One of the narratives in college basketball this season is the subpar performance of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
That talking point was emphasized last weekend when Duke, the ACC’s top contender for a national championship, was knocked off by Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
While it's good news for the Hurricanes to get some attention for their fast start, Duke dropping a home game as a 15-point favorite has exacerbated the chatter about the ACC’s struggles.
Duke, which fell to eighth in the AP poll, remains the only ACC team in the Top 25.
Those in the hot-take crowd and fans on social media are now mocking the ACC as a “one-bid league.”
“The ACC is trending towards it’s worst season ever,” according to CBS Sports, while The Athletic added that “the ACC can barely get arrested in our 68-team field.”
Let over-the top-reactions be a reminder that analyzing a sport from a betting perspective is not the same as doing it in the mainstream media or as a fan.
Rather than get caught up with the ridicule others seem to be enjoying, let’s examine the current state of the conference and what it offers bettors now and in March.
In the way-too-early Bracketology reports, Joe Lunardi has five ACC schools in the tournament field. Jerry Palm has four teams making it.
Here’s an easy-to-follow ACC macro perspective:
— Duke is the only team with thoughts of a national championship
— Miami and Wake Forest came out of nowhere to be a presence
— North Carolina has not done well out of conference
— Louisville, Virginia Tech and Clemson are good enough to get into the NCAA tournament
— Syracuse is underachieving
— Pittsburgh, Boston College and Georgia Tech will remain in the basement
The league is lacking marquee non-conference wins, but the overall winning percentage of the ACC’s 15 schools is .618, higher than the .551 and .584 of the past two seasons.
The ACC won’t be in the conversation regarding the best conference in the country, but the reports of its overall demise are exaggerated and bettors still have ways to get into the action.
National Championship and Final Four
Like it or not, Duke must be a consideration for NCAA championship futures.
Don’t be swayed by Duke’s loss to Miami; it's a long season. The Blue Devils should still win the ACC and notch a No.1 seed. While it sounds chalky, No.1 seeds are one of the most bankable commodities in college basketball betting and need to be part of your betting portfolio, whether you bet one team in the tournament or prefer multiple options.
After Gonzaga (+ 600 to win the tournament at DraftKings), a team the books continue to give favorite status to, Duke (+ 900) is grouped with Purdue (+ 900) and Baylor (+ 1000) as the other top contenders.
While Baylor is my top choice in this group, the Blue Devils are a sound option for a one-ticket play or as a companion.
Mike Krzyzewski has declared this his last season, and the NCAA selection committee is well aware of that. Coach K making one last Final Four appearance in New Orleans would benefit anyone who makes a living in the college basketball industry. Keep that in mind.
KenPom puts high ratings on Duke, both offensively and defensively. The Blue Devils have a win over Gonzaga, with their two losses coming against Ohio State and Miami.
Paolo Banchero is one of the best players in the country and is joined by Wendell Moore and Mark Williams, who provide production and experience. This doesn’t look like a prime Duke squad, but it is in line with the Zags, Boilermakers and Bears.
All that said, don’t run to the window to make a national championship bet just yet.
Duke’s 9-1 number isn’t likely to change much for the next month or so (the 6-1 baseline for Gonzaga has been solid). Taking into account the national sentiment around the ACC, another loss for the Blue Devils (possibly Jan. 18 at Florida State or Feb. 5 at North Carolina) may give bettors a chance to buy the dip.
As for a Final Four appearance (+ 190 at DraftKings), that’s not the best way to invest college basketball units. Duke’s number is too low with little chance of getting much better. From a comparative standpoint, UCLA (+ 360), Arizona (+ 360) or Illinois (+ 600) have more value.
Regular-season conference winner
After the Miami loss, Duke’s number has come back a little. The Blue Devils are about even money to win the regular-season title at most books (+ 100 DraftKings).
Sometimes betting the right team matters more than the number, and that’s the case with Duke right now.
The Blue Devils are clearly the most talented team in the conference, have a distinct home-court advantage and the ability to win at any road venue. No other ACC team can meet this criteria.
Miami, Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame all have more ACC wins at the moment, but the Blue Devils should still win the race to 16 wins, the number it will likely take for a regular-season title.
Some other possible choices are North Carolina (+ 600), Louisville (+ 600), Miami (+ 1000), Florida State (+ 1100), Virginia (+ 1800) and Notre Dame (+ 2000).
Back to KenPom, he ranks Duke 13th in the country while the bulk of the ACC comes in at the 29-82 range.
Rather than trying to identify an upset winner in an apparent one-horse conference such as the ACC, a futures bettor would be better served diving into the Big Ten and SEC. These conferences have five different teams capable of winning the title.
Conference tournament winner
So far, only Circa has hung the odds for the ACC tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Handicapping the tournament is different from the regular season. The focus should be on which team has the best chance of knocking off Duke (+ 165). The top four seeds in the ACC receive a double-bye, so the best value will likely come from Seeds 2 through 4.
Let's look at the recent performances of UNC (+ 450) and FSU (+ 900).
The ACC tournament was never a top priority for Roy Williams during his tenure at UNC. Instead, he focused more on the prize that followed. Since 2010, UNC has won just one tournament title. Hubert Davis is now leading the Heels, but Davis is a Williams disciple and the + 450 is too low until we see a change in philosophy.
A small speculative wager on FSU at + 900 is a possibility, based on Leonard Hamilton’s history of making his March teams look a lot better than his teams in January. This should happen again this season, as his core of experienced role players are developing a new look with transfer Caleb Mills and freshman Matthew Cleveland playing major roles.
A small wager on FSU at + 900 is an optimal buy-low wager that can be turned into a good chip to hedge with once the tournament begins.
— Miami, a team usually known for its defense, is 11-5 O/U so far this season. The Hurricanes are averaging 77 points per game while allowing 73. These totals are not what oddsmakers have come to expect from a Jim Larranaga squad. The Canes, who sometimes play five guards, will continue to create mismatches and possibly keep the books confused.
— At the bottom of the standings, look to fade North Carolina State (4-12 ATS, 11-5 O/U). The Wolfpack are one of the worst defensive squads in the country.
— Georgia Tech, rebuilding after last year’s ACC tournament title, has struggled at 4-9-1 ATS. The Yellow Jackets have one of the league’s best scorers in Michael Devoe but have only eclipsed the 70-point mark twice. Look for team-total Unders when available.
— Turn off the autoplay Unders for Virginia and Clemson. The Cavaliers don’t have the same customary talent and defense and are 6-7-2 O/U. The Tigers are more offensively focused than in the past and are 9-6 O/U.