LAS VEGAS — DePaul has produced the country’s most -schizophrenic season, Loyola -possesses one of the stickiest defenses, few squads take better care of the ball than Notre Dame and Illinois has the best chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament — and a razor-thin shot at winning it.
According to TeamRankings.com (TR), the Illini are a 77.8 percent lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but their chances of claiming the crown are 0.3 percent. Kansas and Duke, at 19.3 and 15.3 percent, respectively, are the title favorites, followed by Gonzaga (13.3 percent).
With league tournaments around the corner, and the NCAAs just down the road for a chosen few, a review of college basketball in Illinois (and Notre Dame, too) is in order, to gauge how their tendencies might best produce profit.
Odds on Illinois to cut down the nets in Atlanta the first Monday in April are 100-1 at the Westgate SuperBook. Feel lucky? Notre Dame is 300-1, Loyola 1,000-1, and Bradley 5,000-1.
DePaul, at 500-1 during the holidays, is now 10,000-1. The Blue Demons started 12-1 but are now 13-13. However, New York handicapper-bettor Tom Barton is not critical of the precipitous descent because DePaul is in the Big East, and no other Division I league can boast that every member has an overall record of .500 or better. Barton likens the Big East, which added DePaul in 2005, to past ACC glory seasons: “Every team, every night, can win,” he said. ”St. John’s took a similar dip. Xavier, early on, couldn’t get out of its own way. The Big East is just a beast.”
Chicago State, meanwhile, is the nation’s minnow. Ken Pomeroy (KenPom) metrics list it at No. 353, in the D-I basement. It takes a 17-game losing streak into a home game Saturday against California Baptist. The Cougars have won only two of their last 71 WAC tilts, and they’re reeling toward their 34th losing campaign in 36 Division I seasons.
Oh, for those heady NAIA days of the early 1980s. After a November defeat, second-year coach Lance Irvin said his team looked “like deer.” Oh, those headlights.
This, though, is not about sentiment or sympathy. This is about fattening the wallet. Four of Chicago State’s first six games finished under the point total designated by Vegas oddsmakers. So taking that position starting Dec. 6, say, would not have been outlandish.
Factoring $100 as a unit (or average wager, including the typical 10-percent vigorish), investing in the under would have paid off in 14 of the Cougars’ last 17 games, netting $1,070, a 57.2 percent return on investment. Professional punters everywhere fantasize about such sweet success.
BRADLEY (19-9, 10-5 Missouri valley)
At 10-5 against the spread at home, the Braves have been money inside Carver Arena. They hold foes to 38.8 percent shooting, 20th in the country. That improves at home, where Bradley finishes the regular season next Saturday against Loyola, which is fourth in the nation at disrupting opponents’ possessions. Expect a low-scoring, bruising affair. Take the under.
CHICAGO STATE (4-23, 0-12 WAC)
Even with leaders Xavier Johnson and Jace Colley (concussion, last game Jan. 2), it struggled. It has committed a national-worst 482 turnovers. After Cal Baptist on Saturday, the Cougars finish the season with three on the road. The under is in play in all. In the past three league-tourney openers at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, New Mexico State has belted Chicago State by an average of 26 points. Use that as the barometer come March 11.
DePAUL (13-13, 1-12 Big East)
A magnificent meltdown continued Wednesday when a thrashing against Villanova gave the Demons a 12th defeat in their past 13 games. Stunning. “Shocking,” says pro bettor Tom Barton, “but not embarrassing; tough league.” Junior forward Paul Reed (15.1 points per game, 10.6 rebounds) is 11th on TR’s NBA efficiency ratings, but this squad is in free fall. The only reasonable play on its remaining games would be the under on Tuesday at Xavier and March 7 at Providence, if either total is at least 140.
EASTERN ILLINOIS (13-14, 6-9 Ohio valley)
The guard-heavy Panthers trailed Murray State 52-28 with eight minutes remaining Thursday night at Lantz Arena before rallying, and winning 63-60. Eastern is seeking its second .500 campaign in 10 seasons and first NCAA berth since 2001. Thursday’s effort might have been its finest under eighth-year boss Jay Spoonhour. There are no discernible patterns or trends, however, or intriguing story lines. Twice a week, I chart the bottom and top 10 percent of the nation’s teams in two dozen categories, eliminating tons of the middle fat. Eastern appears nowhere, except in the bottom 10 of KenPom’s Unlucky ratings. Pass.
