College Basketball Handicapping: Following Up Big Wins
by Trevor Whenham - 02/11/2009
Clemson has got me thinking. I neither like nor particularly care about Tigers basketball, but I do care about spotting teams that are likely to lose. Clemson came out a week ago and laid a massive beating on Duke. It was Duke's biggest loss in more than 20 years. Clemson couldn't handle the success, and promptly went out and lost at home to Florida State as nine-point favorites. It seems like, anecdotally at least, that happens fairly often. Wake Forest beat Clemson, then lost to Virginia Tech. They beat Duke, then had inexplicable losses to Georgia Tech and Miami. It would obviously be helpful for bettors if teams made a habit of following up big wins with big losses. But do they?
Looking back over every game all season would be a big task. We can take a shortcut, though, to get a reasonable sample size. To do that, I looked back at the current top 12 teams in the AP polls. Every time they had lost to a reasonably outmatched opponent, I looked to see what the team that had beaten them did next time out. It only seems relevant if those next games are played against meaningful opponents - not a team that was scheduled to be an easy win. Here are the results:
Connecticut - Their lone loss was to Georgetown. The Hoyas lost their next two games and seven of their next nine.
Oklahoma - Their lone loss was to Arkansas. The Razorbacks won a meaningless game against North Texas next time out. They then beat Texas, a highly-regarded team at that time. That win was followed by seven losses in eight games. That doesn't strictly fit this criterion, but it's still interesting.
North Carolina - The Tar Heels lost to Boston College. The Eagles lost their next four without a cover.
Louisville - They have had three bad losses. Minnesota followed the win with two meaningless games. UNLV failed to cover their next three games after the Louisville win. Western Kentucky won their next game, but the spread was a push.
Duke - Just one of Duke's three losses was against an outclassed opponent. Michigan played four consecutive meaningless games after the win, so that tells us nothing.
Wake Forest - Beating Wake Forest apparently doesn't give teams the same effect that other teams do. They have had three bad losses, and those opponents have all covered their next games. Miami lost to Duke but covered the spread. Georgia Tech lost to Florida State but covered. Virginia Tech beat Miami in overtime.
Memphis - They lost to Georgetown, but the Hoyas played against two meaningless opponents in a row.
Michigan State - They have had three bad losses. Maryland followed up by getting blown out by Gonzaga. Penn State lost badly at Michigan next game. Northwest also followed up their win over the Spartans by losing to the Wolverines.
Marquette - The Golden Eagles have had three bad losses. South Florida followed their win with a bad loss to Providence. Tennessee's next game didn't have a line. Dayton beat Troy, but didn't win as heavy favorites.
UCLA - They have two qualifying games. Michigan followed up this upset with a blowout loss to Duke. Washington followed up this win with a bad loss to Arizona.
Clemson - They lost to Florida State. The Seminoles won and covered their next game.
So, what does that all mean? Teams that have achieved a big upset over a team currently ranked in the top 12 in the polls have gone just 4-10-1 ATS in their next game when that game comes against an opponent that isn't entirely outmatched. It's a small sample size, but based on what we have seen it seems like betting against a team coming off a big upset win is worthy of consideration. Besides the small test here, the logic seems to back up this situation as well:
1. A team that overachieves will obviously have a huge boost in confidence. That can be a good thing, but if the team isn't particularly used to success then that confidence can lead them to lazy, vulnerable play.
2. A game against a big opponent usually requires significant special preparation. In preparing for the specifics traits of an opponent, the team can get away from the basics. When their next opponent doesn't have the same playing style as the upset victim then the team is in trouble.
3. Compared to a highly-ranked opponent, a normal opponent can seem like a letdown, leading to an insufficient effort.
4. For a bad team to beat a very good one, the lesser team has to play extremely well. That requires intensity and concentration, and that can lead to exhaustion for the next game.