Also in the NBA Wednesday…

*Detroit (-10) beat Brooklyn 115-106. The Nets were on night two of a back-to-back but still beat the number. Another straight up win for the Pistons with Blake Griffin as they try to crash the Eastern brackets. 

*Houston (-5) won at Miami 109-101. The Rockets also cover in a back-to-back spot, and continue to play great when their key components are healthy. Don’t look now…but the #1 seed is within arm’s reach. 

*Indiana at New Orleans (-3.5) was rained out. Seriously! Leaky roof made the floor too damp to play on. 

*Utah (-6.5) won at Memphis 92-88.  Memphis hit a trey in the final seconds to become the fourth team to cover on night two of a back-to-back Wednesday. 

For weeks, Thursday had been our day to run an update of our estimated NBA “market” Power Ratings. This week we’ve been running those after all pro hoop summaries. 

NBA Eastern Conference estimated “market” Power Ratings: Toronto 84, Boston 82, Philadelphia 82, Milwaukee 80, Washington 80, Detroit 79, Miami 79, Charlotte 78, Indiana 77, New York 77 (pending Porzingis injury), Chicago 75, Cleveland 75 (???), Brooklyn 73, Atlanta 73, Orlando 72.

NBA Western Conference estimated “market” Power Ratings: Golden State 90, Houston 87, Oklahoma City 83, Minnesota 82, San Antonio 81, Portland 81, Denver 80, Utah 80, LA Clippers 79, New Orleans 78, Dallas 77, LA Lakers 76, Sacramento 73, Memphis 72 (Evans sitting out), Phoenix 71. 

Cleveland was priced as a 75 tonight, though some of that was likely influenced by the back-to-back challenge. Keep an eye on that with upcoming lines. Where will the market settle? Are the Cavs still a playoff team without Kevin Love? Or, are they just a bucket better than the dregs? 

Major League Baseball: CG Technology first to the market with Regular Season Win Totals

Though the baseball season is still several weeks away (first pitch is Thursday March 29), CG Technology posted its MLB Regular Season Win Totals Wednesday afternoon. Limits are generally low out of the gate on propositions like these. But sharps do like betting early edges before line moves take them away. 

Let’s run through the openers division by division (favored moneyline in parenthesis if options aren’t -110 apiece).

NL East

Washington: 91.5 wins

NY Mets: 80.5 wins (Over -125)

Philadelphia: 74.5 wins

Atlanta: 73.5 wins

Miami: 64.5 wins (Over -120)

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: 93.5 wins (Under -125)

St. Louis: 84.5 wins

Milwaukee: 81.5 wins

Pittsburgh: 76.5 wins

Cincinnati: 71.5 wins

NL West

LA Dodgers: 95.5 wins (Under -120)

Arizona: 86.5 wins (Under -125)

Colorado: 82.5 wins (Under -130)

San Francisco: 81.5 wins

San Diego: 69.5 wins (Over -120)

AL East

NY Yankees: 93.5 wins

Boston: 91.5 wins (Under -120)

Toronto: 81.5 wins (Under -130)

Baltimore: 77.5 wins (Under -125)

Tampa Bay: 76.5 wins

AL Central

Cleveland: 93.5 wins (Under -120)

Minnesota: 82.5 wins (Under -125)

Kansas City: 76.5 wins (Under -135)

Detroit: 68.5 wins (Over -130)

Chicago White Sox: 68.5 wins (Over -125)

AL West

Houston: 96.5 wins

LA Angels: 84.5 wins

Seattle: 81.5 wins (Over -120)

Texas: 78.5 wins

Oakland: 74.5 wins (Over -125)

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