Thursday’s Road Traps
Published on Jan. 19 at 1:05 a.m. Eastern.
By Brian Edwards
Several squads are facing road traps in conference play Thursday night in college hoops. Let’s start in State College where Penn State (9-10 straight up, 5-9 against the spread) will take on Illinois.
PSU has lost three in a row and five of its last six under first-year head coach Patrick Chambers. In addition, the Nittany Lions are mired in a 2-7 ATS slide. However, we should note that they are 2-1 ATS as home underdogs, including a 65-45 win over Purdue.
PSU is coming off of Sunday’s 80-66 home loss to Minnesota as a three-point ‘dog. Junior point guard Tim Frazier produced 20 points, five assists and four steals in the losing effort. Frazier leads the Lions in every significant category except for blocked shots. He’s averaging 18.2 points, 6.6 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game.
PSU is 7-4 SU and 3-3 ATS at home this year.
Illinois (15-3 SU, 8-8 ATS) has won three consecutive games, including last Tuesday’s stunning 79-74 win over Ohio St. as an 8 ½-point home underdog. The Illini handed the Buckeyes their first loss of the year thanks to a sensational performance by Brandon Paul, who finished with a career-high 43 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. Paul made 11-of-15 attempts from the field and buried 8-of-10 from 3-point land.
The win over OSU leaves Bruce Weber’s team in what most would usually describe as the vintage letdown situation. But the eight-day stretch between games gives gamblers at least one reason to think Illinois can overcome a spot that otherwise has ‘flat’ written all over it.
The Illini has struggled against PSU in recent years. In fact, the Lions own an 8-2 spread record in the last 10 head-to-head meetings.
Totals have been an overall wash for Penn St. (7-7), but the ‘over’ is hitting at a lucrative 5-1 clip in its home games. Totals have also been an overall wash for Illinois (8-8), but the ‘over’ is 4-2 in its last six contests.
BetOnline opened Illinois as a 3 ½-point favorite with a total of 125 ½.
Tip-off is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.
Next, let’s go to the ACC. North Carolina (15-3 SU, 9-8 ATS) is in bounce-back mode when it travels to Blacksburg to face Va. Tech. The Tar Heels are off one of the worst outings of Roy Williams’s tenure, as they got run out of Tallahassee in a 90-57 pimpslap at FSU this past Saturday afternoon.
UNC was awful in every area against the Seminoles. The Tar Heels committed 22 turnovers, were out-rebounded by eight and were an atrocious 9-of-20 from the free-throw line. Harrison Barnes scored a team-high 15 points in defeat, while Tyler Zeller finished with 14 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Va. Tech (11-6 SU, 5-7-1 ATS) has won eight of its 10 home games, going 3-3 versus the number. The Hokies have lost three in a row both SU and ATS since starting ACC play. They dropped a 61-59 decision Saturday at Boston College as 10-point road ‘chalk.’
In fairness to Seth Greenberg’s squad, its best player didn’t play against BC due to a knee injury. However, Erick Green, who averages 16.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, will play Thursday vs. the Tar Heels.
Va. Tech owns a 7-2 spread record in its last nine games against UNC. The Hokies won a 74-70 decision as 3 ½-point home favorites when the Heels came to Blacksburg two seasons ago.
The ‘under’ is 9-4 overall for the Hokies, cashing in four straight, but totals have been a wash (3-3) in their six home games with a total. The ‘under’ is 9-8 overall for UNC, but the ‘over’ is 2-1 in its road assignments.
BetOnline opened North Carolina as a seven-point favorite with a total of 141. ESPN will have the telecast at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Another potential ACC road trap will be in play when Virginia (14-2 SU, 8-3 ATS) ventures to Atlanta to take on an improving Ga. Tech team. BetOnline opened the Cavaliers as four-point favorites with a total of 115. The total was quickly adjusted to 111.
UVA saw its 12-game winning streak snapped in Thursday’s 61-58 loss at Duke as a 10 ½-point underdog. Mike Scott scored 23 points and pulled down nine rebounds at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Scott has played like an All-ACC first-teamer this season, averaging 16.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest. Joe Harris is the Cavs’ second-leading scorer, dropping in 12.4 PPG.
Ga. Tech is in its first year under new head coach Brian Gregory, who came from Dayton to replace Paul Hewitt after an inconsistent tenure that brought the Yellow Jackets an appearance in the national-title game but was mostly spent in the NIT (if that).
Ga. Tech (8-9 SU, 5-7 ATS) has taken its lumps to date, getting blown out by Alabama and Northwestern while also losing to the likes of Mercer (at home), Fordham and Tulane. But the Jackets have covered the spread in two of their last three games, winning outright at N.C. St. and giving fits to Duke before losing by an 81-74 count.
Ga. Tech is 4-4 SU and 2-2 ATS at home, while UVA is 2-1 SU and 1-1 ATS in three road outings.
The ‘under’ has been cashing at an extraordinary 10-1 overall clip in UVA games this year, going 3-0 in its road assignments. The ‘over’ is 7-5 overall for Ga. Tech, 3-1 in its home games.
This game will be a part of ESPN’s Full Court Game Plan (channel 724 on DirecTV) and come off the board at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
–Hawaii has covered the spread in six consecutive games. The Warriors will play host to La. Tech on Thursday and New Mexico St. on Saturday.
–Kentucky finally snapped its abysmal 0-13-1 ATS slide by taking the cash in Tuesday’s 86-63 home win over Arkansas as a 16 ½-point home ‘chalk.’
–During the offseason, I was disappointed when Michigan’s Darius Morris elected to turn pro early because I was planning on picking the Wolverines to win the national championship. As it’s turned out, John Beilein’s team is better off with true freshman Trey Burke at the point guard position. And hey, that’s not a knock on Morris, who is currently getting minutes off the bench for the Lakers and is a helluva player. But Burke is a better shooter and is nearly as effective getting into the paint and dishing off to teammates for easy looks. Watch out for this Michigan squad that I think is a real sleeper to get to New Orleans for the Final Four.
–With Patric Young nursing a sore ankle, Florida’s off week came at the perfect time. After winning Saturday at South Carolina, the Gators don’t return to the court until Saturday’s home games vs. LSU. Young is expected to be in the starting lineup after further evaluations this week showed no structural damage.