Big Trouble on Tobacco Road

by James Murphy in NCAAB  / January 14, 2020

The best football in US college sports is played in the SEC and the best basketball is played in the ACC, right? More specifically, the best college hoops is played by the ACC teams in the state of North Carolina or so goes the conventional wisdom. And to be sure, the Duke Blue Devils are still flying high ranked #3 in the country and #1 in the ACC. That’s the good news for North Carolina hoops. The bad news? The rest of the state and particularly from a pointspread perspective.

Duke, to paraphrase former Xavier head coach Pete Gillen, is still Duke. They’re on TV more often than Leave It To Beaver reruns. They’ve been doing just fine this season with an overall record of 15-2 SU and 5-1 in ACC play. They’re coming off their first loss in ACC play on Tuesday night as Clemson beat them 79-72 at Littlejohn Coliseum. The Blue Devils were -11 point road favorites in that one but we’ll talk more about that shortly. As a sidebar, despite Clemson’s loss to LSU in the College Football National Championship game it has been a great week to be a Tiger thanks to the basketball team. Clemson’s hoop team won at North Carolina for the first time ever over the weekend and followed that up with the win over Duke at home. So much for a ‘letdown spot’. Anyway, as nice as the win was for Clemson it probably won’t hurt Duke in the long run. They’ll likely hold on to their spot as the futures betting favorite to win the NCAA tournament (they’re a +900 top choice at BetOnline.ag) and it probably won’t hurt them too much in the national ranking.

The Blue Devils have even shown a profit against the spread. Following their loss at Clemson they’re 10-7 ATS overall. At home, they’re 9-1 SU but just 5-5 ATS. On the road, they’re 4-1 SU but 3-2 ATS. In Conference play they’re 5-1 SU/4-2 ATS. As a favorite, they’re 13-2 SU but just 8-7 ATS. Going forward, I’d be looking to play against Duke unless they’re in a rare spot as an underdog. Obviously, they’re one of the biggest ‘public’ teams in the sport but they sure look overpriced as a favorite. The only time this year where they’ve been favored by less than double digits was 12/6 when they were -6.5 at Virginia Tech. The level of play in the ACC is such that even an excellent team like Duke can’t expect to be covering double digit chalk night after night.

That’s the situation with Duke but the real problem on Tobacco Road is with their arch nemesis the North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC isn’t up to their usual form this year at 8-8 SU but they’ve been horrible in ACC play going 1-4 SU. Even more alarming is their horrible performance against the spread. The Tar Heels are 4-12 ATS for a -9.2 unit loss which puts them into a three way tie for the biggest money loser in college basketball betting. They’ve been particularly bad at home going 4-5 SU but even worse against the number–they’re 1-8 ATS at the ‘Dean Dome’! As a favorite, the Tar Heels are 7-6 SU but 2-11 ATS (15.4%). In conference, their 1-4 ATS record is identical to their 1-4 SU record. In non-conference play, they’re 7-4 SU but 3-8 against the spread.

North Carolina, like Duke, is a huge public team and perpetually overvalued. They’ve also got some injury issues and particularly in the backcourt where they’ve been completely decimated. Guards Anthony Harris and Cole Anthony are listed as ‘out indefinitely’ with knee injuries. Also out for the year with a knee injury is forward Sterling Manley. Guards Brandon Robinson (personal) and Jeremiah Francis (knee) are currently listed as ‘questionable’.

You can do a lot worse in sports betting than determining which way ‘the herd’ is going and moving in the opposite direction. North Carolina is still a quality basketball program and could be worth a look if the oddsmakers start to accurately valuate them. Their expectations heading into the season might have been too high and particularly with their current injury situation. Their valuation will likely be adjusted downward as the ‘public’ starts to catch on to their plight.

James Murphy

James Murphy is a preeminent authority on the international gambling industry and has made frequent appearances in the mainstream media including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes, Entertainment Weekly, CNBC and NPR. He has previously worked as a radio and podcasting host where he broadcast to an international audience that depended on his expertise and advice. Murphy also serves as an odds making consultant for sports and ‘non-sport novelty bets’ covering the entertainment industry, politics, technology, financial markets and just about everything else.

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