FIU worth closer study

February 19, 2002 8:19 AM
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Las Vegas basketball fans should be acquainted with Florida International. If not, you missed the boat on a winning ticket.

The Golden Panthers own the second best team in the nation against the pointspread with a 14-3-1 record, just behind Spread Beaters No. 1 team Kent State.

FIU led UNLV in last week’s matchup by seven points at halftime and wound up a very respectable 83-77 loser as a 13-point underdog. The narrow loss is nothing new for the Miami-based school.

Western Kentucky, which narrowly missed this week’s Top 25 ESPN/Coaches Poll, edged FIU by just two points Jan. 31. Two days later, FIU nearly overcame a 17-point deficit before losing to Middle Tennessee State, 71-69.

This is a young Division I program that is trying to make inroads into the University of Miami territory. The Golden Panthers managed to get affiliated with the Sun Belt Conference, which means a guaranteed invite to the NCAAs if they win the league’s postseason tournament next week.

FIU and Kent State are just more examples of teams not featured in your nightly sportscasts that can make bettors some money if the proper research is done.

There are several Spread Beaters to keep an eye on prior to the start of the tournaments. Hawaii has been a dominant team in the WAC at 14-4-1 ATS, earning a No. 4 ranking. Marist, another little-known team in the Northeast, is No. 5 with a 15-6 ATS mark.

Drexel, at 15-7 ATS, is the Philadelphia school nobody in the Big 5 wants to play. And, Yale has become a terror in the Ivy League with an 11-2-1 ATS record that includes a upset victory over perennial power Penn.

As for the Dirty Dozen, the North Carolina Tar Heels continue to head the pack at 3-14-1. Even though UNC beat Florida State in its last outing, it would hardly be considered a highlight to a dreadful season. Florida State, ranked No. 9 in the Dozen, is 5-12 ATS.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this group is UCLA, which is enjoying a solid season in the Pac 10 but lacks the ability to blow anyone away. The Bruins are just 8-16 ATS and have battled sluggishness all year, especially against weaker opponents.

Some other disappointing teams to crack the Dozen are Arkansas at No. 11 (6-13-1 ATS) and DePaul. The Blue Demons are a wreck, with an assistant coach running the team for an ailing Pat Kennedy and several off-court problems causing a distraction within the team.