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College Basketball Letdowns

   by Scott Spreitzer - 01/11/2006

One area a pro handicapper looks at is emotional let down spots. This is when a team is psychologically down. This can be for many reasons, such as losing a big game, getting knocked out of the conference race, or suffering a frustrating loss. It can even happen with a win, as well. For example, last season UConn suffered its first defeat in a stunning 61-59 loss at UMass as a 13-point favorite. UMass fans stormed the court in an emotional celebration after having stunned the defending champs. The next game, UMass was a 6-point dog at Miami….and lost 80-53. Talk about being flat!

I bring this up because there have been a lot of upsets and thrilling finishes in college basketball lately. College athletes are more susceptible to this because emotion plays such an important role. Schools have pep rallies and excited fans who mingle and socialize with players on campus during the week. This doesn’t happen with pro athletes, who are getting a paycheck and handle their duties as a job. Getting that job done is what’s important, not taking part in a pre-game pep rally.

Sometimes college teams can get huge wins, and be flat because they are so out of gas the next game. You can understand what happens. Players spend so much time celebrating that they can’t focus on the next game, or they spent so much energy on upsetting that team that they need a week or two off, which isn’t always possible.

On Saturday, Miami hit a season-high 12 3-pointers to beat the 14th-ranked Terrapins 84-70. Miami (just 9-6) beat a ranked team for the first time in four tries this season. “It gives us some confidence," coach Frank Haith said. Miami missed only seven of 19 3-point tries and went 7-for-10 in the second half. A handicapper needs to ask two questions when something like this happens: Will the team really have more confidence, or be tired emotionally the next game? And, is Miami going to continue to hit 70% of its three-pointers? That one we can answer: Not likely.

It will be interesting to see if Miami has an emotional let down after that big win. Also, note that Maryland plays at top-ranked Duke on Wednesday. Will they be down after the Miami loss? There is certainly revenge on the minds of the Blue Devils: Last season, Maryland became the first ACC team to sweep both games from the Blue Devils since 1995-96.

In another wild one, Nebraska’s Joe McCray hit a 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left to give Nebraska a 59-58 victory over the 12th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners. Nebraska's student section spilled onto the floor to celebrate the Huskers' second straight win over a Top 25 opponent. They beat then-No. 4 Oklahoma State last February in Lincoln. Several students lifted McCray on their shoulders and bounced him up and down. It’s important to note when teams are off huge wins or when fans storm the court. Those things don’t happen often for a team, so the win is cherished like fine wine. After which the team might not always be ready to play the next game.

Also on Saturday, No. 6 Illinois suffered its first defeat, playing poorly in a 63-48 loss at Iowa. Illinois' first loss came after a grueling win over Michigan State, and it was interesting that Illini coach Bruce Weber said it may have drained his team's emotional tank. "It was such a high the other night. Maybe it was all blown out of proportion," Weber said. "They weren't hyped up out there early. It shows you how vulnerable you are if you're not ready."

For handicappers, of course, every team that comes off an emotional loss, there’s a team off a huge win. Iowa plays Saturday at Penn State, which means to keep tabs on the Hawkeyes this week. Will they be talking about facing Penn State? Or will they still be celebrating the upset of Illinois? Because upsets, let down spots, and emotion are very much key elements in college basketball handicapping.

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