Banking on CBB Teams That Have Thrown in the Towel
by Trevor Whenham - 02/08/2007
It's right around this time in the college basketball season that teams lose their will to compete. Bad teams that haven't had anything to play for in weeks start give less than 100 percent on the court. Some teams that started the season with promise will start losing as easily as they were winning earlier in the year. It's those latter teams that can provide a betting opportunity. If a team has a public perception that is better than they are actually playing, the lines on their games can be higher than they should be and you can find value. It's pretty easy to make money when a team that is consistently losing keeps being installed as a favorite or even a short underdog. Here's a look at five teams that appear to either be on the verge of a collapse, or are already freefalling without a parachute.
LSU - Last year the Tigers made the Final Four, and they looked like they belonged. It's always a longshot for a team to make the Final Four two years in a row, especially after losing a player of the caliber of Tyrus Thomas, but it will take a miracle for LSU to even make the tournament at all this year. They are 13-10 and stuck at the bottom of the SEC West. They've lost six games in a row, and four of their next five games are significant challenges. They have only covered the spread three times in their last 10 games, and they have lost outright twice in their last five games as reasonably heavy favorites. They aren't facing any significant injuries, so this isn't a problem that will resolve itself. The team is playing like they are panicked, and they give us no reason to think that they can turn it around. They are out of contention, and they look like they could use that as an excuse to give up down the stretch.
Tennessee - LSU isn't the only SEC team that looks like they are in real trouble. Tennessee is 16-8, but six of those eight losses have come in their last nine games. A big part of their problem was that Chris Lofton, the guard who leads the team in scoring, is just coming back from an injury that kept him out of action for two weeks. Lofton looked tentative in his first game back, and it will take a while for him to get up to speed. The problems seem deeper than that, though, and it seems unlikely that the team will be able to rebound from the hole they have dug for themselves. To make matters worse, four of their next five games are against teams that the Vols lost to the last time they met. It looks like no amount of orange body paint will help coach Bruce Pearl right this ship this year.
Clemson - The Tigers were 17-0 a month ago. Now they are 19-5. It has clearly been a very rough month. Many people in the media thought that Clemson was overachieving, and it seems that that is the case. You could argue that their most recent game, a win over Florida State, showed promise for a brighter future. On the other hand, Florida State was clearly due for a letdown after their huge win over Duke on the weekend. Clemson has three deadly games in six days coming up - Maryland, Duke and Boston College. That seems like the type of stretch of games that could go from bad to worse if they don't get off on the right foot from the start.
Arizona - Things are really getting ugly in Tucson. The Cats have fallen from 12-1 to 15-7 in the last month. Included in that stretch was a truly humiliating blowout loss to North Carolina. The biggest problem the team faces is that they rely on a number of young players to play key roles, and those players clearly aren't holding up under the pressure of their situation. The other problem they have is that they are a dismal defensive team, and that makes it harder to keep games in hand when shots aren't falling for them. Earlier in the season they were overcoming their defensive shortcomings by scoring a lot, but they have only exceeded their season points average one time in the last seven games. They blew out Washington in their last game to give their fans a bit of hope, but it doesn't take much to beat Washington these days. With Oregon, USC and UCLA coming up soon it could get ugly.
Michigan - The Wolverines may not truly belong on this list because true basketball fans would never have thought that they were a good team anyway. They have been darned good in the NIT the last couple of years, but that is just this side of meaningless. After a solid start -- even if it was against the easiest schedule in the world -- people had to be thinking that a return to the tournament was possible this year. Six losses in their last 10, including the last four in a row, have made that look less likely, though. The biggest problem isn't the losses as much as it is the complete inability of this team to step up against top competition. They played Ohio State tight for thirty minutes on Tuesday before collapsing late. They didn't show up against Georgetown, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa or Indiana. Their lone solid win is over Illinois. The schedule down the stretch, save for two games against Minnesota, is pretty ugly. Coach Tommy Amaker has been hearing murmurs about his job security for years, but they are getting louder every day. The team can't be happy about the prospect of yet another NIT trip. All of those factors point to a team that could lose a lot more than they win down the stretch.