It’s rare for a so-called college basketball game of the year to start so early. Be sure you’re ready for a power lunch when No. 1 Baylor hosts No. 3 Kansas in the Big 12 at noon Saturday (ESPN).
Both teams have made very strong cases to earn No. 1 seeds in next month’s NCAA tournament. Both are on the short list of championship favorites, though this year’s short list is longer than usual in a parity-packed season. And surprisingly, given rankings respect, both teams have been making fortunes for bettors in recent action.
VSiN has mentioned often that betting markets have a tendency to underrate great teams because it’s assumed that lines are inflated by money from recreational bettors. That helped condense lines for postseason point-spread juggernaut LSU through the college football championship chase and for Kansas City through the Super Bowl.
Is Kansas-Baylor featuring the next college hoops champion? The ability of both to consistently clear hurdles may hint at the possibility:
— Kansas is 15-6 against the spread in its last 21 games, despite being one of the most public teams for years. Kansas has to play at a very high level just to match market expectations, let alone beat them. A 15-6 point-spread run is astounding in that context.
— Baylor is 10-3 against the spread in Big 12 play. The Bears also dominated Florida 72-61 as two-point underdogs in the Big 12-SEC Challenge (why was Baylor the underdog?). Recent betting patterns have repeatedly shown sharps fading the Bears because of expected regression. That has worked only three times in the new year.
This is a rematch from a Baylor shocker Jan. 11 in Lawrence. Baylor (+ 8) covered by 20 points in a 67-55 thrashing. Baylor’s offense won two-point shooting 46% to 44% and made 3-pointers 8-4 while committing only five turnovers. Baylor’s defense forced 14 turnovers and held Kansas 7-footer Udoka Azubuike to six points in 32 minutes.
In other words, no fluke. Kansas might have received some home cooking with a free throw edge of 11-5 yet still lost by double digits.
Baylor continues to pass litmus tests in impressive fashion. But Kansas is a 75% cover team in its last 20 games not including Baylor and will have the motivational impact of revenge — with the concurrent tendency for first-game losers to make important adjustments while winners stand pat.
Azubuike should have a chip on his shoulder. Leading Kansas scorer Devon Dotson was hobbled in the first meeting. Fans and bettors should see the best Kansas has to offer.
Every big college basketball game in February is a scouting opportunity for March betting. Even if you’re still transitioning from football to basketball in advance of the Big Dance, Kansas-Baylor is a must-watch opportunity.
Also, be on the lookout for other teams that could offer value through March because of market stubbornness. The work you do in February will pay off in March.