It’s rare for a “Game of the Year” in a college basketball conference to start so early in the day. Be sure you’re ready for a power lunch when No. 1 Baylor plays host to No. 3 Kansas in the Big 12 on Saturday (noon, 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, granting that 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 lines are inflated by “dumb money” from recreational bettors. That helped condense lines for postseason point-spread juggernaut LSU through the college football championship chase, and for the Chiefs through the Super Bowl.
Is Kansas-Baylor featuring our next college hoops champion? The ability of both to consistently clear hurdles may be hinting at the possibility.
- Kansas is 15-6 against the spread its past 21 games, despite being one of the most “public” teams for years in this sport. 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, and also dominated Florida, 72-61, as a two-point underdog in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. (Why were the Bears underdogs?) Recent betting patterns repeatedly have shown sharps fading the Bears because of expected regression. That has worked only three times since New Year’s.
This is a rematch of a Baylor shocker in Lawrence, Kan., on Jan. 11. Baylor (+8) covered by 20 points in a 67-55 thrashing. Baylor’s offense won 2-point shooting 46 percent to 44 percent and made treys 8-4 while committing only five turnovers. Baylor’s defense forced 14 turnovers and held Kansas’ 7-foot Udoka Azubuike to just six points in 32 minutes.
In other words, no fluke. Kansas may have received some home cooking with a made-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 percent cover team its past 20 games that weren’t against Baylor and will have the motivational impact of revenge Saturday … 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 Dance, Kansas-Baylor is a must-watch opportunity.
Also, be on the lookout for other college teams that could offer value through March because of market stubbornness. The work you do in February will pay off in March.