College Basketball Handicapping: Butler Overrated
by Robert Ferringo - 12/1/2009
I will say two things about ESPN college basketball bobblehead Doug Gottlieb:
1) He is a dickhead.
2) He is critical, honest, and opinionated and doesn't simply swim with the tide in regards to his thoughts on college hoops.
So just because I think he acts like a 12-year-old sometimes, that he can be smug (but not Jay Bilas Smug), and that I despise him because he hates Syracuse, that doesn't mean that occasionally his kind of out-there thinking doesn't produce a few ideas that even make me sit back and say, "Wow. He's right."
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Two weeks ago I had exactly such a moment. I don't remember the exact game that was being broadcast. It may have been the Cal State-Fullerton vs. UCLA game that tipped off the 24-hour hoops marathon. Regardless, the question posed to Gottlieb was about the most overrated teams in the country. Without hesitation he looked right at the camera and said, "Butler is obviously the most overrated team in the country."
I was working on my computer. I remember stopping, sitting back in my chair, thinking about it for a second and saying, "Wow. He's right."
At the time Butler was ranked in the Top 10 in the country. Now, everyone loves the mid-majors. (Except the selection and seeding committee for the NCAA Tournament, that is.) So people seem to be hesitant criticize. But after doing a little research, it was pretty obvious that Gottlieb was right: Butler is one of the most overrated teams in the country.
So far this season the Bulldogs are just 1-5 against the spread, a great indicator of a team getting too much love. And it isn't just that they aren't covering spreads, it's been their overall performance. Other than a blowout win over a wounded Northwestern squad this team has been pretty bad. They beat a poor Davidson team by 11, but that was after they fell behind by 10 points in the first half in their home opener. They barely, barely escaped Evansville with a four-point win (64-60) over a pathetic Purple Aces squad. And then they went just 1-2 at the 76 Classic out in California, losing to fringe tourney contenders Clemson and Minnesota while barely squeaking by a UCLA team, 69-67, that has lost to Portland by 27 points the night before.
Is that the play of a Top 10 team? Apparently not. Because now the Bulldogs are ranked No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today Poll and just No. 23 in the most recent AP Poll. However, that still may be too high for this team.
Now, three years ago I was all over the Bulldogs. And in 2007 and 2008 they were a team that was very, very good to this capper. However, I entered last year ready to fade away on them after the graduation of A.J. Graves and several other pieces from the 2008 second-round team. But then I, like just about everyone else, was stunned as they started 19-1 and managed to climb to No. 11 in the nation.
But then it happened. The books caught up, as they always do. And Butler went from solid, under-the-radar underdog to Name Team. And you can only spend so much time in the Top 20 before the books will start to treat you like a Top 20 team. And it's clear to me that the Bulldogs aren't up for it.
After a 39-24-2 rush against the spread in 2006-07 and 2007-08 the Bulldogs started off last season a scorching 12-4-1. That ran their three-year mark to 51-28-3 and made them the single most profitable team in the country over that time.
So, naturally, the books had seen enough and started to jack up the numbers that Butler was shackled with. It has worked. Butler closed the year just 4-9 ATS, including four straight losses to finish the season. Factor in this year's 1-5 ATS start and that's a 5-14 ATS slide for one of the country's most overrated clubs. They have had particular trouble as a double-digit favorite, going just 4-9 ATS as a favorite of 10 or more over the last two years and 9-17 ATS in that role dating back to December of 2007.
Further, over the past two seasons the Bulldogs' best win was a road victory at Xavier. That's really it. And when you play in a Horizon League that has consistently finished between No. 11 and No. 16 in overall conference rankings for the better part of this decade, that one non-conference win is just not enough to justify even being in the Top 40, let alone the Top 10.
And it isn't just the numbers that have me believing that while this Butler team is very talented and has a strong shot to return to the NCAA Tournament, that it is still vastly overrated. Watching this team play just doesn't instill confidence. They are going to be a strong underdog because they are well coached, they have some experience, they execute, and because they shoot a lot of threes they can be dangerous against BCS clubs. But two things are working against them: first, no one is overlooking them anymore, and second, they aren't catching as many points as they should (or they are laying more than they should) in those contests.
Earlier this week I was reading how Chad Ford, another ESPN bobblehead, thought that Gordon Hayward, Butler's 6-8 sophomore forward, was a potential lottery pick. I mean, are you kidding me? Ford isn't one prone to bombast and was allegedly quoting an NBA general manager that thought Hayward was one of the 10 best players in the country. (Obviously the guy is the Clippers GM.) I mean, really? On Butler? The unathletic guy shooting 29 percent from deep? I mean, this right here is getting ridiculous.
Also, when did Matt Howard become one of the best big men in the country? That is certainly how commentators are treating him. When in reality he is a high-energy guy with some skills around the basket that is completely and totally overmatched against more athletic players. Whenever he faces BCS-level forwards he gets in foul trouble because he can't keep up, and that forces the Bulldogs to become just a bunch of dudes shooting threes.
Granted, the Bulldogs can shoot threes with the best of them. And, as I mentioned, its not as if this team is going to fall off the map. But what I am saying is that Gottlieb was, and still is, correct: Butler has gone from one of the most underrated teams in the country and an absolute ATM machine for bettors to a team that is grossly overrated and now one of the worst bets in the nation. I don't know if you're going to want to make a habit of playing against them every time out but I am saying that its long past time to jump off the bandwagon and start going the other way.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and he has gained around +150 Units and $12,000 for his $100 bettors since mid-February in college basketball. You can purchase his college basketball picks here.
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