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Situational Handicapping in Basketball

   by Bryan Leonard - 03/31/2006

Situations dictate a great deal how a team might perform in a contest. These can include revenge spots, common opponents, or the second of back to back nights in the NBA. Examining how a team performed in past similar situations can indicate many things about the makeup of a team. For example, on Saturday I had UCLA over Memphis. Several situational angles were present in this match up. First off, it was a revenge spot as Memphis had scored 88 points on the Bruins early in the season, an 88-80 Memphis win.

However, that was VERY early in the season, and as we all know, UCLA is not a poor defensive team. They’ve improved incredibly as the season has gone along defensively. This is not surprising, as it’s a very young Bruin team, plus head coach Ben Howland has a long history of getting his teams to play terrific defense. The rematch was a great spot for the Bruins to apply some revenge in the form of their choking defense. In addition, UCLA has impressed me as they are 15-5 against the spread when the line is 3 points or less. That shows me they are able to win tightly contested ballgames. We saw that last week as they came from out of nowhere to shock Gonzaga.

In addition, the Bruins are now 20-6 ATS in the role of an underdog! They are also an amazing 11-1 ATS in road games revenging a loss. Those are all situations surrounding this UCLA team that explains a lot about the character of this group. They play hard and don’t give up. Secondly, UCLA has been shooting lights out the last few weeks, averaging over 50% shooting from the field in 6 of their last 7 games. Again, those numbers not only don’t lie but explain a lot about the make up of a team. Conversely, take a look at a team like UConn, a club that has all kinds of talent and depth. Yet, over the last few months all you hear about UConn is how unpredictable and even underachieving they’ve been much of the season. Even their coach said several times how he didn’t like the way they rarely play a full 40 minutes of basketball. In short, there was something missing with the Huskies, needing a lucky shot to beat Washington last week, and finally it all caught up to them in the loss to George Mason.

George Mason was another team I had over the weekend and situational handicapping played a key roll in that call, too. As I mentioned in my analysis before the game, “George Mason has proven that they belong here with solid wins over Michigan State, North Carolina and Wichita State. They held those three opponents to 43.3%, 35.9% and 31.2% from the field.â€쳌 Again, the situations mentioned were the caliber of play the Patriots faced. And they faced them well, playing great defense and shooting well from the field. Past situations can help predict future events in sports, at least with respect to the number.

An NBA game I had was Houston when they hosted Cleveland. The situation in that game was one of the most basic handicapping tools: Home versus road play. If you’re serious about turning a profit in the competitive world of sports wagering, examining the home/road play of all teams in all sports is essential. Many teams play very differently at home than on the road. The Cavaliers have not been a very good road team the last few years, and this season is no exception. Defense has been the biggest problem as they allow 47.5% shooting on the road.

Houston plays terrific defense allowing just 42.9% shooting on the season. Houston has dominated the series, too, winning 8 of 8 straight up and 5 straight overall. The last 5 meetings Cleveland has scored 81, 80, 87, 84 and 85 points against that Houston defense. Houston got the easy cover in a 2-point game. That was an example of recent history against each other, plus Cleveland’s consistently poor road play. Whenever I see teams like the Cavs as a road favorite, I put a circle around the game and begin to dig deep into the facts. Situational handicapping happens constantly and it’s important to understand what to look for and how to apply those edges with respect to the betting number. That can help you become a sports prophet for profit!

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