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Bettors' love of Duke is blind, but for how long?

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

Virginia Tech's Chris Clarke dunks against Duke.
© USA Today Sports Images

Duke shocked again, just as bettors had fallen back in love! Stats, storylines, and ramifications for the ACC and NCAA tournaments…plus Big 12 summaries and the potentially profitable Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday in VSiN City. 

ACC Basketball: Virginia Tech rallies from 15-point first half deficit, closes on 13-3 run to upset #5 Duke
We told you Duke fans to hold off on ordering those Final Four tickets! Just as the Blue Devils had regained footing from a very ugly loss at St. John’s earlier this month, a reminder that it will be very difficult for Duke to run the table in March. 

Yes, switching to a zone defense has helped. You’ll see in a moment Duke held Virginia Tech to less than a point per possession in Tuesday’s loss. But the market enthusiasm that launched Duke to the top of some futures tables, and to #1 in the nation in Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings (USA Today) may have been ignoring too many other vulnerabilities. 

Virginia Tech (plus 5.5) 64, #5 Duke 63 
Two-point Pct: Duke 54%, Virginia Tech 61% 
Three Pointers: Duke 8/28, Virginia Tech 5/22
Free Throws: Duke 11/15, Virginia Tech 15/19
Rebounds: Duke 37, Virginia Tech 24
Turnovers: Duke 18, Virginia Tech 12
Estimated Possessions: Duke 67, Virginia Tech 67
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Duke 3-1-4, Virginia Tech 34-41-28

What are those vulnerabilities? Let’s run through a few…

*Lack of poise in tight games. Duke turned the ball over 18 times as the superior team in market pricing and the computers. The Blue Devils also launched 28 treys even though they were scoring well inside when they could get there. We saw this in a recent loss to North Carolina too. When the going gets tough, Duke loses its patience and starts launching bombs. The going will get tough in the ACC tournament and the Big Dance. Duke can’t panic like this and string together wins. 

*Lack of toughness inside defensively. You can see that Virginia Tech shot 61% inside the arc (17 of 28). That’s not guarding the rim. That’s standing still with your arms in the air while ballhandlers run by you. The zone can help hide this weakness against opponents who aren’t smart enough to patiently creating lanes. Worth noting that Virginia Tech was a disappointing 5 of 22 on treys (after Syracuse “rallied late” to finish 6 of 25 on treys Saturday). Tech knew what to do when it got in the paint, as will other ACC and Dance foes. Duke will eventually run into a team that hits some treys too. 

*Lack of quality depth. This was Duke’s second game in three days, and it faded badly down the stretch. We mentioned in the subhead that Virginia Tech closed on a 13-3 run. Duke led 60-51 with five minutes to go. If the Blue Devils run out of gas in this kind of spot, what’s going to happen in back-to-backs in the ACC tournament? What’s going to happen on Dance weekends against opponents better than Virginia Tech? 

We’re not saying Duke’s name shouldn’t be in the hat. But that’s all they are, just a name in the hat. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that college basketball contenders are on a totem pole this season. A lot of talented teams are standing side-by-side on the same pancake. Being top four in the computers doesn’t have much margin for error against the teams 20-40 spots below that. You saw that with Villanova at Creighton the other day as well. 

It will be interesting to see how the market reacts to this result moving forward. Important influences want to pound the Blue Devils when it looks like things are going well. It’s not just the public. Quants are getting gradings to Duke even with eye-test flunkings this month against Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and St. John’s (and last month’s home loss to national championship threat Virginia). 

Let’s get to our estimate of how “the market” is rating teams in the ACC this season. If you’re new to the site in this build-up to March Madness, we make a good faith effort to evaluate how “the market” as a composite is rating major conference teams based on point spreads. We use 3 points for home court advantage (respected analytics sites have that as the base value across the sport). Then, we build a scale that hopefully allows you to project future point spreads in any matchup. 

Duke was -5.5 at Virginia Tech here. That would mean about 8-9 points better on a neutral court. We went with eight, and stuck the teams eight points apart in our estimate. Here’s the whole ACC based on the most recent lines for each team. 

ACC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Duke 87, Virginia 86, North Carolina 83, Clemson 80, Florida State 79, Virginia Tech 79, Louisville 78, Miami 77, NC State 77, Syracuse 76, Notre Dame 76, Georgia Tech 73, Wake Forest 73, Boston College 73, Pittsburgh 64.

Let’s see if Duke drops a smidge next time, based on Tuesday’s reminder to the market that the Blue Devils have trouble sustaining perceived superiority over the field. 

