Happy Boxing Day? Welcome to that strange and brief period of the calendar between Christmas and New Year’s that is a holiday but really isn’t and feels like 2018 but really isn’t. What we will see in Week 8 of NCAA basketball is the start of conference play for many teams, so let’s look at our latest Top 5 ATS Cats and Rats rankings and find some winning picks in this 52nd week of 2017.
Unlike our NCAA football “Cats and Rats” rankings, this Top Hoops Cat refuses to leave and has loved the No. 1 spot since this NCAA basketball ATS version began. And that’s Big Sky side Portland State (10-3 SU, 10-0 ATS), who upset Pac-12 side Cal at Berkeley on Dec. 21 as 5-point road underdogs, winning 106-81. Starters Bryce Canda (23 points) and Deontae North (20) led the charge for the top-ranked NCAA basketball money-making Vikings (9-0 ATS on road), and Michael Mayhew added 15 off the bench. At 93.6 ppg, North (20.2 ppg), Canda (18.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Mayhew (9.5 ppg), Holland Woods (11.12 ppg, 6.0 apg), Ryan Edwards (2.0 bpg) and the Vikings rank third in the nation in scoring offense but are No. 243 in FTs (68.4%). First-year head coach Barret Peery (10-0 ATS) and Portland State (+10.6 ppg vs. ATS) still have some basic things to work on.
Next up for Portland State (No. 136 Ken Pomeroy ranking, up 22 spots from last week) is the beginning of Big Sky Conference play on Saturday at Sacramento State (3-10 SU, 5-5-1 ATS). Vikings C Traylin Farris (Ankle) and F Brendan Rumel (hip) are listed as questionable.2: NC-Greensboro 5-0-1 (Last week: not ranked)
NC-Greensboro (9-4 SU, 6-0-0 ATS) makes the list by virtue of no ATS losses and one push, an 81-75 loss at ACC school Wake Forest on Nov. 24 (147½). More recently, Coach Wes Miller's Southern Conference team defeated Southeastern University -- a private Christian liberal arts university in Lakeland, Florida -- 85-67 on Dec. 21 in a non-lined home game. NC-Greensboro's starters were Francis Alonso (20 points), Marvin Smith (13 points), Jordy Kuiper (6 points, 11 rebounds), Demetrius Troy (8 points) and Kyrin Galloway (7 points), and the Spartans got 31 points off of their bench with Isaiah Miller (12 points) and Kylia Sykes (11 points) leading the charge. NC-Greensboro (No. 108 Pomeroy ranking) has performed well on defense. Alonso (17.8 ppg), James Dickey (8.7 rpg) and the Spartans (+7.9 ppg vs. ATS) rank 8th nationally in 3-point percentage (27.7 percent) and 15th in total scoring (61.5 ppg).
Next up on the Week 8 schedule for UNCG (3-0 ATS at home) is a SoCon date Saturday with Wofford. The Spartans covered ATS in their previous meeting, winning 77-73 as 1½-point underdogs in the semifinals the conference tournament in March (143). The Spartans are a profitable 9-1-1 ATS in their past 11 regular-season games dating to last season.3: South Alabama 8-1-0 ATS (Last week: No. 4)
South Alabama (6-6 SU, 8-1-0 ATS) moves up a spot after covering ATS at Tulane on Saturday, losing 77-73 as 10-point road underdogs (140½). USA's lone ATS loss this season came at Florida International, where the Jaguars (4-1 ATS on road) were 2-point road favorites and got smacked around 87-58 (128½) in a game that was 31 points off the closing spread.
