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How to handicap Big East and Pac 12 tourneys

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

March 6, 2018 10:42 PM

USATSI_10684470
Josh Perkins celebrates another Gonzaga title after the championship game of the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
© USA Today Sports Images

Championship Week frenzy continues with more champs crowned and more tourneys under way. Today we preview the Big East and Pac 12. Plus, a 38-14-1 point spread tendency in the NBA. No time to rest in VSiN City!

Big East Tournament: Villanova has the best stats, but not the best seed
With the Big East and Pac 12 tournaments starting Wednesday, let’s lead our coverage with expanded previews in those conferences. We start in Madison Square Garden with the second big college tournament over the past two weeks. 

Big East Margin Averages (League Play Only) 
Villanova plus 11.7
Xavier plus 4.2
Butler plus 4.1
Creighton plus 1.6
Seton Hall plus 0.5
Marquette -0.3
Providence -1.8
St. John’s -6.1
Georgetown -6.7
DePaul -7.3

Villanova was well clear of the field in terms of average margin, yet couldn’t turn that into a #1 seed because of a tendency to disappear late in close games when shots weren’t falling. The Wildcats are great at running up the score when things are going well. Somebody’s likely to give them a scare this week…and a few somebodies will be angling to do that in the NCAAs. Pretty competitive conference otherwise, particularly with St. John’s playing better down the stretch than its full slate average would suggest. Xavier is in discussions for a very high seed in the Big Dance. This margin average doesn’t suggest a true powerhouse. 

Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Efficiency Rankings 
1…Xavier #7 on offense, #73 on defense
2…Villanova #1 on offense, #25 on defense
3…Seton Hall #26 on offense, #55 on defense
4…Creighton #17 on offense, #67 on defense
5…Providence #98 on offense, #54 on defense
6…Butler #32 on offense, #37 on defense
7…Marquette #13 on offense, #164 on defense
8…Georgetown #93 on offense, #108 on defense
9…St. John’s #144 on offense, #20 on defense
10…DePaul #183 on offense, #42 on defense

And now you see why Xavier is vulnerable vs. quality. They don’t even rank in the top 70 nationally in defense after you adjust for pace and strength of schedule (according to Ken Pomeroy’s publicly available numbers through Tuesday at kenpom.com). Villanova has the most potent offense in the land when you adjust for context. Can it maintain its composure in crunch time this month? Note that the run of St. John’s was driven by elite defense. Butler is the most balanced team in the Big East, which might matter this week. 

Big East estimated “market” Power Ratings: Villanova 87, Xavier 81, Butler 78, Seton Hall 77, Creighton 77, Marquette 76, Providence 76, St. John’s 75, Georgetown 71, DePaul 70.

At the top, the market is in synch with the margin averages. Very condensed beneath Villanova and above Georgetown. Suggests some intense drama is heading our way. Note that St. John’s isn’t playing on its home court…but could have a boost from a home area crowd on the same floor where it defeated Duke. Can the Red Storm avoid complacency as a favorite over Georgetown?  

Wednesday
Georgetown (71) vs.  St. John’s (75)
Marquette (76) vs. DePaul (70)

Thursday
Xavier (81) vs. Georgetown/St. John’s winner
Creighton (77) vs. Providence (76)
Villanova (87) vs. Marquette/DePaul winner
Seton Hall (77) vs. Butler (78)

Truly an event where anything can happen give quality depth in the “spoiler” range and a top seed that’s suffered three outright losses and had to win one in overtime over its last eight games.

Pac 12 Tournament: Wednesday quadruple-header at the T-Mobile Arena gets things rolling
It’s a huge college basketball week here in Las Vegas. Just after the West Coast Conference tournament came to an end Tuesday with Gonzaga routing BYU, both the Pac 12 and Mountain West tournaments begin Wednesday with busy schedules. Let’s outline expectations in the Pac 12. 

Pac 12 Margin Averages (League Play Only) 
Arizona plus 7.1
USC plus 5.8
UCLA plus 5.5
Stanford plus 2.6
Utah plus 2.2
Oregon plus 1.9
Oregon State plus 1.5
Arizona State plus 1.3
Washington -0.2
Colorado -3.9
Washington State -10.2
California -13.7

A screwy season because Arizona State played its best ball before conference play even began. Normally that kind of margin distribution in a major conference would yield several obvious Dance threats. Instead, this league may only send two teams to the NCAA’s unless bubble dwellers impress the next few days. 

Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Efficiency Rankings 
1…Arizona #16 on offense, #95 on defense
2…USC #23 on offense, #104 on defense
3…Utah #71 on offense, #65 on defense
4…UCLA #19 on offense, #112 on defense
5…Stanford #109 on offense, #74 on defense
6…Oregon #62 on offense, #82 on defense
7…Washington #146 on offense, #69 on defense
8…Colorado #193 on offense, #62 on defense
9…Arizona State #89 on offense, #80 on defense
10…Oregon State #86 on offense, #110 on defense
11…Washington State #101 on offense, #287 on defense
12…California #292 on offense, #177 on defense

Hard to argue with skepticism about the Pac 12 if you run your finger down those defensive rankings from Pomeroy. Nobody in this league plays defense! At least not by Dance standards. Arizona was a preseason #1 nationally by some assessments, but barely cracked the top 100 defensively during the regular season. If those defensive marks tell a true story, it’s going to be a disaster for the Pac 12 in the Dance and the NIT. Though, on the bright side for Vegas locals, fans may be treated to some high scoring games this week. 

Pac 12 estimated “market” Power Ratings: Arizona 82, Arizona State 79, USC 78, Oregon 78, UCLA 77, Utah 77, Stanford 75, Oregon State 74, Colorado 72, Washington 72, Washington State 66, California 66.

Not great Power Ratings for an elite league. And, the top two haven’t been playing to those diminished expectations. Possible postseason pretender Arizona State is 4-12-2 ATS is last 18 games. Arizona is 4-10 ATS its last 14 that aren’t against Arizona State. 

Wednesday
Colorado (72) vs.  Arizona State (79)
Stanford (75) vs. California (66)
Washington (72) vs. Oregon State (74)
Oregon (78) vs. Washington State (66)

Thursday
Arizona (82) vs. Colorado/Arizona State winner
UCLA (77) vs. Stanford/California winner
USC (78) Washington/Oregon State winner
Utah (77) vs. Oregon/Washington State winner

Best of luck handicapping those events. Let’s check out what happened Tuesday in tournament basketball…

Tuesday ACC Tournament: Favorites all advance, but Notre Dame a big disappointment 
We won’t have room to run full boxscores from all the important Tuesday action. Here are some stat briefs. Games are presented in schedule order.  

Boston College (-3) beat Georgia Tech 87-77
A dominant performance inside, with BC shooting 57% on two-pointers, winning free throw attempts 37-19 and rebounds 47-37. On “1’s and 2’s,” the favorite won scoreboard 81-62. Only negative for BC was a high turnover count of 17. The Eagles play NC State Wednesday afternoon, and are a 3-point underdog on the early line. Note that the first game Wednesday will involve “bye” teams Louisville and Florida State. That early line is pick-em. 

Notre Dame (-17) beat Pittsburgh 67-64
So much for Notre Dame making a statement this week. Still time to do that, but this was a woeful performance against a truly horrible team. The Irish must have spent too much time reading about how easy its opener was going to be. Bonzie Colson was just 5 of 14 from the field, including 0 for 3 on treys. It took a free throw edge of 26-7 to eke out a win. Worth remembering that Michigan started slowly last week. Iowa’s several points better than Pitt in Power Ratings though. Notre Dame plays Virginia Tech Wednesday evening, a slight favorite of -1.5 on the overnight price. Big game!

Syracuse (-4) beat Wake Forest 73-64
Hard to see why this wasn’t a bigger blowout. Wake Forest was just 6 of 29 on treys. If shooting over the zone doesn’t work, not much of a shot for any Syracuse opponent. Also, the Orange were 19 of 25 on two-point shots (76%)! Syracuse also won the free throw battle 23-12. Looks like 17 turnovers from the favorites kept the scoreboard from getting too far out of reach. Syracuse plays North Carolina Wednesday night. Quite the doubleheader in Brooklyn.

ACC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Duke 87, Virginia 86, North Carolina 82, Notre Dame 80 (Colson back), Clemson 79, Florida State 79, Louisville 79, Virginia Tech 78, Miami 77, NC State 77, Syracuse 76, Boston College 74, Wake Forest 72, Georgia Tech 72, Pittsburgh 63.