Big 12 Basketball: Kansas and West Virginia both win at home by 10 points
Not much drama in the Big 12 Monday night, unless you were a bettor sweating garbage time in Lawrence. Then, there was a lot of drama!

#6 Kansas (-12) 80, Texas 70 
Two-point Pct: Texas 50%, Kansas 67% 
Three Pointers: Texas 9/28, Kansas 7/16
Free Throws: Texas 3/5, Kansas 3/10
Rebounds: Texas 30, Kansas 37
Turnovers: Texas 12, Kansas 13
Estimated Possessions: Texas 71, Kansas 68
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Texas 43-37-41, Kansas 9-6-7

The Horns didn’t come out of the gates believing they could win, given Mo Bamba’s absence due to injury. But, they did hang around through garbage time to get the cover after trailing 45-32 at the half. Bettors had to sweat the number over the last seven minutes of game action. Texas backers ended up getting the money.

Kansas obviously took advantage of Bamba’s absence with a 28 of 42 shooting performance in the paint. Texas is a bubble team at the moment, and pretty obviously NOT a Dance-caliber team if Bamba is in street clothes. Workmanlike victory for the Big 12 champs, who are still just 5-15-2 ATS at home against major conference opposition the past two seasons (even with the recent fortunate “free throw” cover vs. West Virginia).

If this is your first day in VSiN city. We use the simple formula Shots…minus Offensive Rebounds…plus one-half Free Throw attempts…plus Turnovers to estimate possessions for each team. Sometimes technical free throws, or a counting error in the initial post-game box score can create a wider difference than you’d expect. Important to at least know which games were at fast, average, or slow paces so you can get a read on team preferences and skill sets. 

#20 West Virginia (-7) 84, #12 Texas Tech 74 
Two-point Pct: Texas Tech 45%, West Virginia 53% 
Three Pointers: Texas Tech 10/24, West Virginia 10/23
Free Throws: Texas Tech 16/25, West Virginia 16/27
Rebounds: Texas Tech 40, West Virginia 32
Turnovers: Texas Tech 13, West Virginia 5
Estimated Possessions: Texas Tech 65, West Virginia 65
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Texas Tech 11-13-12, West Virginia 12-9-9

You can tell Texas Tech played with a hangover off Saturday’s loss to Kansas because this normally great defense allowed 84 points on only about 65 possessions! Only five forced turnovers while letting West Virginia hit 53% of its deuces. This was a high scoring game (Over by 17 points) given that low tempo. 

That’s now four straight losses straight up and ATS for the Red Raiders after peaking at #6 in the AP poll. They really can look good when things are clicking. But, the market has overpriced them in 10 of their last 15 outings. An overrated team if you’re thinking of them as championship material. But, still just as much a spoiler as all the other names in this year’s hat. 

Big 12 estimated “market” Power Ratings: Kansas 86, West Virginia 84 at home…83 on the road, Texas Tech 83 at home…82 on the road, TCU 81, Oklahoma 81 at home…80 on the road, Kansas State 79, Baylor 79, Texas 79 (77 without Bamba), Oklahoma State 77, Iowa State 73 at home...72 on the road.

NBA: Lakers aren’t tanking, may be offering great value vs. teams who are
There’s been a lot of media chatter since the All-Star Break about how the bottom quarter of the NBA has gone into tank mode for draft positioning. There aren’t any teams as bad as Philadelphia was during “the process” who are going to finish anything like 10-72. But, there are several teams right around the 20-win mark right now who aren’t looking to push any higher. 

Though the young and talented Los Angeles Lakers are a mile away from playoff contention, they’ve made it clear that they’re NOT tanking. Check out these results since the All-Star Break…

LAL Since the ASB
Lakers (-4) beat Dallas 124-102
Lakers (-1.5) beat Sacramento 113-108
Lakers (-2) won at Atlanta 123-104

That’s a 3-0 straight up and ATS record, beating the market by 18, 3.5, and 17 points. The offense has put on a show. The defense really doesn’t have to impress against opponents using lineups designed to fail. (The consensus from NBA twitter is that the players themselves on bad teams aren’t losing on purpose, but the franchise brain trusts are putting poor lineups on the floor to lessen the chances of victory.)

Note, also that the Lakers covered by 23 and 11 points in their prior two spots as favorites before the Break…even against playoff-bound Oklahoma City. 

