John Calipari and his Memphis Tigers know that getting a 19th consecutive victory will be tough as they travel to meet their Conference USA rivals in Birmingham tonight.
It’s no secret that basketball takes a backseat to football in the Deep South. This is a culture where high school football athletes are treated like demigods. But that’s just fine for college hoops handicappers.
Two of the most profitable teams in Division I can be found in Dixie: the 15-5 ATS Auburn Tigers from the Southeastern Conference and the 17-9 ATS Memphis Tigers from Conference USA.
Betting odds are softer in the mid-majors, and the SEC might as well join the club – Ken Pomeroy has them ranked way behind the other five major conferences in terms of efficiency. The Mountain West is next, followed by the C-USA. Let’s take a trip down yonder and see if we can grab some of that cash.
Florida at No. 18 LSU (-4, 151)
Tuesday, Feb 24, 9:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN
Louisiana State (23-4 SU, 10-9 ATS, No. 39 Pomeroy) has moved up to No. 18 in the AP poll by winning eight straight games. But we’re talking about the SEC West here. The Tigers have played a very soft schedule this year: No. 185 overall, plus No. 323 in non-conference action. Three of their four losses were by double digits to non-con opponents like Xavier (+2½) and Texas A&M (+1½). On the positive side, LSU’s Marcus Thornton is a gifted swingman with 20.5 points per game; the Tigers also get strong rebounding from forward Tasmin Mitchell and 6-foot-11 center Chris Johnson, who adds 2.9 blocks per game.
Florida (21-6 SU, 8-11-1 ATS, No. 41 Pomeroy) will be one of the best teams the Tigers have faced this year – but that’s still not saying much. The Gators are 3-3 SU and 2-4 ATS over the past six games to put their Tournament hopes in serious jeopardy. The Gators offense is tremendous, scoring at least 80 points in six of the last eight games. However, they’re highly suspect on the defensive end, and one of the hidden factors behind Florida’s moderate success is that opponents are hitting just 61.7 percent of their free-throw attempts. LSU is 71.9 percent from the line.
Kentucky at South Carolina
Wednesday, Feb 25, 7:00 p.m. (ET)
Billy Gillispie’s Wildcats (19-8 SU, 12-9-1 ATS, No. 27 Pomeroy) are the best team in the SEC on paper. Consistency? Not a chance. For the second year under Gillispie’s tutelage, UK is on a rollercoaster, hitting the skids at 3-4 SU and 2-5 ATS in the past seven contests. The chief culprit is turnovers – everyone on this team seems to have butterfingers, combining to cough up the ball on 24.5 percent of possessions.
That makes Wednesday’s trip to the Colonial Life Arena perilous for Kentucky supporters. The Gamecocks (19-6 SU, 8-10-2 ATS, No. 55 Pomeroy) are one of the best teams in Division I at forcing turnovers, stripping the ball 25.9 percent of the time. But their 15-1 record in front of the Garnet Army comes with a 3-7-1 ATS record attached. There’s more money to be made on the over at 12-7, as S.C. runs up and down the floor like jackrabbits.
No. 4 Memphis at UAB
Thursday, Feb 26, 9:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN2
We’ve been hammering the idea that Memphis (24-3 SU, No. 1 Pomeroy) is in the same league as last year’s squad with freshman sensation Tyreke Evans (17.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists per game) taking over for the more celebrated Derrick Rose. And so it came to pass. But do the Tigers still have value now that they’ve reached No. 5 in the AP poll? They dropped the cash for just the second time in 11 games in Saturday’s 70-63 victory at UTEP (+9½); Memphis is 8-1 SU and 4-5 ATS on the road this season.
The Tigers will test their value at Bartow Arena against the Blazers (19-8 SU, 12-14 ATS, No. 36 Pomeroy). This experienced group is easily the second best team in the conference, not to mention undefeated at home at 12-0 SU and 6-5 ATS. When these two clubs met in Memphis last month, the Tigers prevailed 81-68 and just barely covered as 12.5-point faves. UAB is 9-1 SU and 6-4 ATS since then.