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College Hoops: Know Your Teams
by Scott Spreitzer - 02/19/2006
When analyzing basketball games, both college and pro, it is essential to know the teams inside and out. You cannot look at lines the night before and think that one team is too short a favorite and that's where you're going to put your money. It takes a thorough understanding of each team, one that is cultivated by weeks of careful study. Knowledge of a particular conference takes time to absorb every aspect of a team: Their interest in defense, coaching strengths (or weaknesses), ability to pass the ball, how they play at home and on the road, whether they are sloppy with turnovers, how they work together doing subtle things, like boxing out or whether the players understand the concept of team defense and are able to apply it on the court.
Yes, it's almost like the process of aging fine wine. You can't hurry along the process of wine fermentation, just as you can't take shortcuts and expect to understand all the facets of team dynamics. This is true with athletes on a team, so why shouldn't the same be true for sports fans and handicappers who study the game? You don't think the team-oriented play of the Detroit Pistons came together in a few weeks, do you? Of course not. Think back a few years ago as the Pistons were slowly becoming a great team. At first, they played great defense under Larry Brown, but were a very bad offensive team, prone to embarrassingly long shooting droughts.
Then they got better and better and made a statement in the playoffs. Then the next year they finally took another step and made it to the Finals, where they upset the Lakers. It took time for the players to learn their roles, time for the veterans to mesh with kids like Tayshaun Prince, time for the ball handlers to know when their teammates were going to cut to the hoop, etc.
Handicapping is the same way. I take the time each week to digest as much as I can about as many teams as possible. It's essential to know, for instance, that one team has excellent defensive guards, or that another team has a strong frontcourt. But be careful: Some teams will have big guys on their roster, but on the court they are not as imposing as they don't play well, with limited footwork or no shooting touch.
Another factor tied into this to keep in mind is what players are 100% on a team, and those that are injured, out, or anywhere from 50-80% healthy. This is key, and something you can't tell by looking at a starting lineup. For instance, last month I had a play against Arkansas State as at the time they had a roster loaded with players who had nagging injuries. Granted, many of these guys were still playing, but accounts of the game detailed how one player had a sore ankle, another had a bad back but continued to play, and another had the flu. On paper or in the box score, this team was close to 100%, but a closer look at what was really taking place found that they were a team operating at 75% capacity. This is not reflected in the line, either, as oddsmakers weren't clear on their nagging-injury situation.
Other times, oddsmakers look at overall stats, but don't pay as much attention as they should when key players return to a lineup. Indiana State fits this bill, a team I had as my Dog Pound selection Saturday against Western Michigan. It was interesting that both teams came into that game with identical 11-13 records. However, Indiana State just got star guard David Moss back, so they are not the same team that started 7-11. Moss had been out most of the season, but take a close look at what has happened since he came back: A 4-2 SU/ATS run, which included stunning upsets of Southern Illinois (as a +15 dog), Bradley (as a +4.5 dog) and Northern Iowa (+8.5 dog).
College teams can pull upsets as big dogs from time to time, but to do that 3 times over the course of 5 games spoke volumes about how much better a team like the Sycamores are with Moss in the lineup than without. In the win over Northern Iowa, Moss had 14 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals, and in Saturday's upset of Western Michigan he had 17 points and hit the game winning shot with 0.6 seconds left. Talk about a valuable player! Know as much as you can on a daily basis about teams. In the world of sports wagering, what you know and don't know determines whether you can grind out a profit or not.