Coach Matthew Graves' Jaguars are led by Rodrick Sikes (16.6 ppg), Trhae Mitchell (6.4 rpg, 2.5 apg), Nick Davis (1.7 spg) and Josh Ajayi (50 percent FG). Next up for South Alabama (No. 248 Pomeroy ranking), who will be coming off an eight-day break, is the start of Sun Belt Conference play and a home game Friday against Georgia State (9-4 SU, 3-4 ATS). In last season's matchups, USA lost but covered ATS on Jan. 30 (83-80), then won SU and ATS on Jan. 28 (78-66).4: Southern Utah 8-1-0 ATS (Last week: No. 2)
You can’t cover ‘em all? Formerly unbeaten Big Sky member Southern Utah (6-5 SU, 8-1-0 ATS) finally lost at the betting windows in Week 7 as the Thunderbirds were demolished by Big Ten side Iowa 92-64. The Hawkeyes closed as 17-point home favorites (167) in a game they led 51-31 at halftime. Next up for Southern Utah (No. 301 Pomeroy ranking, down three spots from last week) is a Big Sky Conference home game Thursday against Montana State (7-6 SU, 4-7 ATS). The Thunderbirds won a conference tournament matchup in March, 109-105 in triple-OT, covering ATS in a game that obviously went well over the posted total.
Southern Utah (+5.5 ppg versus ATS) hosts Montana (7-5 SU, 6-4 ATS) on Saturday in another early Big Sky date, a big test for Jadon Cohee (16.3 ppg), Jamal Aytes (5.6 rpg), James McGee (1.4 spg) and Christian Musoko (0.7 bpg). The Grizzlies won and covered last season's meeting, 70-55.5: Central Michigan 7-1-0 ATS (Last week: No. 5)
Mid-American Conference side Central Michigan (10-2 SU, 7-1-0 ATS) edges out Arizona State (9-2-1 ATS), Xavier (10-3-0 ATS) and UCSB (9-2-0 ATS) for the fifth spot in our rankings. The Chippewas defeated UMKC 92-86 in OT in a non-lined game last week, followed by their seventh ATS cover, a 70-52 victory over Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville as CMU closed as 9-point home favorites (151). The lone non-ATS cover for the Chippewas this season came Dec. 16 against Southern Utah as Cecil Williams (14.8 ppg) and Central Michigan lost as 2½ road chalks (156½).
MAC Conference West Division Player of the Week David DiLeo (7.9 rpg), Great Alaska shootout MVP Shawn Roundtree, Luke Meyer and Central Michigan (+7.9 ppg vs ATS) will close out the 2017 calendar year at home against Lawrence Tech (4,154 students) on Friday before beginning Mid-American Conference play against Ohio (home, Jan. 2) and Kent State (road, Jan. 6).
The Top 5 Cats are a combined 38-3-1 ATS (92.7 percent).Top 5 ATS NCAA Basketball Rats1: Vanderbilt 0-9-0 ATS (Last week: No. 1)
Vanderbilt (5-7 SU, 0-9-0 ATS) stays No. 1 as Head Coach Bryce Drew and the Southeastern Conference's Commodores (-6.8 ppg vs ATS) defeated a couple of Christmas cupcakes in Houston Baptist (81-48) and Alcorn State (92-51).
Next up for the Commodores (No. 71 Pomeroy ranking, up four spots from last week) and Jeff Roberson (14.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Saben Lee (3.6 apg), Matthew Fisher-Davis (1.5 spg), Clevon Brown and Djery Baptiste is the start of SEC play with tough contest at Florida on Saturday, then against Alabama on Jan. 2 -- two dates the struggling Commodores (0-5 ATS at home) covered ATS last season.2: UNC Wilmington 0-8-1 ATS (Last week: No. 2)
Colonial Athletic Association Conference member UNC Wilmington (2-9 SU, 0-8-1 ATS) stays in seedy Room No. 2 of The Rat Hotel after Head Coach CB McGrath's Seahawks lost two more games SU and one ATS in Week 7 at the Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso, Texas — a 100-63 polishing as 3½-point underdogs to North Dakota State University, followed by an ugly 80-75 loss to MEAC member Howard (3-12 SU, 0-11 on road) in a non-lined game.
