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Duke just doesn't have depth to hold off North Carolina

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Grayson Allen and the Blue Devils were outscored 16-2 by the Tar Heels to begin the second half.
© USA Today Sports Images

North Carolina soars past Duke…the Cleveland Cavaliers clear out dead weight…plus previews of weekend blockbusters like #3 Purdue at #4 Michigan State and #12 Gonzaga at #11 St. Mary’s from Greg Peterson…all coming up right now in VSiN City.

College Basketball: North Carolina starts second half on 16-2 run to rally past archrival Duke 
The #9 Duke Blue Devils got off to a great start in Chapel Hill as a short underdog. A 49-point first half explosion had them on top of the favored #21 North Carolina Tar Heels. Duke’s shots STOPPED falling after the break, another reminder that this group probably doesn’t have the depth to survive the rigors of March. Does talented but inconsistent North Carolina? Let’s check the key stats.   

#21 North Carolina (-1.5) 82 #9 Duke 78 
Two-point Pct: Duke 57%, North Carolina 43%
Three Pointers: Duke 9/25, North Carolina 11/33
Free Throws: Duke 9/12, North Carolina 11/13
Rebounds: Duke 38, North Carolina 44
Turnovers: Duke 8, North Carolina 2
Shots/Half FT’s/TO’s minus Orebs: Duke 65, North Carolina 66
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Duke 5-8-4, North Carolina 12-13-11

For all the preview chatter about racehorse basketball, this was a SLOW game by the standards of these teams. We included a possession estimate above (which you can make on your own each game by adding up each team’s shot attempts plus one-half of their free throw attempts plus turnovers…then subtracting out offensive rebounds…analytics types use .44 free throw attempts but one-half paints the basic picture). These teams average in the low 70s according to Ken Pomeroy’s “adjusted tempo,” which has each among the 40 fastest teams in the nation. Mid 60’s here, which helped keep the game Under its posted total of 167.5.

North Carolina played the cleaner game, suffering only TWO turnovers in what should have been a high-pressure environment. The Tar Heels also won rebounding. Both teams clanked a lot of treys, particularly in the latter stages of the affair. Duke did the better job of getting easy baskets inside, though that skill disappeared in the second half.

First Half Score: Duke 49, North Carolina 45
Second Half Score: North Carolina 37, Duke 29

Ugly second half. Ring any bells from this past Saturday?

First Half Score: Duke 39, St. John’s 32
Second Half Score: St. John’s 49, Duke 38

Duke won’t get to play any home games in the postseason. Grayson Allen’s veteran moxie has been missing in action lately in testers away from Durham. 

North Carolina climbs to 18-6 on the season, 7-5 in the ACC. The Heels would have fallen to .500 in the league if they had lost this one. Duke dips to 19-5 and 7-4. Duke hasn’t been playing like a top 10 team lately, dropping three of its last four straight up and ATS. 

In terms of the Dance, both teams have issues that will make them upset fodder against talented spoilers. Yet, if you accept that it’s a “pull a name out of a hat” season, either could be a spoiler against somebody else you’re thinking highly of right now. It’s not like Virginia crushed Duke last week…and Virginia was the only top three team that didn’t lose as a big home favorite this past Wednesday night. 

NBA: Cleveland dispenses defensive dead weight, how will market adjust?
By now you surely know that the Cleveland Cavaliers made some dramatic moves in advance of Thursday’s trade deadline. They basically re-booted from offseason miss-steps by kicking those guys out of town! In short…

*Isaiah Thomas was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers (along with Channing Frye) in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Thomas turned out to be a horrible acquisition for the Cavs because of his poor defense and ball-hogging tendencies. Cleveland apparently underestimated Thomas’s enthusiasm for changing his game to fit in with an established championship contender.

*Dwyane Wade was traded back to Miami for a second-round draft pick. Cleveland decided to emphasize youth, something they need to do more of whether or not LeBron James sticks around after this season. All parties involved seem happy Wade can go back to a place where he’s loved by fans and doesn’t have to carry a big load on the floor.

*Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder (along with Iman Shumpert) were part of a three-way trade involving Sacramento and Utah. Cleveland gets George Hill and Rodney Hood. 

Rose, Thomas, and even Wade might as well have been defending in lounge chairs this season. And, they weren’t the only poor defenders! As of the trade deadline, Cleveland had the second-worst defense in the NBA in points-allowed per possession. 

