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Match-Up Madness

   by Bryan Leonard - 01/10/2008

College basketball is largely about match-ups. My concerns when analyzing games and the point spread are: Can this team defend the three-pointer? Is emotion a part of a match-up? Does the home team have a dominant inside game that the opponent won't be able to contain? Is one team soft on defense?

Analyzing questions like this can identify excellent wagering opportunities. I used a match-up angle in a recent college hoop game when Butler took on Southern Illinois. In my analysis I noted, “The Butler Bulldogs have already proven themselves away from home with quality wins over Virginia Tech and Texas Tech on neutral courts. This team matches up very well with the all out pressing style of the Salukis.

“The Bulldogs rank 6th in the country in offensive efficiency and rarely turn the ball over ranking 15th in turnover percentage. Butler is led by four seniors who play the most minutes on the team, including A.J. Graves who has been a staple of this program the past few years. This team’s tallest player is 6’-7â€쳌 so they have five players on the court at all times that can handle the basketball. Butler also ranks 2nd in the nation in free throw percentage which could come in handy in a tight ballgame such as tonight.

“Southern Illinois has been a disappointment this season. They enter this meeting just 5-5 on the year with losses to the likes of Western Michigan and St Louis. The Salukis played two squads similar to the Bulldogs talent wise and lost to USC by 25 on a neutral court and dropped a 13 point home decision to Indiana. Southern Illinois is 6th in the country in forcing turnovers but they simply don’t have enough offensive weapons to turn those extra chances into points. The better team adds to their resume, play Butler!â€쳌

So what happened? As a home favorite, Southern Illinois couldn’t even win the game as Butler won. Butler won the turnover battle by +4, as was expected. And as for the free throw differential that I highlighted, that turned out to be a whopping edge for the Bulldogs, hitting 70% from the line (21-of-30), while Southern Illinois shot (ugghh) 25% from the line (3-of-12).

Depth is another important match-up angle. A team that runs the court well all game facing a team with little depth can be a big mismatch. Memphis plays a wide-open, street ball style under John Calipari. Disciplined defensive teams can give them some trouble, forcing turnovers for instance, but many teams can struggle because Memphis runs the court all game long.

I recall last season when shorthanded Cincinnati played at Memphis, the thin Bearcats didn't stand a chance. Memphis made Cincy expend a great deal of energy running the court. Making matters worst, Cincinnati played its first true road game of the season on an opponent's home court at Memphis. As the Tigers jumped out to an 11-0 lead within the first three minutes, the Bearcats looked stunned and helpless.

The Tigers won by 33 as 15-point home favorites. Memphis outshot UC 59 percent to 37 and outrebounded the Bearcats 42-23. "When we're outmanned like that and the other team shoots the 3 that way and we're outmanned in the post, there's really nothing we can do," Bearcat coach Mike Cronin said afterward. I could have told him that before the game, as I did my clients! It's the job of successful handicappers to identify those mismatch match-ups before each game to collect after the final buzzer.

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