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With Thomas' debut, call them the covering Cavs

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Isaiah Thomas made his debut for the Cavs with 17 points in 19 minutes.
© USA Today Sports Images

Isaiah Thomas makes his first appearance as a Cleveland Cavalier, the Kansas Jayhawks are stunned AGAIN on their home floor, plus our Wednesday tutorial right now in VSiN City. 

NBA: Isaiah Thomas debuts with 17 points in 19 minutes for Cleveland Cavaliers
While it’s a feel-good story for an NBA player returning from a serious injury, it might be a very important story for sports bettors. The Cleveland Cavaliers might start covering point spreads as home favorites! Cleveland entered the night 2-15-1 against the spread at home. But a blowout keyed by a star coming off the bench could be the red flag that signals things are about to change. 

Cleveland (-8.5) 127, Portland 110
Two-point Pct: Portland 50%, Cleveland 59%
Three Pointers: Portland 13/32, Cleveland 13/32
Free Throws: Portland 13/19, Cleveland 28/37
Rebounds: Portland 43, Cleveland 40
Turnovers: Portland 15, Cleveland 10

Cleveland is already known for attacking the basket and daring defenses to stop it. The addition of former Boston Celtic Isaiah Thomas now makes that a 48-minute challenge for opponents. You can see that the Cavs shot lights out inside the arc while also earning trips to the free throw line all night. Both teams shot identically from three-point range, meaning “everything else” was a Cleveland blowout that doubled the spread. 

Thomas scored 17 points in only 19 minutes, with a plus/minus on the night that matched his scoring and Cleveland’s victory margin. A bench unit of Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver is really going to spread out defenders, just as much as having LeBron James, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith does as starters. Let’s see if the market adjusts in coming weeks to what might be a new home floor potency.

Cleveland moves to 25-12 straight up on the season. Its 12-24-1 ATS record has been dragged down by that 3-15-1 home ATS mark. Note that Cleveland’s instantly improved depth helped them minimize minutes Tuesday, allowing for a possibly fresh performance Wednesday night in a budding rivalry with Boston. Portland falls to 19-18 straight up, 17-17-3 ATS. 

College Basketball: Kansas loses again at home, as “Phog Allen mystique” may be evaporating 
It’s one of the most respected home courts in all of college basketball. But major conference opponents no longer seem very intimidated when they come to visit Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. The Jayhawks finished 2-9 against the spread in their last 11 home games vs. major conference opponents last season…as an eventual Elite Eight team was consistently overpriced. Already 0-2 straight up and ATS this season against Arizona State of the Pac 12, and Texas Tech in the Big 12 home opener. 

2016-17 vs. Major Conference Opposition
Kansas (-14.5) beat Oklahoma 73-63
Kansas (-12) beat TCU 87-68 (covered)
Kansas (-5) beat West Virginia 84-80 in overtime
Kansas (-10) lost to Iowa State 92-89 in overtime
Kansas (-6.5) beat Baylor 73-68
Kansas (-16.5) beat Texas 79-67
Kansas (-13) beat Oklahoma State 87-80
Kansas (-11.5) beat Texas Tech 85-68 (covered)
Kansas (-13.5) beat Kansas State 90-88
Kansas (-19.5) beat Nebraska 89-72
Kansas (-18) beat Stanford 89-74

On average, a little more than three extra points baked into the line at the end of regulation with last season’s juggernaut. This season, a more vulnerable Jayhawks team has missed its two toughest home challenges by a mile. 

2017-18 vs. Major Conference Opposition
Kansas (-12) lost to Arizona State 95-85 (missed by 22)
Kansas (-7.5) lost to Texas Tech 85-73 (missed by 19.5)

There’s enough talent to run away and hide from cupcakes. This year’s team is going to be challenged regularly in the loaded Big 12. 

