For the day after Christmas, we've got a nice little slate of ACC Basketball to whet our betting appetites. It’s a small slate, but it packs a big punch. On one hand we have a matchup of national powers while on the other we have a plucky little interstate rivalry against teams looking to find their national relevance. Let’s get going.
Kentucky is 1-5. I repeat, Kentucky is 1-5. That’s just really weird to think about. It makes sense though. The Wildcats usually struggle early in the season given the difficulty in having a team full of newcomers gel right off the jump, but it’s magnified when you’re trying to do so in the middle of a global pandemic. Louisville on the other hand has been good, though a blowout loss to Wisconsin gives me pause. I’m going to chalk that up to an off night and think the Cardinals come ready for this game. They’d better given their coach, Chris Mack, had some choice words for Kentucky back in the fall. Louisville should win and the number is ok, but I am looking at the under. Both teams are better on the defensive end than on offense, and given there won’t much of a crowd, this one could be a little sloppy to start. Both play fairly slowly on defense so I don't expect this game to get too far into the sixties.
Pick: Under 133.5
To say I’m giddy about this game would be an understatement. My parents grew up in Spokane and up until a couple years ago most of my extended family still lived there. I’ve been on Gonzaga as a secondary favorite team since their run began in the late nineties. I have an uncle who periodically brings up how impressed he was when Sean Singletary dropped 37 on the Zags in 2007. But I digress, despite my family ties to the Gonzaga program, it’s truly a game that should be exciting. It’s a contrast of styles to say the least and one that has obvious national implications. Will Gonzaga cement their place at the top of the national rankings after completing perhaps the greatest non-conference slate known to man or can Virginia get a signature win and prove it did belong as a top-five team to start the year? As far as the game is concerned it will all come down to whether or not Gonzaga can make threes. It’s really that simple. Regardless of opponent, Virginia has shown year after year they can make a team play their style. Therefore, the Hoos will keep the Zags out of the paint and force them outside. On the year, Gonzaga is shooting only 34% from deep, but that is bolstered by a 13-26 effort against Iowa. Digging further, Jalen Suggs made seven of those 13. With only 21% of their scoring coming from outside the arc, they certainly haven't needed to shoot it well from deep, but that will change against the pack line. If they shoot lights out, it will be a long day for Virginia, but if Virginia does it’s thing and keeps the low post scoring to a minimum, a couple misses here or there can really impact the game. In a game like this, I’m generally inclined to go under since the public is going to be reticent to believe Gonzaga will score a significantly lower number of points than they have all year, but the total is about right. It’s comparable to the totals we saw in 2019 for games against a team like Duke. However, the line favoring Gonzaga has been creeping up. Virginia’s style will let them stay in the game and Gonzaga’s defense doesn’t necessarily strike fear in me. Nine is a lot of points against a Virginia program that doesn’t frequently get blown out. So give me the points and let’s settle in for a fun day of basketball
Pick: Virginia +9
*BONUS PICK - If your book offers it, I like the Virginia Over on the team total. There are a ton of scenarios where I can see the over hitting. Given the line opened Gonzaga -8 with an O/U of 137 in Vegas while the KenPom prediction was Gonzaga -5 with the same O/U of 137 (opening lines generally mirror the KP prediction), the books clearly guarded against Gonzaga money. However, because of that, all the increase in points added to the total are on the Gonzaga side. Virginia’s team total has stayed fairly constant at 66. If the game is fast paced and goes over, this covers fairly easily and if the game goes under, as long as Virginia keeps in close 66 is still in play.
Season Total: ATS (4-5-0), O/U (0-2-0), Total (4-7-0)