Surprises in league play

January 09, 2001 7:01 AM
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Conference play got off to a roaring start last week and hit an early peak on Saturday when public choices Michigan State and Florida struggled on the road against respective league competitors Indiana and South Carolina, then eventually got beat on buzzer-beater three-pointers just a minute or so apart, to the delight of the home crowds and underdog players.

The television match-ups this week are sprinkled with a few non-conference payday games on Saturday, which are great for the networks’ intra-sectional interests, but can disrupt a team’s rhythm or focus, as the handicappers’ second of the four-stage betting season begins. Power ratings are the best guide for the early league games, until more head-to-head and common-foe games are completed.

Tuesday

Indiana 68, MICHIGAN 65 - IU got the money first time out on the conference road at Wisconsin, then followed that up with the win over the Spartans for its third cover in four outings, however, the Hoosiers failed their only effort as a road favorite at Indiana State. The Wolverines are 0-4 against the spread as a dog, but this will be their first try getting points at home.

Syracuse 69, RUTGERS 68 - Streaky Syracuse got the gutsy road cover, rallying the entire way to overtake Pittsburgh on Saturday for their second-straight cover after four-straight board failures. The Orange opened the season with four-straight failures and have just one loss this season, which came at home to Tennessee. Rutgers lost its first two conference games on the road, but covered as a dog to get the money in six of its last seven times out.

TENNESSEE 83, Alabama 75 -Alabama (12-1) played a relatively weak preseason schedule, but got the money rather handily at LSU in its conference opener - its first true road outing - to improve to just 3-4 against the number (1-1 as a dog), while the Vols (14-1) have covered five-straight, including the rally to win and cover in OT against Auburn on Saturday, after failing five-straight, and are 3-4 against the number as a favorite (1-2 at home).

FORDHAM 75, St. Bonaventure 71 - Bonnies opened the season 8-1 straight-up, including wins over Fresno and Charlotte, and covered their first six on the board, but now have lost three-straight, including two spread failures on the road against St. Louis and Temple in their conference opener. The Rams have wins over St. John’s and South Florida, but losses to Siena and Holy Cross, and this will be their second-straight try as a home favorite after landing close to the rising total in a non-conference home win against Will & Mary.

Wednesday

MARYLAND 86, North Carolina 77 - An underdog for just the second time this season, the Tar Heels have been a good money play of late, going 5-2-1 against the number, and found a way to rally and win at home against Wake on Saturday. The Terps were just 2-4 against the number on the non-conference board and led into ACC play with four-straight non-lined games, but opened the regular season with a pair of double-digit wins, covering at Clemson and failing at home against Tech.

Duke 88, NORTH CAROLINA STATE 79 - The Devils have covered five of their last six on the board, including a pair of double-digit covers to open the conference season, and they covered both of their true road games this season, while the Wolfpack lost, but got the money in their conference opener at Virginia after squandering the lead, to improve to 2-0 on the true road against the number, but 1-1 when getting points.

Thursday

Illinois 73, IOWA 70 - Illinois improved to 10-3 as a favorite after getting its two-straight home covers to open the conference season last week, but it is just 1-1 against the number as favorites on the true road. The Hawkeyes rallied to surprise Penn State after trailing most of the way to cover for just the second time in their last six tries against the number, improving to 1-1 as a dog, as they lost to Tennessee by 12 on a neutral floor in a preseason tournament.

UCLA 76, Southern California 73 - The Trojans (12-2) have covered three-straight, including its first two conference games, but had failed five-straight before that and this will be their first try at getting the points, as they are 4-7 as a favorite. The Bruins opened the conference schedule with a pair of home covers as double-digit favorites against the Washington schools, but this will be their first try laying single digits at Pauley, as they are 4-4 laying doubles at home.

UTAH STATE 79, Long Beach State 66 - 49ers have been double-digit road dogs in two of their last three games, getting the money once in a 13-point loss at Utah to improve to 1-2 when getting doubles and just 5-7 against the number for the season, including 1-3 on the true road. The Aggies, meanwhile, won but failed as a 2 1/2-point choice at home against the Utes and enter this contest with a 12-2 straight-up mark, but 3-3 against the number as a favorite (1-1 as a double-digit choice).

Saturday

MISSISSIPPI 74, Georgia 67 - The Bulldogs covered against Kentucky for their first cover as a dog on the road after failing three-straight away from home when getting the points. Before that, UGA had covered four-straight as a favorite at various venues. The Rebels come into the week 13-1 straight up and 6-1 against the spread, including 2-0-1 as a favorite. This will be Ole Miss’ first try as a home favorite and only second lined game at home, as they defeated Oklahoma in a December matchup as a short dog.

OKLAHOMA 77, Kansas 76 - The Jayhawks were blown out in this role in a pick ‘em game at Wake Forest earlier this season for their only straight-up loss of the year, and they failed in their first conference outing laying doubles at Texas Tech on Saturday to fall to 1-3 against the number on the true road. The Sooners blew an early lead as a short dog at Iowa State on Saturday for their second straight-up loss, both coming on the road, but they are 4-1 in their last five home outings on the board, although this will be the toughest home test to date.

NORTH CAROLINA 79, Marquette 62 - Golden Eagles with three-straight covers, but they failed in their only opportunity getting double-digits, losing by 16 at Xavier in mid-December, however, they got the money in two other chances as a road dog, including the dominating victory at DePaul last Saturday. The Tar Heels are 3-1 when laying doubles to non-conference opponents at home, failing only when laying nearly 30 to Buffalo.

KENTUCKY 76, Notre Dame 72 - The Irish have failed both of their true road opportunities, including their first try as a road dog last week at Syracuse. And they have now failed four-straight board opportunities, as they sandwiched in a series of four-straight non-board games before opening up the conference season. The Wildcats entered the week 3-6 against the number, losing an early-season non-conference affair to Penn State, before hammering Indiana at Rupp last month in a similar spot.

UTAH 74, Nevada-Las Vegas 66 - Rebels have six-straight wins entering the week and are 2-1 against the number as an underdog, while the Utes are 1-2-1 as a favorite and had failed their last two outings, including laying doubles to Long Beach. Utah also has home losses this season to Southern Utah and Weber State.

UCLA 83, Villanova 74 - The Wildcats entered the week with three-straight failures after three-straight board covers, as they didn’t get the money in non-conference trips to Georgia and Virginia Tech, winning in overtime last Saturday. The Bruins come into this game having just one cover in five non-conference home outing this season, but they are 3-2 against the number when laying double-digits at Pauley.

Arkansas 77, VANDERBILT 73 - Arkansas 1-6 against the spread so far, including last Saturday’s poor showing at Mississippi State, but it will become a road favorite here for the first time in three true trips, although it has failed all four tries when laying the wood. The Commodores are 2-1 as a dog, including a cover in a loss when getting a short price from Notre Dame early here last month, however, they entered the week with a pair of failures and have played a relatively soft schedule.

DEPAUL 74, Memphis 71 - Tigers covered as road dogs at Arkansas and Tennesse in the preseason. And they are 3-1 against the number away from home after dumping Houston with relative ease last Saturday for a season-high third-straight victory. The Demons are now 2-7 against the number this season, but are 6-2 straight-up at home and should end up as a short choice here.