Devontae Cacok (19 points, 17 rebounds vs. Howard) and UNCW (No. 269 Pomeroy ranking, down 59 spots) return to the hardwood on Thursday to host Southern Conference side UNC Greensboro (5-0-1 ATS). It's a huge game for the Seahawks (-11.2 ppg vs ATS) but one where the obvious pick is on the visiting Spartans in what probably will be a wise spot in which to also back visiting UNCG (3-0 ATS on road) as they rush out to an early lead.3: Santa Clara 1-9-0 ATS (Last week: Not ranked)
Santa Clara (3-9 SU, 1-9-0 ATS) has checked into The Rat Hotel with just a 10 percent ATS win rate to start the season and a 1-7 ATS road mark, that solo money-making win for backers coming at home against Northern Arizona on Nov. 30 in an 89-57 blowout over the Lumberjacks as big 11½-point home favorites. Santa Clara recently lost twice at home SU and ATS, 76-68 to Valparaiso on Dec. 18 as 2-point home chalks, and 75-63 to San Jose State (135) as 8-point home favorites on Dec. 21 (131) to fall to 1-9 ATS.
Next up for second-year Head Coach Herb Sendek and Santa Clara (No. 260 Pomeroy ranking) is a West Coast Conference showdown with Pepperdine on Thursday at home, followed by a big test at conference heavyweight Gonzaga on Saturday -- two games where the Broncos actually got the money in the last meetings.4 (tie): Samford 1-6-0 ATS (Last week: Not ranked)
Samford (4-9 SU, 1-6-0 ATS) — coached by former Kentucky guard and ex-NBA player Scott Padgett -- stays at No. 3. The Bulldogs (-11.4 ppg vs ATS) have won just once ATS (getting 9½ points in a 65-64 setback at Memphis), are 0-8 SU on the road and still haven’t played a lined home game. Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (14.6 ppg), Justin Coleman (4.9 apg), Eric Adams (6.0 rpg), Josh Sharkey (1.6 spg) and Samford (No. 256 Pomeroy ranking) recently routed Asbury 99-70, then lost at Kennesaw State 71-66 in a non-lined affair.
After a nine-day break the Bulldogs will resume play with the start of their Southern Conference slate, hosting tough Chattanooga at home on Saturday in what seems a good spot to back the Moccasins (6-7 SU, 5-4 ATS), line depending. Samford won (and covered ATS) the last meeting, 72-68 in OT on Feb. 22.4 (tie): SIU Edwardsville 1-8-0 ATS (Last week: Not ranked)
Ohio Valley Conference member SIU Edwardsville (4-7 SU, 1-8-0 ATS) edges out Gardner Webb (0-4 ATS) and says hello to y’all readers with just one ATS cover, against IUPUI, with the Cougars winning outright as a 1-point road underdog on Dec. 6 (147) — and eight ATS losses after an 18-point loss as 9-point road underdogs at Central Michigan (7-1-0 ATS).
Next up for SIU-Edwardsville (No. #23 Pomeroy ranking) and Head Coach Jon Harris is a Thursday meeting — and the beginning of a nasty four-game OVC road trip — against Austin Peay (5-7 SU, 6-2 ATS) in in a game in which the Governors covered ATS in the last meeting, a 92-84 win on Feb. 18, followed by the Cougars (-5.7 ppg vs ATS) heading to the Bluegrass State on Saturday for a game at Murray State (8-3 SU, 5-3 ATS) in what looks like a good spot to fade SIU-Edwardsville. The next home game for the Cougars is Jan. 11 against Belmont (8-5 SU, 6-3-2 ATS).
The five Rats in our rankings heading into Week 8 have gone a combined 3-40-1 ATS in their 44 lined games (7 percent).
NCAA BASKETBALL CAT EATS RAT THURSDAY PICK: UNC Greensboro over UNC Wilmington
NCAA BASKETBALL SATURDAY CAT PICK: Portland State over Sacramento State