#18 Texas Tech (plus 7.5) 85, #10 Kansas 73 
Two-point Pct: Texas Tech 53%, Kansas 66%
Three Pointers: Texas Tech 6/24, Kansas 6/26
Free Throws: Texas Tech 21/25, Kansas 17/23
Rebounds: Texas Tech 44, Kansas 29
Turnovers: Texas Tech 10, Kansas 15
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Texas Tech 7-13-8, Kansas 6-3-4

Hard to believe that boxscore. Often, big road upsets are triggered by hot shooting nights from long range. Texas Tech was just 6 of 26 on treys, but still won straight up by double digits! Plus, Kansas shot very well inside when it was able to get close. STILL, a blowout home loss. You can see Kansas got crushed on the boards, and lost the turnover category. What’s going to happen against opponents that make three-pointers, or force more misses near the rim? 

The computers were still high on Kansas entering the game. Though, they were also very high on Texas Tech. Kansas has been erratic in recent weeks. When the Jayhawks shoot this poorly from long range, they become extremely mortal. Kansas falls to 11-3. Texas Tech is 13-1, and ready to show the world it’s for real. The computers already believed…and the polls may be caught up by next week.  

Earlier Tuesday in the Big 12…

#16 TCU (-1.5) 81, Baylor 78 (in overtime)
Regulation Score: TCU 64, Baylor 64
Two-point Pct: TCU 54%, Baylor 50%
Three Pointers: TCU 8/20, Baylor 1/12
Free Throws: TCU 17/25, Baylor 17/24
Rebounds: TCU 34, Baylor 45
Turnovers: TCU 11, Baylor 14
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: TCU 26-24-21, Baylor 34-33-37

So many Big 12 teams fighting for media attention! Entertaining game here. Baylor would have won if it could have made a few treys. Can’t shoot like that on your home floor. Good rebounding night for the Bears. Opponents who are accustomed to seeing the Baylor zone through the years are less thrown by it. Baylor will become a dangerous sleeper again in the Dance if they can get in the brackets. TCU has work to do to grow from a “Round of 32” type team to Sweet 16 caliber. The Horned Frogs are now 13-1 straight up, 7-6 ATS in boarded games. Baylor is 10-4 straight up, 3-4 ATS because of a slew of non-boarded games. 

College Basketball: Xavier and Florida score big Tuesday wins
Let’s run through the key stats in the other two games Greg Peterson previewed for us Tuesday. 

#5 Xavier (-6.5) 86, Butler 79
Two-point Pct: Butler 49%, Xavier 48%
Three Pointers: Butler 7/27, Xavier 8/20
Free Throws: Butler 6/8, Xavier 24/37
Rebounds: Butler 42, Xavier 47
Turnovers: Butler 5, Xavier 10
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Butler 38-34-31, Xavier 16-11-13

Tough schedule spot for Butler coming off the huge upset of Villanova. They were able to rally back from a double-digit second half deficit…but never threatened to steal a win in the final minutes. Huge edge for Xavier at the free throw line. Really, that was everything. Muscateers were plus 18 points from the line, in a game they only won by seven. Some of that was Butler’s letdown…might have been some home cooking in the mix too. Xavier moves to 15-1 straight up, 12-4 against the spread. The computers may be nudging them higher very soon. Butler falls to 12-4 straight up, 8-7 ATS.  

Florida (plus 1.5) 83, #11 Texas A&M 66
Two-point Pct: Florida 44%, Texas A&M 43%
Three Pointers: Florida 17/28, Texas A&M 8/19
Free Throws: Florida 0/1, Texas A&M 4/5
Rebounds: Florida 29, Texas A&M 39
Turnovers: Florida 7, Texas A&M 16
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Florida 35-31-38, Texas A&M 11-27-32

Greg let you know Tuesday that Texas A&M would be missing three starters. Clearly the market didn’t make a big enough adjustment for that. The Aggies weren’t able to earn trips to the free throw line or get many easy looks inside. Florida started draining treys from the outset, building a 46-30 halftime lead. Florida is 10-4 straight up despite some early struggles (6-7 ATS). Texas A&M is 11-3, but tied for last in the SEC with Tennessee at 0-2. The Aggies are 5-6 ATS, but 1-4 ATS their last five board games. 

Time for tonight’s edition of “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson. After that, we’ll close out our Wednesday report with this week’s tutorial. 

