Near the end of January in 2011 the Big Ten in college basketball gave us a very exciting and very educational matchup between Purdue and Ohio State. Purdue, ranked 12th in the country at the time, was a talented basketball team who was proving they were a force in the national picture. Ohio State was the number one NCAA team in that country, and with a loss by San Diego State that night they became the last unbeaten team standing. The game was a battle of the titans – one that you couldn’t help to be interested in if you are a college basketball fan. What it didn’t end up being, though, is even somewhat close – Ohio State won by 23 points.
There’s a lot to absorb from that basketball game. What interests me most, though, is how a team like Purdue will bounce back. They came into the game thinking that they were an elite program, and came out realizing they are a long way from the top. It’s not as uncommon as you might expect for a ranked, successful team to get totally crushed by another ranked team. Here are five ways for college basketball handicappers to judge how well a team will bounce back from a demoralizing loss like this:
Can the loss be explained? – On the surface, of course, every loss can be easily explained – the team scored fewer points than their opponent. Needless to say, you need to look beyond that. Sometimes basketball teams lose just because they are playing a team that is dramatically better than them. Those losses are a concern, but you can’t really worry about them here. What you want to be on the look out for is college teams that aren’t as bad as the result of their last game would indicate. The betting public will be down on the team because of the lopsided loss, so if you can explain away the loss to a reasonable extent then you could find some nice value. Maybe the loss was due to injuries or a player suspension. Perhaps they were playing in a hostile environment that would have made a win unlikely in even the best circumstances. Or perhaps there was a matchup problem that the team just wasn’t going to be able to deal with. If you can spot a problem that the public can’t or won’t notice then you are in good shape.
Has the team dealt with adversity before? – A big loss on a bright stage like this is going to result in adversity for any team. Some college basketball teams have never dealt with that before, so it is likely to have a negative effect on them – one that could easily carry over to their next few games. If the team has been through worse, though, then they probably have the toughness and experience to draw on to regroup and get right back on track. Purdue, for example, has had to deal with the loss of their best player – Robbie Hummel – two seasons in a row. A humiliating loss is nothing in comparison to that. The Boilermakers looked remarkably good in their next game – like a totally different squad – and they beat up on a ranked Minnesota team.
How old is the team? – Young players who are enjoying roaring success for the first time in college can easily start to think that they are invincible. They likely had success throughout their high school careers, so they have never failed before. It can be hard on their egos when they do get beaten badly, and they don’t have the experience and maturity to fall back on. That means that a young team can really struggle in a case like this. On the other hand, a basketteam full of senior and junior starters has probably gone through some hard times before, and is more likely to be able to bounce back strong.
What’s next on the schedule? – A lot of a college basketball team’s potential to bounce back depends on who they are playing next and where they are playing them. The ultimate situation would be a very weak opponent that the team can beat up on to gain their confidence right back. That’s often not possible, though – especially in conference play. The kinder that the schedule is, though, the better the chance that a team will bounce back well. A home game would obviously be better than a road game, for example. A team that they match up well against would be ideal as well. The worst case scenario would be to follow a tough loss with another tough game right away. Syracuse won their first 18 games in 2001, but a tough loss to Pittsburgh, ranked fourth in the country, was followed right away by a loss to number seven Villanova. They lost both, their confidence was shattered, and they were in a terrible slump heading into a very tough section of conference play. Their schedule made it very hard for them to regroup and move forward. Beinh able to analyze these situations will make you a savvy basketball handicapper capable of making expert sports picks.