The market must now adjust its Power Ratings and Total Point expectations. As a bettor, you can’t go into this “new look” thinking “I’ll bet Cleveland and the Under and it will be easy!” That could happen. Milwaukee has been playing Unders since Jason Kidd has been fired. We talked yesterday about Virginia and Under being an obvious tandem combo of late in the colleges. Your first task is to evaluate those market changes. If oddsmakers get it right, there’s no value. If oddsmakers overshoot the mark…it’s actually possible that Cleveland is still a fade, and their games will top overly-depressed totals. 

Here are your pre-trade base points…

Offense: 109.5 points per game
Defense: 110.2 points allowed per game
Pace: 99.9 possessions per 48 minutes according to ESPN’s “Hollinger Stats”

Cleveland had been playing at roughly a league-average pace (fractionally more). When LeBron puts this offense in “playoff mode,” it tends to slow way down and emphasize the half court sets. LeBron becomes a point forward who attacks the basket and draws fouls. 

In coming days, do your best to examine pace, offense, and defense. Watch the team, and watch the market to see if it’s capturing the new realities. 

NBA: Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards go OT
We wanted to check in on this one Thursday night because the market had been underpricing both teams of late. Washington had been 5-1 ATS since John Wall’s knee injury, with the only loss coming in a back-to-back spot at Philadelphia. Even with Kyrie Irving missing some time, Boston had been 6-1 ATS its last seven…with the only loss coming on the road at Toronto, the top Power Rated team in the East. 

Oddsmakers and a few sharps don’t believe Boston is best in the East, regardless of the current standings. And, those market influences also seem skeptical that Washington can continue to thrive without Wall. Let’s see how the matchup played out. 

Boston (-2) 110, Washington 104 (in overtime)
Regulation Score: Boston 98, Washington 98
Two-point Pct: Boston 52%, Washington 38%
Three Pointers: Boston 9/26, Washington 12/26
Free Throws: Boston 23/34, Washington 16/20
Rebounds: Boston 45, Washington 52
Turnovers: Boston 17, Washington 20
Shots/Half FT’s/TO’s minus Orebs: Boston 100, Washington 98 (in regulation)

Boston was the short favorite. So, Washington was a bucket better than expectations at the 48-minute mark. A few really good showings for this group against some quality opponents of late. Washington’s starters got the best of plus/minus in regulation vs Boston’s…so it was the Wizards' bench that kept this from being a home win. 

In the boxscore, Boston’s stellar defense really jumps out. It’s hard to hold opponents below 40% shooting on two’s in the NBA. The Celtics accomplished that while also forcing 20 turnovers! The Celtics are a well-coached championship threat because they defend with a passion. Credit Washington for hustle. The Wizards won rebounding 52-45, and rallied from 10 points down with five minutes to go in regulation. 

Boston keeps the East’s top seed in its grasp with a 40-16 record. Toronto is nipping at the Celtics’ heels with a 38-16 mark after beating New York Thursday night. Washington falls to 31-24. That trails #3 seed Cleveland and is in a virtual tie with Milwaukee at 30-23 right on the midpoint for determining home court advantage in the playoffs. 

Without Wall, the Wizards look like they’ll still be feisty, particularly against also-rans who have tossed the towel on their seasons. Boston isn’t going anywhere. 

Housekeeping: A hiatus for VSiN City
Before we get to Greg Peterson’s weekend college basketball previews, we wanted to let you know that VSiN City is going to take a hiatus. We’ve been going non-stop since March Madness of last season. After a two-week break, the road to March Madness of this season will be front and center.

Subscribers will still receive those handy South Point betting sheets every weekday. And, those emails will include links to articles of interest at the VSiN website. 

In the meantime, some handicapping fundamentals for you to keep in mind. 

*Home court advantage is worth about three points in basketball. Jeff Sagarin of USA Today was showing 3.15 for this season in college basketball, 2.56 in the NBA heading into Thursday’s action. Home sites at altitude will grade out a bit higher than that (but don’t assume a huge increase unless the visitor is dealing with fatigue). One of the biggest mistakes casual bettors make is assuming home floor is worth more than this. 

Remember that short-term recent extremes are likely to regress back toward three. Let’s say a team has been getting very good home results lately…and you want to pencil in five or six points for HCA because they’ve been covering spreads. Studies have shown that extremes regress back. If you pencil in the basic three for the next game…that’s going to be more accurate than five or six because of that likely regression. You’ll be afraid that you’re under-valuing HCA in those instances. More often than not, you’ll be glad you didn’t jump on a bandwagon. 

