Sweet Sixteen Preview: Memphis/Texas A&M
by Robert Ferringo - 03/22/2007
In general, skepticism can be a critical component of the application of our rational thought. Twain. Emerson. Voltaire. George Carlin. All skeptics. While some confuse cynicism with skepticism, I say that the latter keeps Balance and serves as a certain survival tool, preventing us and our souls from falling into the abyss of conformity.
In the gambling community skepticism can be the only thing that keeps your money in your pocket. If you follow the herd or get suckered into believing things are easier than they are then it won't be long before the fool and his money are soon parted. It's Gambling 101 - go against the public consensus - and its proven itself a profitable tool for handicapper and bettors for as long as wagers have been taken.
So as I monitored the action - or lack thereof - this week on the Texas A&M-Memphis South Regional semifinal I had to admit that I was more than a bit curious about the game that I thought looked like one of the highest value plays on the board. The game tips off tonight at 7:10 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The line opened at Texas A&M (-2.5), and while I expected it to creep toward -4 by mid-week I was certainly curious when it didn't.
Everything seems to scream out for bettors to hop on with the Aggies. They should be favored, even though they're the lower seed because everyone knows they're a better team. They're playing just two-and-a-half hours away from their campus at College Station and should be center stage in front of a very pro-Aggies crowd. They have the best player on the floor - and perhaps best player left in the tournament - in guard Acie Law. And they have the advantage of Memphis' top scorer, Chris Douglas-Roberts, being slowed by a sprained ankle.
What's not to love?
Well, when anything seems just too easy in the gambling world you should normally do one of two things: run away or go the other way against the conventional wisdom. Think of it: how many people have you heard definitively say that they love Memphis in this game? I know I haven't heard many - but maybe the Tigers are worth a look.
John Calipari's Tigers run nine-deep and have a load of top-notch talent, the ability to score inside and out, and are one of the top rebounding teams in the country. They've won 24 consecutive games - albeit with most wins coming against the feeble competition in Conference USA - and perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Tigers' success is the fact that the Tigers are one of the top defensive teams in college basketball.
As for systems, Sweet 16 underdogs of 5.0 or less that are coming off a win with a greater margin of victory than its opponents are a robust 19-6 against the spread. Further, Sweet 16 teams off two straight covers are just 56-94 ATS.
Those aren't advantages to sneer at, but it's still uncertain whether or not it will be enough to beat an equal or better team in a hostile environment.
Texas A&M is one of the only teams in the country to be ranked in to the top 12 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They have experience in the backcourt and a trio of sweet-shooting guards led by Acie Law, Josh Carter, and Dominique Kirk. Also, they are one of the best man-to-man defensive clubs in the country and if their big men can avoid foul trouble I believe that the Aggies can slow down the No. 13 scoring offense in the country.
There's also the problem of Memphis' experience against top-flight competition. The Tigers have one semi-substantial nonconference win - over Kentucky in Maui - but haven't been impressive in their other nonconference road games. The lost to Arizona and Georgia Tech, were hammered by 18 points at Tennessee, and barely beat a Gonzaga team that was still on tilt following the suspension of Josh Heytvelt.
Also, Memphis played its first and second round games in New Orleans in front of a very pro-Tigers crowd. Before that they played three games in their conference tournament on their home floor. That means that it's been almost three weeks since Memphis has played in a game where the crowd wasn't on its side. And the last time they were in such an atmosphere they managed a piddling three-point victory over Southern Methodist.
Conversely, Texas A&M was good enough to beat Kansas in Lawrence and Louisville in Kentucky. Now, with the entire state of Texas at their back, I think that the Aggies can take care of a team that is untested and undisciplined in Big Games. I believe they've advanced this far without playing their best basketball, and if they play a complete game - with guys like Carter and Kavaliauksas performing up to their standards - then I think this will not only be a treat for the hometown team but also a monster payday for the public.
But we'll see. Because if it looks too good to be true it usually is.
For all my blathering on about being skeptical of a trap line I have to say that I think Texas A&M wins this game handily. Is it going to be a blowout? Not a chance. But I do expect the Aggies to control the tempo and hold off some late-night, last-second attempts of daring and desperation. The Aggies are going to march on, and I believe that they'll end up coming out of this region.
Maybe this would be walking into a trap, but as one capper told me a few days ago, "I'd rather take the better team, the team I think is going to win, and have it not happen than to stay away or go the other way. If I lose, I lose. But at least I went down with the best team."
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