Basketball upsets in college and pros

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN City newsletter) 

December 21, 2017 12:01 AM
© USA Today Sports Images

Fifth-ranked North Carolina was waylaid by 25-point underdog Wofford in Wednesday night basketball. Plus, the Rockets shocked by the Lakers, NBA Power Ratings, and more “Market Watch” bowl coverage today in VSiN City.

Wednesday College Basketball: North Carolina surprised in a sandwich spot by unheralded Wofford

North Carolina was off to a great start this season, with only a loss to highly regarded Michigan State preventing a clean sheet. Off a tough road win at ranked Tennessee…and with a big TV game against Ohio State on deck this weekend…the Tar Heels didn’t bite hard enough in a sandwich spot against the Terriers of Wofford.

Wofford (plus 25) 79, #5 North Carolina 75 

Two-Point Pct: Wofford 50%, N. Carolina 42%

Three Pointers: Wofford 7/22, N. Carolina 7/25

Free Throws: Wofford 16/18, N. Carolina 28/38

Rebounds: Wofford 34, N. Carolina 38

Turnovers: Wofford 10, N. Carolina 14

Kenpom/Sagarin/BPI Rankings: Wofford 195-207-187, N. Carolina 6-4-7

Often in big upsets, you’ll see that the underdog shot lights out from long range…or the favorite couldn’t buy a trey. Not the case here. Both teams made seven three-pointers, meaning this was a clean upset featuring solid basketball. Wofford won “two-point baskets” 21-13 while turning the ball over fewer times. You can see that the refs weren’t opposed to helping out the hosts. Carolina shot 20 more free throws and still couldn’t get the victory in Chapel Hill!

It’s certainly an ugly loss on the UNC resume considering the computer rankings you see for Wofford above. Is this hinting at any issues that could spell trouble for the Tar Heels in ACC play? Effort and focus seemed to be the key complaints discussed in the postgame press conference. That would suggest that Carolina may lose focus against lesser lights in the league here and there. The computers are probably overstating UNC’s true quality. Let’s see how they bounce back against Ohio State this weekend. 

We’ve been talking a lot about Florida this season. The Gators had another bad market miss Wednesday. Let’s take a quick look. 

Florida (-21) 72, James Madison 63

Two-Point Pct: J. Madison 38%, Florida 44%

Three Pointers: J. Madison 8/22, Florida 10/31

Free Throws: J. Madison 13/16, Florida 18/23

Rebounds: J. Madison 39, Florida 35

Turnovers: J. Madison 18, Florida 12

Kenpom/Sagarin/BPI Rankings: J. Madison 240-248-249, Florida 29-27-28

Not a disaster…but Madison is a class below Wofford. Florida is now 1-5 ATS its last six games. The first loss in that slump was the blown second half against Duke up in Portland. There are outright losses as favorites to Florida State, Loyola-Chicago, and Clemson in that mix. Now, a 12-point market miss against a team roughly #250 in the nation. Florida’s still floundering. 

Wednesday NBA: Lakers shock Rockets, Heat edges Celtics

Upsets aren’t as dramatic in the NBA because it’s a long season, and it’s not uncommon to see championship contenders have off-nights. But, the Lakers beating Houston as 15-point dogs?! We’ve got to see what that boxscore looks like. 

LA Lakers (plus 15) 122, Houston 116

Two-Point Pct: Lakers 50%, Houston 42%

Three Pointers: Lakers 15/35, Houston 17/42

Free Throws: Lakers 27/43, Houston 25/32

Rebounds: Lakers 47, Houston 47

Turnovers: Lakers 10, Houston 14

Houston started the game short-handed, then lost Chris Paul to an abductor injury. Big shooting night for the visitor. Kyle Koozma didn’t miss a shot in the first half, and ended the evening 7 of 10 on treys. Lonzo Ball only managed four assists on the night, even with his teammates shooting so well. Five turnovers for the early-season disappointment, while missing six of eight treys. 

A 14-game winning streak comes to an end for Houston. The Rockets still are a serious threat in the West when the lineup is at full strength. All the contenders in the West are trying to figure out how to be at at full strength come playoff time. A contender in the East also suffered a home upset Wednesday night. 

Miami (plus 9) 90, Boston 89

Two-Point Pct: Miami 49%, Boston 35%

Three Pointers: Miami 10/28, Boston 13/32

Free Throws: Miami 14/25, Boston 16/21

Rebounds: Miami 46, Boston 44

Turnovers: Miami 12, Boston 10

Boston is now 2-6-1 ATS its last nine games. The Celtics have cooled way down from their blistering start. Still, smart coaching from Brad Stevens Wednesday in terms of the long view. Miami clearly was focused on winning THIS GAME. Four players were on the floor 37 minutes or longer. Stevens only gave that many minutes to two Celtics. 

