There are currently 22 NCAA men’s college basketball programs that are on pause due to COVID-19 protocols. This means that each team will likely be on pause for at least 10 days. I sincerely hope all of these programs return to playing basketball and that everyone stays safe. As a bettor, however, my mind immediately shifts toward “I should fade these teams in their first game back.” This isn’t something I advocate blindly backing, but it’s one angle of attack worth looking at when handicapping college basketball teams in the near future and for the duration of the 2021 regular season and postseason.
The lack of practices during these "down times" and the further lack of conditioning required to compete in a 40-minute college basketball affair can really have an impact these teams and the players when they step back on the court. Now some of these teams are only on pause for 10 days, while others can have longer stints of absence. For example, St. Louis returned to action last night at home vs. Dayton as 9.5 favorites. St. Louis had not played a game since 12/23 and lost the game outright. I’m not sure the bookmakers are putting in the work to account for these long pauses, and as bettors, we have to take advantage accordingly. Here's a quick look at teams currently "on pause" and their next scheduled games:
- Boston College (2/2 VS Florida St)
- Charleston (2/6 VS Towson)
- Cincinnati (2/4 VS Temple)
- Georgetown (1/30 VS Providence)
- George Washington (1/27 @ George Mason)
- Iona (2/3 VS Manhattan)
- Hampton (2/4 @ Longwood)
- Howard (2/1 VS NC Central)
- Maine (2/6 @ UMASS Lowell)
- Michigan (2/11 VS Illinois)
- Nebraska (2/3 @ Michigan St.)
- Northern Illinois (2/2 @ Western Michigan)
- Old Dominion (1/29 @ Western Kentucky)
- South Florida (2/3 @ Tulsa)
- UMASS Lowell (1/30 @ Albany)
- UMBC (1/30 @ NJIT)
- Texas Rio Grand Valley (2/5 VS Grand Canyon)
- Vermont (TBD)
Now that we've taken note of which possible to teams to fade upon their COVID-19 returns, let's take some time to look at teams who are on schedule to play this weekend. We have 15 total games on Saturday involving Top 25 ranked teams, and subsequently there are a handful of games that I have my eye on. Without further adieu, here are three marquee matchups that I like most for Saturday's main slate:
(Saturday 12 p.m.) #9 Alabama @ #20 Oklahoma: Projected Line (Kenpom): Alabama -1, Total 153
- Alabama is off to a 9-0 start in SEC play, and this team is excelling under head coach Nate Oats. Over 40% of the Crimson Tide's points have come from beyond the arc, and they play fast (#10 overall in tempo). They’ll face a tough defensive team in Oklahoma (#34 in defensive efficiency) on Saturday - in Norman, no less - in what should be one of the most exciting matchups of the weekend. Oklahoma has won four straight in Big 12 play, but the Sooners have struggled at defending the three ball this year (#255 in the nation). I expect 'Bama to excel beyond the arc and tip off as short road favorites.
(Saturday 6 p.m.) #15 Kansas @ #18 Tennessee: Projected Line (Kenpom): Tennessee -2, Total 132
- The total on this game is 132 for a reason, as both teams are stout defensively and like to keep their games at a slow pace while also wearing their opponents down. The Tennessee Volunteers will have a couple of extra days rest on host Kansas, so if you do like Kansas, I’d look to back them in the 1H.
(Saturday 6 p.m.) #8 Virginia @ #20 Virginia Tech: Projected Line (Kenpom): Virginia -4, Total 124
- The Virginia Cavaliers come into Blacksburg with a perfect 7-0 ACC record, and it's mostly because of their top playmakers in Jay Huff and Sam Hauser. The UVA duo leads the ACC in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency this season, but it is worth noting that they have also played the weakest strength of schedule in the entire ACC. The Hokies haven’t beaten their in-state rival Cavaliers since the 2018 season, and I do not see them prevailing at home this weekend either. Two key reasons why I also like Virginia on Saturday are that the Cavaliers are ranked #4 overall in the nation in free throw percentage (80%), as well as #5 in the nation with 13.9 turnovers per game. In a rivalry game where every possession will matter, I expect Virginia cover the -4 in Blacksburg here.