Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 10:00 AM EST. Odds subject to change.
Wintrust Arena, Chicago, IL
Loyola Chicago +6½ -107 over FAU
7:00 PM EST. The first thing to note here is that this game is listed as being on a neutral floor but the game is in Chicago about 11 miles from the Ramblers campus so give a home-court edge to the underdog here.
The next thing to note is recency bias, which hugely favors Florida Atlantic, a Cinderella team that made it to the Final Four last year, had its first 30-win season in school history (and just the second 20-win season). On top of that, the coach stayed put, nobody transferred, and the Owls are stepping into the American Conference with a legitimate national contender in place. They are also ranked #10 in the AP Polls.
Meanwhile the Ramblers are coming off a nightmare season where it finished dead last in the A-10 after going 4-14 in league play. We repeat, recency bias hugely favors FAU, which provides us with an opportunity to buy low and sell high. Furthermore, oddsmakers opened this game up with FAu being a -5-point favorite, the inefficient market bit and now the Owls have been bet up to the price you see here.
We’re not going to suggest for a second that the Owls aren’t good. They are. It starts with Dusty May, the brilliant coach who has found a home in south Florida. May would disagree with that assessment, however, quickly crediting his players for the boatloads of success the program has found. Even after 35 wins and kicking down the door to national relevance, no one at FAU is satisfied.
“Our players are just as hungry as they were last year, if not hungrier,” declared May. “Not a lot has changed. Just like every offseason, we did a deep dive autopsy on ourselves and figured out where we could get better”.
The recipe for more victories in Boca Raton is simple: More of the same. With eight of the team’s nine primary contributors back, the hype is real. FAU has the horses to make another postseason charge but the market dynamics are not the same. Thanks to its newfound national prominence, FAU has the bright lights on them and the weight of expectations. After such a remarkable, headline-stealing season, the Owls will be the hunted — every foe will bring its best effort. They will not be sneaking up on anyone this year. FAU also faces the challenge of keeping everyone happy. The players and coaches are saying the right things, but it is natural human instinct to want more shots, more playing time and more accolades. NBA scouts will be on hand at almost every FAU game. We cannot overstate the significance of how the dynamics changed for this team. Last year at this time they were nobody and this year they’re getting as much press as Duke or Kansas or Michigan State. The Owls stock is through the roof, thus it is the wrong time to get buy in.
Year 1 in the Atlantic 10 wasn’t kind to Drew Valentine and the Loyola Ramblers. Projected to contend near the top of the conference, Loyola stumbled to a 4-14 record in the A-10 and occupied the basement of its league for the first time since 2014. Neither end of the floor treated the Ramblers well. Offensively, they turned the ball over at the highest rate in league play. Defensively, they ranked dead last in adjusted efficiency, 3-point percentage allowed, 2-point percentage allowed, effective field goal rate allowed and free-throw percentage allowed. Valentine described it as a “perfect storm” — not only did his program lose five senior leaders from the previous season in the midst of switching conferences, but opposing teams also shot the lights out against them in nearly every contest.
Hope springs eternal in 2023-24, however. Valentine retained several key players from last season and raised his team’s talent level through the transfer portal. On paper, it’s enough to believe that last year’s struggles were merely a blip on the radar for an otherwise rising program. The Ramblers brought in some great players and while we’re not going to go through them one by one, we promise you that few teams nationally will have the enviable combination of experience and upside as the Ramblers do this season, let alone in the A-10.
Last season’s descent down the national totem pole was shocking for a Loyola program that had been at the top of the mid-major realm the past several seasons. Valentine is out to prove that the painful campaign was simply a fluke and indeed a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances. On paper, this is a roster that can compete near the top of the A-10 and improve by leaps and bounds on both sides of the ball. We’ll gladly put that to the test here while taking back some inflated points. An upset is on the table too.
Loyola Chicago +6½ (Risking 2.14 units - To Win: 2.00)