Handicapping the NBA in the 2017-18 season often involves massaging the different priorities of head coaches. Pro basketball sharps spend a lot of time looking at minute distribution, substitution patterns, and who’s on the floor late in close games. Are you looking at those keys?

NBA: Updated estimate of “market” Power Ratings

Time for this week’s update of our estimated NBA “market” Power Ratings. As always, a quick disclaimer that NBA estimates are looser than in the NFL because of injuries to starters or unique schedule dynamics. We use a standard home court value of three points, then review recent lines to try to make a good faith effort of how “the market” has teams rated on a scale you can use to project future point spreads.  

87: Golden State (Curry out), Houston

84: Cleveland, Toronto, Boston 

83: San Antonio

82: Minnesota, Oklahoma City 

81: Milwaukee, Portland

80: Washington, New Orleans, Denver 

79: Philadelphia, Detroit, Indiana, Miami  

78: Charlotte, Memphis 

77: Dallas, Utah  

76: New York, Chicago

75: Orlando, LA Lakers, LA Clippers 

74: Brooklyn, Sacramento

73: Phoenix

72: Atlanta

It’s been fun watching the market try to adjust to Chicago’s recent surge. A doormat suddenly became dangerous without much warning. Wednesday, the Bulls were -5 or -5.5 at home over Orlando. That line wouldn’t have been imaginable a few weeks ago. It was only the third time all season the Bulls had been favored. The other two were at home against doormats Atlanta and Phoenix. Chicago beat Orlando 112-94 for its seventh straight victory and eighth straight cover. Chicago’s eight covers have been by 8, 17.5, 1.5, 28.5, 8.5, 14.5, 4, and 13 points.  

College Bowls: Louisiana Tech accepts several gifts from unprepared SMU

Yesterday, we said “we’re not likely to see any blowouts as ugly as” Florida Atlantic’s 50-3 win over Akron. Wednesday’s Frisco Bowl said “hold my beer!”

Louisiana Tech (plus 4) 51, SMU 10 

Yards-per-Play: La. Tech 5.5, SMU 3.9

Total Yardage: La. Tech 357, SMU 294

Third Down Pct: La. Tech 38%, SMU 33%

Turnovers: La. Tech 0, SMU 6

Rushing Yards: La. Tech 141, SMU 167

Passing Stats: La. Tech 16-27-0-216, SMU 19-34-3-128

TD Drive Lengths: La. Tech 30-26-82-30, SMU 78

All of Louisiana Tech’s touchdowns came in the first half. In addition to the three cheap drives you see in the stat line above, the virtual road underdog also had two interception returns for touchdowns in the mix. Tech was up 42-10 at the half and had been outgained!

SMU suffered five of is six turnovers in the first half. Prior head coach Chad Morris is moving to Arkansas. So, very clear parallels here to Oregon’s situation. A favorite that just lost its head coach showed up so unprepared to execute in the first half that they gave the game away right from the start. Unlike Oregon, SMU wasn’t gifted two defensive touchdowns to create an illusory scoreboard rally. 

There are other similar coaching situations coming up. They won’t all look like THIS. Still, be careful laying points on the assumption a team in transition won’t be bothered by off-the-field drama. It can get ugly really fast when an unprepared favorite runs into a motivated buzzsaw. 

Underdogs are now 5-2 straight up (and ATS) in the college football postseason.  

Still more than 30 bowl games left, which means tons of value for those of you just now getting a chance to purchase our “VSiN Bowl Guide.” Compare your selections to those of Brent Musburger, Matt Youmans, Dave Tuley, and Point Spread Weekly Editor Steve Makinen. Brent swept Louisiana Tech and the Under in his “pick the board” effort. Dave Tuley won the Under (in a game that very clearly had Under yardage stats) to move to 67% so far on his Best Bets. Matt Youmans will try to match that with a Best Bet Thursday night. 

Tons of stats and trends for avid college football fans to study in the days ahead. Just $19.99 if you click here. Full season subscribers to Point Spread Weekly already have their copy. Stragglers can pay just $49.99 now to receive PSW all the way through the Super Bowl, and the “Bowl Guide” is automatically included. 

College Football Bowls: “Market Watch” for Birmingham, Armed Forces, Dollar General, and Hawaii bowls (after an update on Wyoming’s Josh Allen)

Before extending our “Market Watch” to this weekend’s bowl action, a quick update on a game we discussed yesterday. Wednesday afternoon, Wyoming announced that Josh Allen would return from injury to play quarterback for the Cowboys Friday in Boise against Central Michigan. The line is up from Wyoming -3 to -3.5 on that news. NFL scouts have been eyeing Allen through his whole career because of his size. Though, he did have a disappointing 2017 campaign compared to preseason expectations. 

Also of note, some stores have dropped Ohio from -7 to -6.5 against UAB in the Bahamas. That’s far from painted. But, it’s a good indicator that sharp influences are looking more seriously at the dog now. That’s not a game the public would jump on, nor is UAB a team they would jump on. Let’s see what happens between now and kickoff.

