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College Basketball Match-Ups

   by Scott Spreitzer - 02/13/2006

I'm a match-up guy when it comes to handicapping. Trends and angles are interesting and I do pay attention to them, but when deciding which side to put my money each day, individual and team match-ups have always been my bread-and-butter.

In college basketball, for me match-ups are a huge factor for a lot of reasons. One is that, like in college football, there are so many games. You will find upper-echelon teams taking on small non-conference schools and even within conference play their can be strong, talented team and bottom feeders that simply don't match up in many areas. Teams play different styles of play, as well, with running teams like Duke or Texas facing off against a club that plays a slow kill-the-clock style, such as Northwestern or St. Louis.

In addition, a guard-oriented team could find trouble when facing a team with one or two outstanding shut-down defensive guards, or a team with a small frontcourt could be at a huge disadvantage under the boards against an opponent like LSU that has a mammoth front line. These kind of match-ups make the world of handicapping so challenging. Generally speaking, oddsmakers are looking at stats and angles when making a betting numbers, which is why I think examining individual and team match-ups are such an advantage.

Take Saturday's ACC Clash between Duke and Maryland. I released Duke as my TV Game of the Week. One thing that struck me about the game, which was in my pre-game analysis of the selection, was the lack of depth for Maryland. There are really only two ways to try and hang with Duke, and that's to run with them behind quality guards and use the bench liberally to keep guys from getting tired, or to slow the pace down to a crawl. You may recall North Carolina slowing Duke way down in the ACC tournament a few years ago, when the Tar Heels were depleted by injuries. Duke won the game, but North Carolina covered as a big dog.

Slowing the pace down isn't always the best way to attack the Blue Devils because they always have such outstanding long range shooters that they can still burn you in a halfcourt game. Maryland likes the uptempo game and always tries to run with Duke, so it was clear this was going to be a match-up where depth and guard play were the difference. This was a weakness for Maryland, which recently lost ace guard leading scorer Chris McCrary, depleting its backcourt, depth and scoring ability, and senior guard Sterling Ledbetter has been a disappointment.

In my analysis I wrote, "Maryland really misses Gilchrist's leadership on the court from last season. They were banking on Ledbetter to provide new leadership but he's proven to be a major disappointment. And Nik Caner-Medley is a good college player, but nothing special by any means. Duke won the first match-up by 24 points despite J.J. Redick having an off night, making just 9 of 22 shots. Duke's Shelden Williams had a career day inside which spells trouble for the Terps who have struggled in the paint on the defensive end."

You can see all the match-up areas that I was looking at, and all favored Duke. Maryland would again have trouble with Shelden Williams on the boards, the Blue Devils had the better backcourt, and I expected Redick to shoot better. So what happened? Maryland had no answer for Williams (10 of 15 shooting, 26 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks), and Redick erupted for 35 points (9 for 19 overall, a stellar 4 for 10 from three-point land). Maryland's Ledbetter played 20 minutes and had 1 assist and 1 turnover.

Duke won and covered, never trailing in a 96-88 victory. The inside-outside match-up duo of Redick and Williams was clearly the difference. There is nothing more satisfying than identifying potential mismatches and then watching the game unfold like you expect! The trick is to know WHAT to look for and then HOW to apply those edges to help cover the number.

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