ILLINOIS (17-9, 9-6 Big ten)
It has impressive wins at Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan and, on Monday, at Penn State. Third-year coach Brad Underwood is the Big Ten’s coach of the year, according to pro bettor Ron Boyles. Ayo Dosunmu, the sophomore guard out of Morgan Park, has been a dynamo, leading Illinois in scoring (15.8 points a game) and assists (3.3), and chipping in with 4.3 boards a game. Home defeats to Maryland and Michigan State were perplexing for a supposed top-tier program. This team is too challenging to read, so the current play is to pass. However, Boyles believes Illinois can win a game or two in the NCAAs.
uic (13-15, 8-7 Horizon)
Until a month ago, the Flames had been abysmal. However, their season has turned around. They played seven of their last nine games on the road, going 5-2 away from Credit Union 1 Arena. They have covered eight of their last 12. Moreover, 12 of their last 14 finished under, so that is the lean in their final three games, all at home. “Keep an eye on them,” says Boyles, who has made a living betting on college hoops for 40 years. “Many early injuries, but they’re healthy and have four senior starters. They could win the Horizon conference tourney.”
ILLINOIS STATE (8-19, 3-12 MVC)
A poor cover team all season, wagering against the Redbirds has been most fruitful as foes have cashed in 15 of the last 19 games. They play host to Drake on Saturday and Bradley on Wednesday, ending the regular season next Saturday at Evansville. Take the opponent in each, and tap the over if the total is in the low 130s. Out of all that, the ledger will be in the black.
LOYOLA (19-9, 11-4 MVC)
The Ramblers own the fourth-peskiest defense in the nation at disrupting opponents’ effective possessions. For the season, they are among the 20 slowest teams in the country, at 67.1 possessions per game. That’s contagious. And how nifty was junior center Cameron Krutwig’s triple-double (22 points, 10 boards, 10 assists) in that Dec. 18 victory against Vandy? Loyola is at Missouri State on Saturday, hosts Drake on Tuesday and goes to Bradley next Saturday. Under will be the action in all of them, and into the Missouri Valley Tournament.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (15-11, 8-5 Mac)
Smart with the ball, the Huskies have been extremely deliberate with it lately as their last three games have featured fewer than 63 possessions per game; only five teams in the country have taken more air out of the ball over the last two weeks. NIU has been one of the country’s best away underdogs, covering eight of nine games by nearly six points per outing. So take the Huskies and the points if they’re getting them Tuesday at Eastern Michigan and next Saturday at Western Michigan. In both, too, we’ll be under.
NORTHWESTERN (6-19, 1-14 Big ten)
The Wildcats have covered only three of 13 games, dropping them by nearly six points a game, inside Welsh-Ryan Arena, a bottom-15 home mark. As a home favorite it’s 0-6, losing to the number by more than 10 points a game. Take the Gophers (Sunday), Illini (Thursday) and Nittany Lions
(March 7) when they visit Evanston, and feel good about going with the under if the totals in those games are low- to mid-130s; 137 or 138 are under slam dunks.
NOTRE DAME (16-10, 7-8 ACC)
Senior forward John Mooney (16.2 points per game, 12.7 rebounds) is 15th in TR’s NBA efficiency. At 1.717, it owns the best assists-to-turnovers ratio in the nation, a rate that is even better at home. It has covered seven of its last 10, no doubt making alums around the globe happy. In addition, eight of its last 10 have gone over the total. Its last five home games have been overs, so take that tack at Joyce on Sunday (Miami), March 4 (Florida State) and March 7 (Virginia Tech) with a ceiling of 147, even 148.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS (16-12, 10-5 MVC)
The Salukis have been staunch at home, covering 10 of 12 by nearly nine points a game. Moreover, 17 of their 27 lined games have finished under. They take the air out of the ball, like Loyola, and there have been fewer than 63 possessions in a recent stretch. The best tack for Southern’s final three games — Sunday at Northern Iowa, Wednesday against Indiana State at home, next Saturday at Missouri State — is predicated on a theoretical 129.5 total; take the under if it’s higher than that figure, over if it’s lower.
SIU-EDWARDSVILLE (7-21, 4-11 OVC)
The Cougars were glorious on Jan. 2, winning at Belmont as a 23-point dog — on the moneyline — to win outright at various Vegas shops; they could have been had at between plus-1700 to plus-3,000, or 17-to-1 to 30-1 odds. Feb. 13, when they won at Eastern Illinois as an 11-point dog, SIUE could have returned 5-1 odds on an outright victor. The reality, though, is it gave Chicago State its sole D-I victory. SIUE is among the nation’s bottom 15 percent in offensive efficiency. Taking the other side and giving the points would be prescient in its final three.
WESTERN ILLINOIS (5-18, 2-11 Summit)
Its defense has been woefully inefficient, but only Pepperdine (79.9 percent) has connected at the line better than the Leathernecks (79.5 percent). That has helped them cover five of their last nine. They have covered seven of 10 as road dogs, so games Thursday (at Oral Roberts, especially if the Necks are getting double digits) and next Saturday (at Denver) have value.