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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

As the NCAA tournament gets underway, here are five Vegas trends to keep in mind

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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This season, Purdue has defied the theory that Big Ten teams don't consistently play high-scoring, uptempo ball. …

Planning on throwing a little beer money on this weekend's NCAA tournament action?

Let's be honest, many of you are. And while we here at The Dagger don't necessarily condone gambling, we won't turn a blind eye to it.

With that said, here's a look at five significant trends that could make you a bit sharper on some squads in this year's field.

1) These aren't your daddy's Purdue Boilermakers

When you think of Big Ten basketball, you think of games where both teams score in the 50s, where defense — and defensive rebounding — is held above all else.

Purdue has bucked that trend this year, to say the least.

The Boilermakers, including the Big Ten tournament, played 20 league games this season. Of those 20, 16 of them went over the total (or the over/under).

Purdue is only tied for 72nd in the nation and is fourth in the Big Ten this season in scoring (72.2 ppg). They also ranked last in the conference in team free throw shooting (65.2 percent), making this trend feel even stranger. But they also were third in the Big Ten in 3-pointers attempted (719) and 3-point percentage (37.7), and second in 3-point makes (271), balancing things out some.

But mostly, it's because Las Vegas oddsmakers didn't adjust the numbers very much. Only twice in Big Ten play was the total in a Purdue game at 140 or higher (both against Indiana).

Against Saint Mary's in Friday night's tournament opener, the number opened at 138, but has now crept up to 140. The Gaels have gone over 13 times this season, and under on 14 occasions.

2) New Mexico a quiet cover machine

With the exception of the last week, in which it blitzed through the field at the Mountain West Conference tournament, New Mexico has flown under the national radar for most of the season.

Despite little buzz — largely thanks to a pair of buzz-killing early season losses to New Mexico State and Santa Clara — the Lobos enter the field of 68 as a 5-seed with an impressive 27-6 mark.

They've been just as impressive all season against the spread, going a remarkable 22-7-1, including five straight covers. Even more ridiculous is that in the last 13 games New Mexico has won, it is 12-0-1 against the number.

They're currently listed as a 4-point favorite against Long Beach State, and the 49ers are one of the trendier picks on many folks' brackets to pull off the upset. But given New Mexico's recent history against the spread and the short number, the trend indicates a very close game.

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3) Will Iowa State's wild trend continue against a non-Big 12 foe?

In conference play this season, few teams in a so-called 'power' were as efficient against the spread as Iowa State, who went 14-4-1 in that category in 19 Big 12 games (tournament included).

They have a dominant, versatile piece in 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Royce White who is a nightmare matchup, and the Cyclones are a prolific 3-point shooting team. They ranked first in the Big 12 in 3-point makes this year (284, four ahead of Missouri) and third in 3-point percentage (38.0). That makes for a lot of close games as underdogs and blowouts as favorites.

But in non-conference play, they were a pedestrian 4-5 against the spread.

Did they simply take a handful of games to gel, given the wealth of Division-I transfers on the roster? Was the split all a big coincidence?

Either way, how they've done against the spread in those last 19 games is worth remembering as they're listed as a 1.5- or 2-point underdog in a toss-up NCAA tourney opener against UConn.

4) Kentucky may be the best team in the field, but …

… the odds-on favorite to win the 2012 national title was incredibly underwhelming against the spread this season.

The Wildcats went 13-19-1 in that category, including failing to cover in their last three games. The roughest stretch came between Nov. 20 victory over Old Dominion and a Jan. 14 win at Tennessee, in which Kentucky was a woeful 1-13 against the spread.

Trends like this typically come with teams that have plenty of youth, which under John Calipari has been the case just about every year at Kentucky and should continue to be moving forward.

It's tough to go against Kentucky on Thursday, as it faces a Western Kentucky that it not only can overwhelm with its depth and talent, but it's an opponent that could be tired from Tuesday night's epic comeback against Mississippi Valley State in Dayton that put them on this stage. Kentucky is currently listed as a 25-point favorite.

In games this season in which they are favored by 20 or more points, the Wildcats are 2-7 against the spread.

5) Beware of the double-digit chalk

Giant, double-digit numbers for teams with the highest seeds in the NCAA tournaments are becoming more and more rare as the years pass.

The talent continues to spread out every season, and the 14-, 15- and 16-seeds of the worlds are getting more and more dangerous.

Aside from Kentucky, the biggest current line in the opening round is Missouri, listed as a 21.5-point favorite over Norfolk State.

Laying those points wouldn't be the scariest risk you could take, as the Tigers are 7-3 against the spread as a double-digit favorite this season.

Syracuse, whose line dropped from 17 to 15.5 points against UNC-Asheville after the Fab Melo news broke on Tuesday, is 11-7 against the spread as a double-digit favorite, while North Carolina is only 7-8-1 against the spread when favored by 10 or more points.

Another strong performer against the number this season among the top seeds has been Michigan State, who owns a 22-10 overall mark.

Still, it becomes a riskier and riskier proposition every year, so before laying big points, make sure to do your homework on those teams you might not have heard much about before this week.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for RunRebs.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanmgreene.

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