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College Basketball Handicapping: the Importance of Injuries
by - 1/15/2013

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Missouri forward Laurence Bowers

Duke is not the same team without Ryan Kelly.

It’s one thing to say that. But it is another thing to see the Blue Devils in action and realize how much they miss their 6-feet-10 swing forward.

Duke suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday, 84-76, at North Carolina State. Without their third-leading scorer, second-leading rebounder, and sharpest three-point shooter, they were outscored, outrebounded and shot just 30 percent from deep in their ACC defeat.

Now, that was a game that I expected the Blue Devils to lose even with Kelly in the fold. But the facts are the facts: Duke is now just 1-3 in their last four games without him. They went just 1-2 to close out last year, being upset in the ACC Tournament and then being humiliated in a first-round loss to Lehigh. Add in the N.C. State performance, and it has to be troubling for Blue Devil backers.

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Injuries are usually one of the most overrated issues in college basketball handicapping. The public always overadjusts and overreacts to a team losing a key player, not realizing that the oddsmakers know that, they anticipate it, and they overcompensate in the line.

On top of that, there is a psychological impact that an injury has on a team. Sure, sometimes losing a star player can be deflating. But more often than not the remaining players rally and, fueled by desperation, play above themselves. I’ve seen it 1,000 times, and I assure you that betting against a team that just lost its best player to injury is a losing proposition in the long term.

That said, while injuries to star players are usually overrated, in terms of betting value for the public, there is money to be made against teams that lose key role players. There are players on certain teams that don’t “move the meter” in the national conversation but have a big impact on the overall chemistry of their clubs. This is particularly true in a sport like basketball, where only seven or eight guys usually see the floor.

Here is a quick look at some key players that are banged up, ruled out, injured or otherwise incapacitated around the land of college basketball:

Laurence Bowers, Missouri

Missouri point guard Phil Pressey gets all the publicity as one of the best players in the nation. But Bowers might be the most indispensible Tiger. The fifth-year senior missed all of last season with a left knee injury and will be out at least another week after spraining the MCL in his right knee. He is the team’s most efficient offensive player, scoring a team-high 16.3 points per game, and he is one of the toughest matchups in the nation. He is also Missouri’s second-leading rebounder on a team whose obvious weakness is a lack of interior presence. Mizzou managed just 49 points at Ole Miss this weekend without Bowers, and their position as an SEC contender gets weaker the longer he sits.

James Southerland, Syracuse

For the second year in a row, the Orange have had to suspend a key player due to academics. Southerland is the best sixth man in the country and the top shooter for Top 10 Syracuse. No information has been given about Southerland’s situation or if he will be eligible to return. Last year center Fab Melo missed three Big East games because of his grades, came back, and then was ruled out again before the NCAA Tournament. It remains to be seen how long Syracuse will be without Southerland’s 13.6 points per game, and the Orange will not be the same team without the veteran’s smooth stroke from the outside.

Luke Martinez, Wyoming

Wyoming has been one of the biggest surprises in the nation, flirting with the Top 25 and opening the season with 13 straight wins. But they have been forced to play their last three games without No. 2 scorer Martinez. The Cowboys best perimeter player has missed three straight games due to a fractured bone in his hand. But what has made matters worse is that it came to light he injured his hand in a bar fight back on Dec. 30. That has led to an indefinite suspension pending review. And in an absolutely loaded Mountain West Conference any prolonged absence could kill the momentum this group had.
                                                                 
Tray Woodall, Pittsburgh

Woodall suffered a concussion in Pitt’s loss to Marquette last Saturday. They played the last 36 minutes without him, and it wasn’t pretty. Woodall is the only point guard on a roster stacked with post players, and his absence was a big part of the reason this team missed the NCAA Tournament last year. It hasn’t been announced if or how many games will be missed. But without Woodall the Panthers are a rudderless ship.

R.J. Hunter, Georgia State

Hunter, Panthers coach Ron Hunter’s son, is Georgia State’s leading scorer and all-around best player. He had an MRI this week after suffering a stress fracture in his foot late in a loss to Delaware over the weekend. This is the same foot that bothered Hunter in high school, and by the sound of it Hunter could miss significant time. This team has already been struggling, losing seven of eight games. But he is one of the best players in a feeble Colonial this year, and without him the Panthers will fall apart.

Mike Rosario, Et. Al, Florida

Rosario has a high ankle sprain and missed the LSU game on Saturday. It has been reported that he will be on the court Thursday when Florida heads to Texas A&M. But I used him as a symbol for this wounded unit. Forward Casey Prather suffered a high ankle sprain midway through the first half against LSU and will be out 10-14 days. Forward Will Yeguete has a banged up knee (tendinitis) and is day-to-day. Guard Scottie Wilbekin is playing with a broken finger. And forward Erik Murphy has a fractured rib from a game back against Yale on Jan. 6. He has been playing through it but his minutes and his touches have been down the last two games. The Gators have to travel to A&M then come home and host Missouri on Saturday, and they will do so as one of the most banged up teams in the nation.

Rotnei Clarke, Butler

Clarke is one of the best shooters in the country and the leading scorer for the resurgent Bulldogs. He suffered a frightening fall on Saturday at Dayton, which left him on the ground for eight minutes before he was carted off the court. Clarke, who averages 16.3 points per game and is hitting 44.4 percent of his three-pointers, was back on the court shooting around on Sunday. But he has been ruled out Butler’s next two games. The Bulldogs host Richmond on Wednesday and Gonzaga on Saturday. Butler struggled last year as one of the worst shooting teams in the nation, and that’s exactly what they will revert two without this sharpshooter.

Tyler Brown, Illinois State

The Redhawks are in a full-on free fall after a promising start to the season. One of the preseason Missouri Valley favorites, Illinois State has dumped four games in a row and started league play 0-4. Now they lost their best perimeter player. Brown is the team’s second leading scorer at 15.3 points per game but was suspended indefinitely due to “conduct detrimental to the team”. New coach Dan Muller is clearly having a problem reaching his team, and things are not looking good for a team that looked like a sure moneymaker for college basketball bettors back in November.

Robert Ferringo has been tearing up the college basketball hardwood and has earned nearly $9,000 in profit for his backers since Nov. 11. He is working on a string of 13 of 14 winning college basketball months and five straight profitable years, and he will have more this week. Sign up with one of the best in the business today!

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