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College Basketball Upsets

   by Scott Spreitzer - 01/21/2006

Those upsets in college basketball! You know it's going to happen sooner or later. Even great teams don't generally go through an entire grueling college hoops' schedule without tripping up at some point. As we all know, winning on the road is difficult enough, and once conference play starts, highly ranked teams are going to be going into a hornet's nest against plenty of equally strong teams. Teams get fired up to knock off an unbeaten opponent, or fans want to see revenge against a school that may have beaten them at their building the year before.

Other times, teams are on a tough road stretch, and still other times even great teams have a bad game. Maybe an ace backcourt puts up a bunch of bricks during a combined 4-for-24 shooting night, or a star player simply has a bad night. There are all kinds of dynamics that come into play during a long season that can trip up strong teams. The question is: What happens next?

I bring this up because Saturday's college basketball schedule was littered with surprising upsets. No. 1 Duke was an 8-point favorite at Georgetown, but their undefeated season went poof in an 87-84 upset. So what happened? Well, it wasn't a bad shooting game for the Blue Devils, hitting 51.7% from the field and nailing 9-of-19 threes. But Duke forgot to play defense, as Georgetown shot a sizzling 61.5%! Georgetown's starting frontcourt was 16-of-25, as the Hoyas had plenty of easy backdoor moves and open 3-pointers.

The Hoyas had lost nine straight against ranked opponents and hadn't beaten a top-ranked team since an 85-69 win over St. John's in 1985! Georgetown fans surged on the court at the buzzer. Which makes me wonder if I should have pity on the Virginia schools? That is, Duke's next game is Thursday at Virginia Tech and Saturday at home to Virginia. Think coach K will be stressing some perimeter defense this week?

And that's the thing about headline grabbing upsets. As Isaac Newton used to say, every action has an opposite and equal reaction. Newton didn't play point guard for any ACC school as far as I know, but from a handicapping perspective, big upsets like that can cause a reaction the next game. A team could be so deflated, their minds might not be focused and another bad game is possible. On the other hand, a team could be so angry about a loss, their next game could be their best of the season.

Let's look back at what happened about one year ago: Duke was 15-0 when they lost 75-66 at rival Maryland as a 12-point favorite. What a clunker! The next game, the Blue Devils mopped the floor with Virginia Tech, winning 100-65 as a 20-point chalk. I'd say they were a little miffed! Getting a grasp on how a team emotionally responds to defeats like that, and looking at recent history, is important for bettors.

How do you think the Virginia Tech seniors feel right now? They had to face Duke in a similar situation a year ago and got blasted 100-65. Now they have to face Duke AGAIN after the Blue Devils first defeat! One difference is that Duke came home after the defeat to Maryland last January, and this time it is at Virginia Tech.

Pitt was another team that suffered its first loss Saturday, 55-50 at St. John's. It was a frustrating loss for the Panthers, falling behind 12-0, then rallying to take a 48-47 with 2:39 left, only to falter. A year ago, Pitt lost its first game in January at home to Bucknell, then played again at home, and lost 67-64 to Georgetown as a 12-point favorite. So just because a team gets upset doesn't mean they're a shoe-in to blow out their next opponent. Pitt doesn't have much time to dwell on the defeat, either, as the Panthers play No. 20 Syracuse Monday. Fortunately, it is at home. Wisconsin also suffered a surprising 62-55 loss at home Saturday to North Dakota State! Getting a pulse on a team after a stunning defeat, and seeing if they have a matchup they can exploit the next game, is a major key for handicappers if they want to exploit the after-effects of an upset!

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