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Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 1:00 PM

The Kentucky Wildcats are always assumed to be great at the start of a college basketball season. Head coach John Calipari recruits blue-chippers to the bluegrass state. He has a proven track record of turning that talent into championship material. The “default” favorite to start a new season is usually Kentucky. And, when things are really going well for them, people quickly start talking about them in historic terms. Kentucky’s “floor” is better than most team’s “ceilings.” Kentucky’s ceiling in this current era is “one of the best teams ever.”

But, unlike last year’s deep run at perfection (which fell short in the Final Four when Wisconsin shocked them), this year’s team didn’t impress out of the gate. The new players weren’t on the same page. And, they weren’t responding to Calipari’s teaching. It was still a very good unit that would be headed to the Big Dance. This wasn’t vintage Kentucky by any means.

In recent action, we’re starting to see something that looks more like vintage Kentucky…

 

Recent Kentucky Highlights

Kentucky (-13) beat Georgia 82-48 Tuesday night

Kentucky (-7) beat Florida 80-61 last Saturday

Kentucky (+5.5) took Kansas to overtime on the road

Kentucky (-19.5) beat Missouri 88-54

Kentucky (-6.5) beat Vanderbilt 76-57

Kentucky (-2.5) won at Arkansas 80-66

Those were pointspread covers at the end of regulation by margins of 21, 12, 5.5, 14.5, 12.5, and 11.5. Five double digit covers and a near win at Kansas! (Of course, you probably know Kentucky blew the cover in overtime when they lost by six). I did leave out one bad result at Tennessee, which came in the letdown spot after the heartbreaking loss at Kansas. But, even in that one, Kentucky had a very strong stretch that temporarily built a big lead.

We’ve seen a lot of great basketball from the Wildcats lately. And it’s not like that was a list of creampuffs. Kansas is projected to be a #2 seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology over at ESPN. Florida is projected to be a #7 seed. Georgia and Vanderbilt are on the bubble. Kentucky’s playing very well vs. teams who matter.

The Futures markets aren’t responding much. There’s still lingering doubt about this team’s ability to play well away from home vs. quality opposition. And, “getting better” isn’t the same as becoming National Championship caliber. But, history has made it clear that you have to respect ANY team that beats February market expectations by so much. It’s very rare for a “pretender” to cover five out of seven by double digits. Only a consistently very high level of play could pull something like that off.

I’ll be watching this Saturday’s Kentucky/South Carolina game very closely because it’s important at the top of the SEC standings…and because the Wildcats need to get a big result away from home. Then, Kentucky at Texas A&M the following Saturday will also be very important for evaluating Kentucky’s improving championship hopes.

 

Current Composite Futures Prices

Oklahoma +900

North Carolina +900

Kansas +1100

Maryland +1100

Villanova +1200

Michigan State +1200

Kentucky +1600

There just isn’t a clear favorite this season. The brackets are going to be wide open. Kentucky could be in the unique position of entering the Big Dance as a darkhorse. You can take most of the top 30 teams…and any neutral site pairing is going to be within arm’s reach of pick-em.

(By the way…in terms of riding a team to the championship as a bettor…you’re going to be better off doing a rolling parlay with your choice through the Dance than betting these current prices.)

You know…looking at the size of cover margins is actually a very good way to isolate potential Dance threats. I’d wait a couple of weeks since so many teams go through February doldrums. But, as we get closer to the postseason, look for Dance-caliber teams who are getting the best of market prices by impressive margins. Only teams who are playing well can do that on multiple occasions over a short stretch. Whoever’s playing the best ball at the end of the season will have the best chance to carry that into the tourneys.

Maybe Kentucky’s going to be front and center this season after all! What they’ve been doing lately is impressive, and hard to match.

As we wait to find out, let’s keep building bankroll for March Madness with nightly February basketball. My BEST BETS are available daily right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the VSM office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours. Almost all of my selections in February and March will be in college basketball. That’s my favorite sport to handicap and bet. Always has been!

I do understand that some of you prefer the NBA hardwood, particularly now with an increased TV presence for the league on ESPN. I’ll talk about pro hoops tomorrow at lunchtime. The All-Star Break is a great time to take stock and prepare your investment strategies for the stretch run.

Thanks for reading today. See you again tomorrow!

 

Be sure to follow:

Richie B. on twitter @vsm_baccellieri

Vegas-Sports-Masters on twitter @vsmasters

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