College Basketball: “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson

#12 North Carolina at #24 Florida State (7 p.m. ET on ESPN2)
Early Line: Florida State by 1.5

North Carolina and Florida State both enter their showdown with two losses, as the Tar Heels are 12-2 and Florida State is 11-2. The overall records are similar, which may shock some people as Florida State has been one of the best against the spread teams this season at 9-2.

Many bettors seem to be adjusting to their folly from Saturday as Florida State opened as a 9.5 to 10-point underdog against Duke in most spots and closed getting between 11.5 and 12 points. The Seminoles lost the game 100-93.

On the flip side, North Carolina has also treated bettors very well, going 8-5 against the spread this season. Despite that, North Carolina was bet down over two points in most spots in its most recent game against Wake Forest, going from 16-point favorites to 14. Much of this could be due to the deficit of recency bias, as the Tar Heels lost outright as 25.5 favorites against Wofford on December 20.

It seems as though both the experts and public are bullish on Florida State and bearish on North Carolina.  Florida State opened in most spots as a 1.5 home favorite and stayed at No. 24 in the AP Poll from last week despite a loss while a four-point win versus Wake Forest win sent North Carolina from No. 13 to No. 12 despite a lot of carnage in the top 10.

Florida State has done it with defense, allowing .878 points per possession, which ranks 17th in the country. North Carolina will try to neutralize this with good overall team rebounding as its 58.3 percent rebounding rate is number three in DI college basketball.

With North Carolina being 22nd in the country in offense efficiency according to KenPom and Florida State being No. 38, this could turn into a shootout the could come down to whether or not the Tar Heels can get second chance opportunities against a Seminoles defense that allows foes to shoot just 37.9 percent from the floor.

#8 Virginia at Virginia Tech (9 p.m. ET on the ACC Network)
Early Line: Virginia -1.5

Virginia and Virginia Tech will renew an intra-state rivalry on Thursday as the Cavaliers enter with a 12-1 record and the Hokies at 11-3. These two teams play very differently, which will cause a clash of styles.

Virginia is third in the nation in defensive efficiency, allowing points 0.823 per possession. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, scores 1.176 points per possession, which is 11th in DI basketball.

Virginia also slows things down, averaging 64.1 possessions per game. That is the lowest number in college basketball. The Hokies rank 61st in that category with 75.5 possessions per game.

These teams have both been a bit undervalued thus far, with both going 7-3 against the spread this year. While Virginia's defense has propelled it to that mark, Virginia Tech has done it with the nation's top effective field goal percentage at 61.5 percent. An effective field goal percentage is calculated by having 3-point baskets counting for 1.5 times more than a made 2-point basket 

The line opened with Virginia as a 1.5-point favorite despite hitting the road, which shows what level this team is playing on. With Virginia Tech being an NCAA Tournament team in the minds of many, though one that would likely not receive a high seed, it is an indicator that there is a belief that Virginia could make a run to the second week of the NCAA Tournament.

A good start is paramount for Virginia Tech as the Hokies average 43 points in the first half of games, which is eighth in DI college basketball. Virginia gives up just 23.9 points in the first half of games, which is tops in the country.

VSiN City Tutorial: How sharps “position” their bets to maximize profit potential
Thanks Greg. Now to this week’s tutorial.

To beginning gamblers, nothing sounds more fun that “hitting a middle.” Little risk. Big reward. You outsmarted the market by betting the favorite at -2.5, the underdog at plus 3.5, and cashed BOTH when the game landed right on the three. 

Hey, that is a lot of fun. What isn’t a lot of fun for recreational bettors is living in front of a computer screen so you can scout out those opportunities when they arise, or “rooting” for your bet to win once the game has started. We know a lot of you bet for entertainment purposes. If your only stake in a game is “the final margin HAS to land on a certain number,” you’ve just signed up for hours of frustration for the occasional hit. 

What makes more sense for both profit and entertainment is to “position” yourself to still be rooting for your preferred side while having a chance to win more units than you’re risking.

It’s not uncommon for sharps that “bet for value” to get gradings in the same game at different prices. Let’s say, for example, that a syndicate uses a model that gets a grading of “favorite by SIX” in a given football matchup. Six is a key number. That syndicate will shade any prices that are off the six.