Lakers (-1) beat Oklahoma City 106-82
Lakers (-8) beat Phoenix 112-93

Let’s run the numbers from Tuesday’s win in Atlanta…

LA Lakers (-2) 123, Atlanta 104
Two-point Pct: Lakers 56%, Atlanta 47 % 
Three Pointers: Lakers 15/33, Atlanta 8/36
Free Throws: Lakers 14/19, Atlanta 24/34
Rebounds: Lakers 59, Atlanta 41
Turnovers: Lakers 23, Atlanta 11
Estimated Possessions: Lakers 113, Atlanta 116

A lot of the games involving tankers are devolving into schoolyard or pick-up basketball. A very fast tempo here…and way too many turnovers for the Lakers. It’s telling that the team totaled 23 giveaways with no individual player suffering more than three! But, amidst the slop was high energy from a group wanting to put on a show. You see a big rebounding edge, and an ability to get easy buckets inside and open looks outside. 

In the NBA, if you can find teams trying to put on a show at cheap prices against franchises who aren’t even trying to win…that’s going to earn you some money. Oddsmakers will find it difficult to price the Lakers like a playoff team, even if LA is winning big. 

Not too many obvious gifts on the upcoming schedule. Orlando on March 7 is the only imminent soft touch. But, a team performing like the Lakers can certainly take advantage of superior opponents who take them too lightly, or hope to coast past them. Chances to do that soon at Miami, at San Antonio, and home vs. Portland. 

NBA: Detroit Pistons fall to 1-10 ATS since Blake Griffin acquisition with blowout loss Monday at Toronto
That got ugly fast! It wasn’t too long ago that we were running the numbers from Detroit’s home blowout of Portland. Fans were hoping that result was a sign of a run at the Eastern playoffs for the Pistons. That’s still the only cover of the Blake Griffin era in Motor City!

Toronto (-10) 123, Detroit 94
Two-point Pct: Detroit 40%, Toronto 60% 
Three Pointers: Detroit 7/22, Toronto 17/38
Free Throws: Detroit 15/20, Toronto 22/23
Rebounds: Detroit 42, Toronto 47
Turnovers: Detroit 13, Toronto 18
Estimated Possessions: Detroit 104, Toronto 106

In 33 minutes, Blake Griffin had one rebound. ONE REBOUND! You know the Pistons didn’t acquire him to take just 12 shots and grab one board against an important conference rival. And look at that horrible team defense in the paint. 

The team’s body language has been particularly ugly in recent action, which is part of why they were such big dogs here. True that this was day two of a back-to-back. But, Sunday’s loss to Charlotte was basically a no-show from the get-go. Detroit is now 2-6 straight up its last eight, and no longer seems like a threat to reach the #8 seed in the East. 

#7 Philadelphia 32-26
#8 Miami 31-29
#9 Detroit 28-32
#10 Charlotte 27-33

Detroit is more in danger of being chased down by Charlotte than they are of catching Miami based on recent form. 

We’re early in a tough fatigue stretch for this fading team too. It must host Milwaukee Wednesday. Next are road games at Orlando, Miami, and Cleveland Friday, Saturday, and Monday. The blowout loss in Toronto was game two in a Sunday-Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Monday gauntlet. Six games in nine days including two back-to-backs and a lot of travel. 

Before we call it a day, our first post-hiatus update of estimated “market” Power Ratings in the NBA. We’ll keep an eye on the tankers. It could be that some “74” type teams are going to start looking like “71” type teams. Will take more than a short post-ASB sample size to pin that down. Based on the point spreads of Monday and Tuesday, we have it…

NBA Eastern Conference estimated “market” Power Ratings: Toronto 84, Cleveland 83, Philadelphia 82, Boston 81, Milwaukee 80, Washington 80, Indiana 79, Charlotte 79, Miami 78, Detroit 78, New York 74, Brooklyn 74, Orlando 74, Chicago 73, Atlanta 71.

NBA Western Conference estimated “market” Power Ratings: Golden State 89, Houston 87, Oklahoma City 83, San Antonio 82, Utah 82, Minnesota 81, Portland 81, Denver 80, LA Clippers 79, New Orleans 78, LA Lakers 76, Dallas 74, Memphis 74, Sacramento 73, Phoenix 73. 

Remember that lines can fluctuate wildly from day to day because of injuries to key players, rest breaks for stars, or the projected impact of back-to-back spots. 

Back with you Wednesday to preview the Big 10 tournament featuring potential #1 Dance seeds Michigan State and Purdue that will be set to tip in Madison Square Garden. We may also run the NBA numbers from Tuesday night matchups featuring Philadelphia/Miami and Washington/Milwaukee. No slow nights in VSiN City! 

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