Every college basketball season we see a couple of top five teams get absolutely crushed in a game. I’m not talking about losing games they should have won, or getting beaten by a few points. I’m talking about an epic beatdown – a 20 or 30 point margin in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score suggests. These college games seem to come out of nowhere, and they obviously come as a big surprise to fans and bettors. The challenge for those bettors is to figure out if what happened was just an ugly fluke that really did come from nowhere, or if it was a sign of bigger problems. If as a college basketball handicapper you can get that right then you can often find some very nice value because the public struggles to handle these teams and often overreacts. Here are six factors to consider when handicapping how these teams are likely to bounce back from a crushing loss in college basketball:
What was the statistical story? – This is absolutely essential as the first step. Before you can truly and effectively evaluate what you are looking at you have to have a sense of what actually happened. That means that you need to know what actually happened in the game that led to the outcome. Quite often – in fact, almost always – the boxscore will show you clearly what happened in the basketball game. Perhaps the team shot terribly, and wasn’t able to convert their opportunities into points. Maybe a key player was hurt early or got into foul trouble early. Maybe the opponent was clearly able to set the tempo and assert their physicality and style of play. Whatever you can find that explains what happened – or at least most of what happened – will help you make better, more accurate assessments of what is likely to happen in the future. If you don’t take the time to get a good statistical picture at the start then every conclusion you draw about the team will be based on assumptions and is likely inaccurate.
Have they had the same problem in past games? – Once you have a sense of what has happened you have to determine whether it has happened before (it may not have happened in the same blowout fashion, but they could have struggled in the same ways), or if it appeared as an issue for the first time here. If it has happened before then you need to look at what triggered it. He are some questions sports bettors need to ask.Was it the style of opponent they were playing? How about the location of the game? Was the team tired or worn down? Were injuries a factor? Was it an opponent that they were overlooking? Did the game come after a particularly tough stretch of games, or was it right before a tough game against a big rival that they could have been looking ahead to? If the problem occurred for the first time in recent history then you need to look at what could have caused it to happen, and whether that is likely to happen again.
Were they at full strength? – This is straightforward – were the best players able to start the basketball game and play as much as they normally would, or were they limited in some way – injuries, discipline issues, foul trouble and so on.
Who were they playing? – When a college hoop team is blown out like this the tendency of the public is to look at two things – what the team did to lose like they did, and what they have coming up next. What gets less attention is the team that they were playing against. Did the opponent play extremely well? Did they adjust their game in a way that made it difficult to play against them? Do they have an offensive or defensive system that is unique and challenging? Did they provide matchup challenges that the team hadn’t been faced with before? Where was the game played? The more you can look at what the opponent did to cause the blowout win the more effectively you can determine whether the same situation is likely to arise again. One trap you don’t want to fall into here, though, is trying to subjectively judge how good the opponent was. It doesn’t matter if the opponent was a good team or a bad team. All that matters is that on that day they were able to do something that made life very difficult for their opponent, and that the team in question was unable to deal with it. If as a basketball bettor you dwell on whether it was a good team or not then it can be too easy to discount the significance of what they did and what it can mean going forward.
Was there a good excuse? – I’m never a big fan of hearing athletes or coaches making excuses. Quite often, though, there are clearly factors that contributed to the loss. We’ve talked about a lot of these already – injuries, fatigue, location issues, bad officiating, and so on. If there is a clear and obvious excuse for the performance then it can be easier to accept a bad performance – and to accept that the team could bounce back strong from it. If there was no excuse for the performance, though, then it could be a sign of a much bigger problem.
How is the media reacting to the loss? – The betting public is driven largely by the media reaction to different stories and events. If the media reacts strongly to a situation, makes all sorts of doom and gloom statements about the team, and essentially panics as a result of the loss then the public is going to do the same in their betting the next time the team plays. If the media downpays what happens, embraces simple excuses, and seems to believe that it was an isolated event then the public isn’t likely to panic, either. By seeing what the main sentiment of the media is – and how much of a story the loss becomes – smart college basketball handicappers can get a good sense of how the public is likely to bet next time, and in turn how the oddsmakers are likely to set the lines, how the lines are likely to move, and where the value is going to be easiest to find.