Vaughn Dalzell breaks down how he is betting the VCU Rams for the A-10 Regular-Season Title and why Iowa State is a sleeper to make the Final Four.
To Make the Final 4: Iowa State (+1000)
One of the most exciting or up-and-coming teams in the country is the Cyclones of Iowa State.
Iowa State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, ranking No. 1 in turnovers forced (29.1%), 5th in defensive efficinecy (88.7), 35th in three-point defense (30%) and 55th in defensive effective field goal percentage (46.9%).
To open the season, Iowa State is 4-1 in conference play with a lone loss to Kansas (62-60) snapping a six-game winning streak over Big 12 teams like Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU.
In Big 12 play, the Cyclones are hitting 42.7% from three-point range in five games (1st), along with forcing the most turnovers (24.8%) and ranking second in three-point defense (28.3%). This Iowa State team ranks top four in both offensive and defensive efficiency over Big 12 play and top 81 nationally.
However, the Achilles heel for Iowa State is the free-throw line. The Cyclones make 61.5% of their free-throws in Big 12 play (9th out of 10th) and 66% overall on the season, coming in at 316th in the country.
Houston was a similar team last year to Iowa State in regards to ratings. Houston ranked 327th in free-throw percentage (66.7%) but finished top 10 in defensive effective field goal percentage, defensive efficiency, three-point defense and 30th in turnovers forced.
Houston lost in the Elite 8 to Villanova, who broke the NCAA's free-throw percentage record as a team (83.0%) last year. I think Iowa State could be worth a sprinkle at +1000 odds considering their defense and three-point shooting, but don't go crazy because I am not sure the free-throw shooting will improve.
Iowa State has seven home and seven road games remaining on the Big 12 schedule, including home games versus Kansas, TCU, Oklahoma and more.
I like the Cyclones remaining schedule and if they are truly one of the best teams in the conference, we are getting solid value at +1800 to make the Final 4 compared to +500 for Texas. Only time will tell.
Pick: Iowa State to make the Final 4 (0.2u)
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A-10 Regular-Season Title: VCU (+350)
VCU is currently 4-1 in conference play and winners in eight of the last nine games entering their contest versus UMass.
The Rams do a lot well, but primarily VCU forces turnovers with their intense defense. VCU forces a turnover on 26.5% of its defensive possessions, which is 5th in the country, trailing Iowa State (No. 1), while ahead of squads like Tennessee (8th) and UCLA (9th).
The Rams have been white-hot to open conference play from three-point range, hitting 47.1% from deep over their past five games. No A-10 team is shooting better from three-point range than VCU to start the season and the Rams rank 3rd in both offensive and defensive efficiency during conference play.
VCU is +350 to win the regular-season title in the A-10 and they are coming off a win versus Dayton, who is the favorite at -130 odds. In that Dayton versus VCU game, VCU forced Dayton into 18 turnovers and the Rams shot 40% from deep, which is winning basketball.
Dayton ranks 300th or worse in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage, plus shoots the triple at 32.1% (258th) and knocks down free-throws at 69.3% (235th). Yuck.
On the other hand, Saint Louis ranks 49th in offensive efficiency and 56th in offensive turnover percentage (16.6%), but other than that, the Billikens rank 349th in forcing turnovers (15%), 159th in three-point defense (33.2%) and are 227th in three-point shooting (32.7%). Not much better than Dayton.
Over the next two games, VCU plays UMass and Richmond, two stellar three-point defenses. If the Rams sneak by with two wins, you'll be getting some real value at +350 to win the A-10 Regular-Season title here.
VCU is the best all-around team in the A-10, so keep riding this hot streak until +150.
Pick: VCU to win the A-10 Regular-Season Title (0.5u)