Tuesday Championship Winners: Mostly chalk, but one big shocker as more schools got their tickets stamped 
There were six title tilts Tuesday night. We’ll take these in Nevada rotation order…

Horizon: Wright State (-10) beat Cleveland State 74-57
The Cinderella run for #8 seed Cleveland State came to an end. After knocking out #1 seed Northern Kentucky and #4 seed Oakland, Cleveland State ran out of gas as a big dog. Wright State won rebounds 40-30, and turnovers 12-6 to overcome what were relatively even shooting stats. More second chances, fewer wasted possessions. Wright State is expected to be about a #15 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Colonial: College of Charleston (-2.5) beat Northeastern 83-76 in overtime
Charleston rallied from 14 down at halftime. Northeastern had to shoot lights out from long range (15 of 27) to make it a game. Charleston was classier inside, winning “1’s and 2’s” by a count of 59-31. A credit to the short favorite it could hold off such a shooting outlier. Charleston is currently projected to be about a #14 seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

West Coast: Gonzaga (-9) beat BYU 74-54
Solid tourney for the Zags, who are peaking at the right time. BYU may have been out of gas after scoring an upset over St. Mary’s the night before. No reason to run stats, which were consistent across the board in a way you’d expect from a blowout. Gonzaga is expected to be seeded in the #4 to #5 range in the NCAA Tournament. Semifinal flameout St. Mary’s is still expected to reach the dance from the right side of the bubble. 

Summit: South Dakota State (plus 2) beat South Dakota 97-87
Hope you had the Over. Similar stats outside of treys, where SDSU hit 14 of 28 compared to SD’s 11 of 29. Basically your scoreboard margin right there. South Dakota State is expected to be seeded around #13, clearly a danger team in a 4-13 or even a 5-12 matchup. Remember the Jackrabbits when you’re looking for upset calls in your office pools.

Northeast: LIU-Brooklyn (plus 9.5) shocked Wagner 71-61
Big surprise here. Long Island will bring an 18-16 record from a low-level conference into the Dance. Hot shooting carried them Tuesday night. LIU shot 61% inside the arc while panicky Wagner managed only 6 of 33 on treys. Even favorites of this size can lose big games when the treys aren’t falling. LIU-Brooklyn will very likely be a #16 seed, possibly in a play-in game. 

Updating our estimated “market” Power Ratings for teams outside the major conferences…

Gonzaga 83
St. Mary’s 79
Loyola-Chicago 75 
Murray State 72 
South Dakota State 72
NC Greensboro 71
College of Charleston 69
Iona 67
Wright State 67
Lipscomb 65 
Radford 64 
LIU-Brooklyn 56

NBA Quickie: Philadelphia 76ers now 38-14-1 ATS in first quarters this year with Joel Embiid on the floor
You may have heard discussion in recent days on VSiN about a big trend involving the Philadelphia 76ers. It was first brought up on “Follow the Money” with Mitch and Pauly. Today, VSiN’s Sam Panayotovich dug through the record books to get the full details. 

Sam’s data:

*Philadelphia is 38-14-1 against the spread in first quarters this season when Joel Embiid plays.

*Philadelphia is 22-4-1 against the spread in first quarters its last 27 games with Embiid on the floor.

Those records include Tuesday night’s 32-29 first quarter win at Charlotte, in a game that Philadelphia (-2) would go on to dominate 128-114. 

Is that just some fluke, a data-mined tidbit that shouldn’t carry any analytical weight? This seems much more likely to reflect skill sets and coaching attitudes about bringing intensity to the start of every game. It’s not uncommon to see young teams, and head coaches trying to prove themselves at this level, show positive first quarter tendencies. They’re usually not this extreme! 

We’ll keep an eye on this for you through the rest of the season. And then through the NBA playoffs if merited. Philadelphia next plays Thursday night at Miami, then Sunday at Brooklyn. 

NBA Eastern Conference estimated “market” Power Ratings: Toronto 85, Philadelphia 83, Cleveland 82, Boston 82, Washington 80, Miami 79, Milwaukee 79, Charlotte 78, Indiana 78, Detroit 78, New York 75, Orlando 74, Brooklyn 73, Atlanta 73, Chicago 71.

NBA Western Conference estimated “market” Power Ratings: Golden State 90, Houston 89, Oklahoma City 82, Portland 82, San Antonio 81, Utah 81, Denver 81, New Orleans 80, Minnesota 80, LA Lakers 77, LA Clippers 78, Phoenix 73, Dallas 72, Memphis 72, Sacramento 71. 

We use a standard 3 points for home-court advantage. A reminder that lines can fluctuate from these norms on a nightly basis because of key injuries or schedule dynamics. Also, you’ll sometimes see the extreme ends of the spectrum condense because league powers are known to back off with big leads rather than running up the score. That’s why Toronto wasn’t -15 Tuesday at home against Atlanta. (Turns out they should have been with a 16-point win). Nor was Golden State -20 vs. Brooklyn.

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