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College Basketball Injuries and Lifeless Play

   by Al McMordie - 02/15/2010

Football season is behind us, and we find ourselves smack in the middle of both the college and pro basketball seasons. Fortunately for bettors, there are dozens of games each day to look for soft sides, totals, and winning opportunities. One thing to keep in mind as we come down the home stretch in college and pro basketball is that we are approaching the point where some teams are more motivated than others.

There are many reasons for this: Injuries, personnel, coaching, postseason races at stake. UConn is in a precarious situation, with a winning record but playing terrible basketball. UConn was dominated by Cincinnati Saturday in Jim Calhoun's return to the court, losing 60-48. A crowd of 14,605 greeted Calhoun with a standing ovation, soon booed his team and began to file out with a few minutes remaining.

"I was embarrassed by it," said Calhoun, coaching his first game since Jan. 17. "I am embarrassed by the way we played. I have been very rarely embarrassed by one of my teams."
You would think a team with a proud history like the Huskies would show some fire with the return of their coach, yet they packed it in again. Calhoun used the word "embarrassed" 10 times in a fiery, confrontational postgame press conference during which he continually questioned his team's effort. They have been money-burners all season and currently on a 3-7 ATS run. You can't back teams that are too often going through the motions.

Another team struggling is Tennessee, on a 5-4 SU, 2-6-1 ATS run after getting pushed around by Kentucky Saturday. Their biggest problems have been suspensions. Four key players were suspended January 9th. The Volunteers lost third leading scorer senior Tyler Smith (11.7 ppg), who was dismissed after his arrest with three other players on misdemeanor gun and drug charges.

They also lost role players 6-foot-10 post Brian Williams (5.5 ppg, 5 rpg), and guard Melvin Goins (5.5 ppg) and Cameron Tatum (7.2 ppg). They are 2-6-1 ATS since then and come off a 90-71 loss at Vanderbilt and a double digit loss to Kentucky. They are currently in the middle of a stretch playing four of five on the road, plus a 1-5-1 ATS run.

How could Tennessee look so bad at Vanderbilt and Kentucky? "Matchups," Coach Bruce Pearl admitted. "It's the way Vanderbilt is built and the way they play. Size, athleticism, their balance. We struggled against Georgia and Vandy with their big front lines, and we'll have a tough game with Kentucky because of the way they're built, too." They did.

Michigan State has been in a tailspin, ending a 3-game skid with a win at Penn State Saturday. However, they have been money-burners on a 2-7 ATS run, battling a key injury. Kalin Lucas scored 24 in a starting role for MSU after coming off the bench against the Boilermakers. A lingering right ankle sprain didn't seem to bother the defending Big Ten Player of the Year at all Saturday.

That's good news for the Spartans, who got a rare spread cover. Another thing to keep close tabs on with Michigan State is their defense: It has been getting better, on an 8-4 run under the total.

Some Spartans not known for defense delivered Saturday in a 65-54 win at Penn State, like Mike Kebler and Durrell Summers. Both were instrumental during a second-half stretch that saw the Nittany Lions go nearly seven minutes without a field goal. Their effort gave the Spartans the kind of emotional lift coach Tom Izzo hoped for.

"I put as one of our goals: Let's be better teammates," Izzo said of his pregame speech. "I thought we were better teammates today." If Michigan State wants to win another Big Ten championship, it will have to succeed with defense.

Vanderbilt (19-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) continues to be a force in the SEC, though they played without starting forward Andre Walker (shoulder) and reserve guard John Jenkins missed his second straight game due to the stomach flu.

In the first half against LSU Saturday, the Commodores shot a season-low 29.6 percent, including 3 of 12 from beyond the 3-point arc. But they were playing an LSU team that has packed in the season, on a 1-14 SU, 3-10 ATS run.

LSU point guard Bo Spencer is hurting after rolling his ankle his left ankle in the first half at Arkansas, forward Storm Warren is battling a sore hamstring and is day-to-day, while leading scorer Tasmin Mitchell is playing tired. Mitchell has not only carried LSU's scoring burden this year, but he leads the conference averaging 38 minutes per game. The next closest player in the SEC is teammate Bo Spencer.

"Obviously there's a level of mental frustration, but physically we're pretty beat up and pretty tired," said LSU Coach Trent Johnson. "Tas has really hit a wall. That is to be expected with all teams this time of year. And Storm is laboring. His quickness to the ball is not there. Hamstrings are a delicate situation, and his whole game is predicated off his legs."

"It's just frustrating," LSU guard Zach Kinsley said. "Losing makes everything worse." The LSU defense is getting worse, too, allowing 81, 80 and 77 points the last three games (all over the total).

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