*When confronted with an ATS streak…good or bad…use it to evaluate the MARKET rather than the team. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “that team’s 1-8 ATS their last nine games, they SUCK.” Or, “Nebraska’s 14-1 ATS its last 15, that team’s ON FIRE.”

The first team has been overpriced lately, Nebraska underpriced. Eventually the prices will adjust. Prices are constantly adjusting all over the board. It’s your job to evaluate TODAY’S price for tonight’s game. If you’re focusing on recent, short-term ATS results (W’s or L’s) rather than skill sets, matchups, situational dynamics like injuries, fatigue or chemistry concerns, you’re forfeiting the ability to make your own number at the expense of relative trivia. 

Ask, what is the market missing about Nebraska? Why has the market been overpricing that 1-8 ATS team? If the issue has now been fixed from the market perspective, “playing the trend” is making a bad bet. 

*Winning handicappers know the importance of pace in college and pro basketball. If you’ve been ignoring that element, or just kind of winging it based on what you heard TV announcers say, you’ll likely find more betting success with additional study. You’ll be more likely to get a read on Over/Unders, and recognize which teams struggle when taken out of their comfort zone. Greg’s been talking about this in his previews. As long as you know addition and subtraction, you can eyeball your own estimates from any boxscore (total shots, minus offensive rebounds, plus one-half the number of free throw attempts, plus turnovers…right across the “boxscore” stat lines as they read at ESPN’s website). 

See you in a couple of weeks. Here’s Greg to take us to hiatus…

College Basketball: “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson

#3 Purdue at #4 Michigan State (Saturday 4:00 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Greg's Projected Line: Michigan State -4.5
Offensive Efficiency: Purdue #5, Michigan State #6
Defensive Efficiency: Purdue #6, Michigan State #8
Rebound Rate: Purdue #74, Michigan State #3
Percent of Shots are 3s: Purdue #100, Michigan State #227
Free Throw Shooting Percentage: Purdue #53, Michigan State #80
Pace: Purdue #211, Michigan State #170

Purdue and Michigan State might be the two most well-rounded teams in the country. Both rank in the top eight in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

With both teams also playing at a similar pace, this battle could come down to whether 3-point shooting or controlling the glass wins out.

Despite having multiple 7-footers, Purdue does not rebound as well as Michigan State. The Spartans take a lot more shots close to the rim and do a good job of boxing out.

Purdue is an elite 3-point shooting team, and will need to keep that going because Michigan State does not allow second chance opportunities.

Both teams have great records, but have been having problems recently pulling away from opponents. Michigan State is coming off a war with disappointing Iowa while Purdue took its first loss in conference play Wednesday against Ohio State. The Boilermakers blew a 14-point lead in the final 10 minutes of the game.

Whichever can play the most complete 40 minutes while limiting any big runs from their opponent should get the win and cover in the only regular season meeting between these two squads.

#12 Gonzaga at #11 St. Mary's (Saturday 10:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2)
Greg's Projected Line: St. Mary's -2
Offensive Efficiency: Gonzaga #4, St. Mary's #2
Defensive Efficiency: Gonzaga #28, St. Mary's #75
Rebound Rate: Gonzaga #6, St. Mary's #13
Percent of Shots are 3s:  Gonzaga #112, St. Mary's #240
Free Throw Shooting Percentage: Gonzaga #138, St. Mary's #14
Pace: Gonzaga #102, St. Mary's #347

The first time these two met, St. Mary's was able to slow down pace and rally in the second half to give Gonzaga a rare home loss. The versatile Bulldogs will look to avenge that loss Saturday.

Gonzaga typically has five capable 3-point shooters on the court with the green light to fire at any time. St. Mary's has more traditional big men. But, both styles have rebounded well enough to rank in the top 13 nationally.

Both highly efficient offenses attack differently. St. Mary's likes to use the full shot clock and shoot close to the rim. The Gaels only shoot 3s that are wide open or late in the shot clock. Gonzaga prefers to play at an above-average pace and will take quick threes several feet beyond the arc. Gonzaga does a good job of chasing down long rebounds or getting back on defense after misses.

Though St. Mary's shot just 6-for-12 at the free throw line in these teams’ previous get-together, the Gaels are the superior free throw shooting team.

This game will come down to which team can control tempo. A fast pace favors Gonzaga, while a slower game bodes well for the Gaels.

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