Bet cover-machine Creighton before market prices catch up

Bet cover-machine Creighton before market prices catch up

St. John’s continues to stumble to the finish line of what’s turned out to be a disappointing college basketball season.

Wednesday, the Red Storm did manage to cover a point spread of +12¹/₂ in a 71-60 loss at Villanova. But that was their ninth outright loss in the past 11 games. St. John’s is just 2-5 against the spread its past seven, even with that close cover. Headline-making December victories over West Virginia and Arizona are distant memories.

Sunday, St. John’s hosts the hard-charging Creighton Bluejays (noon, FS1). Creighton has been playing some of the best basketball in the country the past several weeks:

  • Creighton has won nine of its past 10 in the tough Big East. Though the conference doesn’t have a team currently projected to earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it’s deep with quality.
  • Creighton has covered five in a row and eight of its past nine against market prices that have been stubborn to recognize a late-season surge. Creighton’s covers have come by 17, 11 ¹/₂, 21, 10 ¹/₂, 3 ¹/₂, 21 ¹/₂, 5 ¹/₂ and 17 points. If the lines had moved five points toward Creighton, they’d still be 7-2 ATS the past nine. There are six double-digit covers in that mix.
  • Creighton stormed to the top of the Big East in market-respected rankings posted by Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com) and Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. The Bluejays ranked in the top dozen nationally midweek in both assessments. There may still be time to earn an Elite Eight seeding.

At worst, the Bluejays will be a team nobody wants to run into later this month. If recent form continues, they will be solidly on the short list of national championship hopefuls.

A potential point of vulnerability entering the Dance appears to be team defense. An “adjusted defensive efficiency” ranking in the mid 60s (points allowed adjusted for pace and schedule as calculated by Pomeory) looks strong on a national scale of 353 teams, but is much worse than other contenders projected to go deep in the Tournament.

One-and-done is dangerous for teams that must shoot well every time out to advance … particularly when they run into superior defenses.

St. John’s will carry an offense ranked around 125th and a defense ranked around 60th into its final seven days of action. After colliding with Creighton, the Red Storm visit Butler on Wednesday (7 p.m., CBSSN) then host Marquette on Saturday. The 2020 Big East tournament will begin March 11 and run through March 14. St. John’s is already locked into an opening night preliminary as a No. 8, 9 or 10 seed.

How should you handicap St. John’s and Creighton the rest of the way? For the Red Storm, try to evaluate energy and enthusiasm. There’s no reason to bet on a group that’s thrown in the towel. For Creighton, fly with the Bluejays as long as the market refuses to acknowledge their consistently high level of play.

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