We talked last week about how sharps tend to bet favorites early in the process in advance of public interest (the public loves betting favorites as a general rule), then bet underdogs late in the process after the line has risen. In our current example, let’s say that oddsmakers open the game at Favorite -5.5.

*Sharps bet ONE unit on Favorite -5.5 (with a grading of six on the game)

After a public bandwagon starts and continues through the week, the point spread rises to Favorite -7.

*Sharps bet TWO units on Underdog plus 7 (it takes eight to beat them)

The grading on the dog is bigger, because there’s a one-point difference below a key number. Sharps are usually on underdogs anyway…so this is a realistic real-world example. Look at how the sharps are positioned for outcomes around the strike point. Ignoring vigorish for a moment, sharps in essence have a one-unit bet on the Underdog (two units on the dog, one of the favorite). Yet…

*Favorite by 8 or more: Sharps lose one unit (losing dog bet, winning favorite bet)
*Favorite by exactly 7: Sharps win one unit (pushing dog bet, winning favorite bet)
*Favorite by exactly 6: Sharps win THREE units (both bets win!)
*Favorite by 5 or less: Sharps win one unit (winning dog bet, losing favorite bet)

Now, imagine YOU got in on “Favorite -6” in the middle of the week. Simple enough. You’re risking one unit on the favorite. You know what it takes to win. You know what it takes to lose. If the game lands right on six you push. No harm no foul. 

The SHARPS, using intelligent positioning, also have one unit at stake. Yet, if the game lands on six, the win is for THREE units! If the game lands on seven, it’s still worth one unit even though his model’s grading was off a point. 

An ability to benefit from the general flow of the market is one of the biggest reasons sharps grind out a living over time. This is a simplification…but whenever YOU are risking one unit on a team, a sharp may be betting two units on one side, one unit on the other, both at preferred lines. Sharps bet numbers, the public bets teams. You curse a push because of the time you wasted watching the game. He opens another bottle of champagne. 

See if you can develop ways to “time” the market based on what you know about public tendencies. Have a number in mind for the opener. If you like the favorite, bet it EARLY on the assumption the public will agree with you. Instead of just one unit on the favorite, bet TWO on the favorite initially. After the line move, bet ONE unit on the underdog to limit your overall risk to one unit…but set up the potential for a three-unit windfall if the game lands in your window. 

Now, the caveats:

*Because of the vigorish, you’re not technically risking “one unit” to win “one unit” when you have two units going one way, one the other. This gets a little complicated if you haven’t done a lot of sports betting. You lose 1.2 units on losses (plus 1 for the win, -2.2 on the lost bet). You win 0.9 units on your victories (plus 2 for the win, -1.1 on the lost bet). If you’re used to thinking in $100 intervals, you’re risking $120 to win $90 on your main assessment, knowing you’re positioned to hit part or all of your “middle window” when the game lands on or close to the number. If you use stores that adjust the vigorish, you can improve your odds by using -105, even money, or plus 105 or better when you become better at reading the market. (We’ll save this for another day…but if you can position yourself to bet both sides of the equation at even money…you could bet much bigger either way without hurting your risk…say $500 on your preferred side, $400 on the other side…and those “middle” windfalls become very big). 

*You must have a proven ability to read the market! It’s not that difficult given known public tendencies. But you don’t want to over-bet the favorite initially, only to find that the line is moving the other way. Then you’re stuck with too much exposure on a team that the market is telling you is the wrong side. Limit the approach to when you’re betting EARLY and you’re very confident about how that line is likely to move through the week (in football) or before tip-off in basketball. 

That’s it for Wednesday. Back with you Thursday to recap the key stats from North Carolina/Florida State and Virginia/Virginia Tech in college hoops, We’ll also review Cavs/Celtics in the NBA (and update our pro basketball “market” Power Ratings), and begin our expanded stat previews for the NFL’s Wildcard Weekend with Saturday’s early game matching Tennessee at Kansas City. 

Don’t forget that VSiN City is currently running seven-days-a-week. That will allow for daily coverage this weekend of the NFL Playoffs and a loaded college basketball slate. 

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