Our first look at the four games this weekend…featuring three Saturday, then a Christmas Eve encounter from the Pacific. 

Saturday: Birmingham Bowl (in Birmingham, AL)

Opening Line: South Florida -2.5 over Texas Tech, total of 68

Current Line: South Florida -2.5 over Texas Tech, total of 66.5

Let’s start with the fact that current forecast in Birmingham for Saturday is a 100% chance of rain, with some wind. Tough to ask for a typical Texas Tech shootout in those conditions. South Florida players are probably more accustomed to at least practicing in the rain. Might affect your thinking. Generally speaking, if a line opens at -2.5 and doesn’t move for several days, then sharps DON’T like the favorite. Three is such a common final margin that -2.5 would disappear fast if the wise guys wanted USF. So, either it’s a pass at this line for the market’s sharpest influences, or they’re biding their time hoping plus 3 comes into play. If it starts to come down late Friday or Saturday morning, we’ll know that sharps saw the game as a coin flip and decided they wouldn’t see a three. If you believe in using conference results as indicators, SMU and Temple from the American Athletic Association will have already taken the field in advance of USF. Texas Tech provides the Big 12’s bowl debut for the month. 

Saturday: Armed Forces Bowl (in Fort Worth, TX)

Opening Line: San Diego State -6.5 over Army, total of 46.5

Current Line: San Diego State -6 over Army, total of 46

Supposed to be sunny and clear Saturday in the metroplex. To the degree weather might have influenced the game, Army won’t have to worry about running its option attack in wet conditions. Purists are very excited about this ground attack battle. San Diego State star rusher Rashaad Penny has been a human highlight reel. Army is getting a lot of respect to be receiving less than a TD on a neutral field against the Aztecs. Any stores offshore or in Nevada that have been at -7 or higher saw Army money hit the board. Sharps seem to like Army at plus 6.5 or better. The public might lay the chalk on game day just because Army has historically been viewed as a doormat, and is in a letdown spot off an emotional rivalry win over Navy. 

Saturday: Dollar General Bowl (in Mobile, AL)

Opening Line: Toledo -8 over Appalachian State, total of 63

Current Line: Toledo -7 over Appalachian State, total of 61

We’re back in Alabama, which means rain and wind is expected to be a factor. Be sure you check on updated forecasts closer to kickoff. That might be why the total is dropping. A lot of movement in this one for a game not involving marquee teams. Dog money came in pretty aggressively at plus 8 and plus 7.5. Some stores went as low as Toledo -6.5 before favorite money started coming in. Seeing sevens almost everywhere, though some spots are only at -105 vigorish. Looks like sharp influences are currently bracketed between Toledo -6.5 and Appalachian State plus 7.5. 

Sunday: Hawaii Bowl (in Honolulu, HA)

Opening Line: Houston -1.5 over Fresno State, total of 48

Current Line: Houston -2.5 over Fresno State, total of 49.5

Some initial interest on Houston. But, now, we’ve been sitting below the key number of three for so long that you know there isn’t strong interest on the Cougars. Dog lovers are waiting to see if they can get Fresno State plus 3 on game day. There’s a chance the public will actively get involved since this is late on an NFL Sunday. If favorites keep winning, the public will have more money to play with! Doesn’t look like rain will be an issue. But conditions can change quickly on the islands. 

Hockey Notes: Vegas flu? Or, are the Golden Knights just that good?

More national media buzz the past few days about the fantastic start of the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL. Their 14-2-1 record at home is really jumping out at observers. Before the season started, many handicappers thought the VGK could have a stronger than normal home ice advantage because visiting players might run into off-ice distractions. 

What’s worth noting, though, is VGK’s solid 8-7-1 record on the road. That’s playoff caliber in itself. And, generally speaking, if you have that kind of road record, there’s a good chance you’re going to have an impressive looking home record even if there aren’t distractions for visitors. 

Three other NHL teams have very similar road records to Vegas. Let’s compare the home records…

Las Vegas: 8-7-1 on the road, 14-2-1 at home

Washington: 8-7-1 on the road, 14-5-0 at home 

Columbus: 8-7-1 on the road, 13-6 at home

Winnipeg: 8-7-4 on the road, 12-3-1 at home 

Lady Gaga isn’t starting a residency any time soon in Winnipeg. Nobody’s talking about the “Columbus Cold.” Not outlandish for .500 caliber road teams to have good home records. (Think we can get Lady Gaga to cut an opening for “The Edge” with Matt Youmans and JVT?)

Vegas is playing better than expectations across the board, which is why it’s up 15 units on the moneyline. “Vegas Flu” appears to be helping. It’s not the essence of their success story. Maybe just the edge of their early season glory.

Back with you Friday to set up a loaded football and basketball weekend. 

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