College basketball betting, odds: Will FAU keep its impressive winning streak going?
A Conference USA showdown highlights the Thursday night college basketball slate as the No. 19 Florida Atlantic Owls take their 20-game winning streak to Bartow Arena to face the UAB Blazers. While the Owls have been one of the best mid-major stories this season, the Blazers' battle with injuries and inconsistency has left them with an underwhelming 6-5 conference record.
They are heading into their fourth week without leading scorer Jordan "Jelly" Walker, who remains day-to-day with a foot injury that occurred Jan. 11 against Western Kentucky. If Walker can return Thursday, he will provide an immediate offensive boost. The Blazers' star averages 23.8 points per game and dropped 21 on FAU when the teams last met Jan. 5. It wasn't enough to snap the Owls' win streak, as FAU escaped with an 86-88 win, but it proved UAB is the team best suited to hand FAU its first conference loss.
Can they do it if Walker remains sidelined? Well, I didn't wait on his status before firing off a bet on the home team.
Florida Atlantic Owls at UAB Blazers (-1.5)
The initial line move Wednesday toward the Blazers makes it seem like Walker might have a shot to play. The Owls have been the country's best team against the number (15-4-1), while UAB has been the conference's worst (7-12-2). That alone signals a potential regression spot for both teams, and if you're going to sell high on Florida Atlantic, a 20-game heater has to be a perfect time.
FAU has earned every bit of the respect it is seeing right now. It is a balanced team that ranks inside KenPom's Top 50 for adjusted efficiency on both ends of the floor. Vlad Goldin scores close to 10 points a game and offers excellent rim protection down low, while the Owls' four guards can push the pace, fueling an offense that averages 77.5 points.
So we know what to expect from the Owls: good ball movement, solid perimeter shooting, dribble hand-offs and cuts to the rim. They are a fun, well-coached team that does the little things right. In addition, their biggest advantage is that they can go deep into their bench with little dropoff. They keep throwing bodies at you. That's why it's imperative, whether Walker plays, that the Blazers continue building on the success from the last two games.
In UAB's last two victories over Louisiana Tech and Rice, it went back to the basics without being able to rely on its leading scorer. It's forced the Blazers to play with high intensity on defense, contest more shots and crash the boards. As a result, their opponents shot only 33% from the field in the last two games. On offense, they sorely miss Walker's shooting, but they figured out what it takes to be successful in the half-court without him. They have slowed up the tempo a bit, reduced turnovers and worked to get more quality shots. Ledarrius Brewer and KJ Buffen each had 20 points against Rice, shooting a combined 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. Adding Jelly's scoring to this offense will be problematic for many teams moving forward.
There is no disputing FAU is a much bigger challenge than Rice or Louisiana Tech, but I really like how the Blazers have shown some growth during Walker's absence. It feels like the light switch came on, and now they are playing their best basketball. I expect UAB to come out with a ton of energy in front of the home crowd. It will win the hustle plays and loose balls, which will be imperative because it will likely need more possessions and second-chance scoring, especially if Walker can't go. However, I see it as a good spot for the Blazers to pull off the upset and cover this number regardless. The Blazers hold a significant edge in free throws made (401 to 269), which could be the deciding factor in the final minutes of a close game. Let's lay the points with the home team, and if Walker gets the green light, we will hold some nice CLV at tipoff.