Our red-hot week continued last night as we booked another winner when we backed the Kansas Jayhawks against the Iowa State Cyclones. I took advantage of the public’s collective ignorance as they hammered Iowa State as home dogs and moved the line two and a half points. That opened up a lot of value for us as we were able to back the far superior team and only had to lay four and a half points.
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) January 9, 2020
And guess what? The game wasn’t remotely competitive, and Kansas dominated from the tip, blowing the Cyclones out 79-53. I understand why the public liked Iowa State. Home dogs in conference play are one of my favorite plays as well. But in a game like this one, you have to have the courage to make a more unconventional play, in this case by laying some wood on the road in league play, to fully unlock the value. For today’s pick, we will head out west as the Cal Bears host the Washington State Cougars in PAC-12 action.
- Washington State Cougars (10-5) at Cal Bears (6-8)
- Haas Pavilion, Berkeley
- 7:30 PM PST
- TV: PACN
The Cal Bears are looking to pick up their first win in league play tonight as they host the Washington State Cougars. The Bears have had their fair of struggles this season as they are just 6-8 on the year. And while the losses are starting to pile up, for the most part, they have been quality losses as of their eight losses, five of them have come against teams in the top-100.
After a month on the Palouse the Cougs hit the road for the first time in Pac-12 play to take on Cal, Thursday, at Berkeley
— WSU Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarMBB) January 8, 2020
For Washington State, the Cougars have a solid record at 10-5, but they are sorely lacking signature wins. Right now, the Cougs have just one win against a top-100 team, but they did, however, manage to pick up a PAC-12 win over UCLA at home in their last game. They would love to be able to add a road win in league play tonight against a struggling Cal team.
It is hard to find much of anything good to say about this Cal Bears team this season. They are barely inside the top-200 on Kenpom at #195, and the best win they have on the season is over #136 Fresno State. After starting out the season 4-0, they have lost eight out of their last ten games.
But when you look at their strength of schedule, it is in the seventies, so they haven’t necessarily been losing to nobodies. Losses to top-50 teams like Duke, St. Mary’s, and Stanford were all expected and understandable. And at home, they have been respectable as they are 6-2 at Haas Coliseum with the two losses coming to St. Mary’s and Harvard, both good teams. There likely isn’t a path to the postseason for Cal, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be playing hard in front of the home court fans tonight against a conference rival.
Washington State Cougars
We just talked about how Cal has played a tough schedule, the exact opposite is true for Washington State. The Cougars SOS is ranked at #346. That means only seven teams in the country have played a softer schedule than WSU. So, when you look at their 10-5 record through that lens, it is far less impressive.
And to make matters worse, the Cougars have played that very soft schedule almost exclusively at home! WSU has played ten of their games at home, and three on neutral floors, that leaves just two true road games on the year. They played at #134 Santa Clara and lost, and they played at #318 Idaho and won.
Who Do I Like?
I wouldn’t say I really “like” either of these teams. They are both going to finish with losing records in the PAC-12 and are destined to finish in the basement of the league. It would take a huge effort at this point for either of these teams to even get an invite to the NIT, let alone the NCAA tournament.
But to see Washington State at even money against anybody right now on the road is shocking. I have zero confidence that the Cougars can beat even a decent team on the road. Their recent six-game winning streak consisted of five home wins, and four of those wins came against teams outside of the top-300. Despite their decent record, this is not a good team.
Sometimes when you make a bet, you are backing a team that you have confidence in to get the job done. Other times, you are more or less betting against the other team. This bet tonight is 100% a fade of Washington State, and not at all a vote of confidence on Cal.
I just don’t think this Washington State team is capable of winning on the road in league play. To get to be able to fade them without having to lay any wood, is fantastic value. So, that is what I will do. I’ll back the Cal Bears at home, and expect an ugly, lower-scoring affair where the Bears end up as the lesser of two evils and find a way to sneak out a win at home.