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Must-Win Games?

   by Bryan Leonard - 03/08/2006

Must win games don't always mean that a team WILL win, or even cover the number for that matter. Every NFL playoff game, for instance, is MUST WIN, but someone is not going to! However, from a handicapping point of view, you need to take a different approach to must win games. A better way to look at it is two-fold: Is this a must win game? And does the team have the horses to get it?

That second part of the equation is more important. There has to be some match-up area, significant home court edge, or motivational aspect within the game, in addition to a betting number that is attainable. If I find a must win game for one team and my power rating has them as a 6-point favorite but the betting number is 12, I will be hesitant to make this a play. The oddsmaker has overcompensated or simply made a bad number.

Thursday in college basketball was an excellent example of this. I released Michigan State in their Big 10 battle against Wisconsin. Even before the game I wrote: Michigan State is desperate for a victory after losing 4 of their last 5 games. Coach Izzo has been really on them in practice this week as they have really played poorly over the last two weeks, on a 1-4 SU/ATS run.

This was a situation where the Spartans not only needed a win, but needed to put a halt to their poor play of late. With tournament play beginning soon, this is no time for any good team with high aspirations to pick up bad habits and play sloppy basketball. It's time to get serious! Michigan State won and covered, 74-65, with an inspired all around effort in front of the home crowd. Notice that after the game, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo admitted he was on center Paul Davis all week in practice to be more aggressive going to the basket and play big in the middle. Davis was a force against the Badgers, with 27 points and 9 rebounds.

Finding motivational edges like this before a game are enormous advantages for serious sports bettors. In addition to that angle, there were other things that added to a play on Michigan State. The Spartans were looking at 19-point revenge for a loss earlier at Wisconsin. Michigan State is now 14-4 against the spread when avenging a same season loss! And of course, they had home court, plus Izzo is one of the best coaches in the country. In addition, Wisconsin is now 2-7 SU/ATS on the road.

Having the motivational edge was significant, but it is even more important to build up many angles, on and off the court, that will support one team over another. There will be many must win situations for teams over the next few weeks. But it is much smarter to wager on a team when combining numerous factors, rather than just identifying a must win spot.

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