College Basketball Handicapping: Senior Night
by Robert Ferringo - 2/23/2010
Emotion is one of the most important aspects of college basketball handicapping and also one of the most fickle things to handicap. However, few situations in the sport are more emotionally charged than Senior Night.
Every college team celebrates a Senior Night, generally as the last home game of the season. It’s a chance for the guys playing in their final game in their own gym to say thanks to the fans, parade out their awkward parents, get a little love from the hoops community, and then go out and play with the abandon of someone who sees that The End is near. It’s a night of reflection, passion, fervor and enthusiasm and can provide the host team with just that little extra motivational edge to score a key win and cover a solid spread.
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This year seniors like Trevor Booker of Clemson, Nic Wise of Arizona, Sherron Collins of Kansas and Scottie Reynolds of Villanova will see their illustrious careers come to a close. And before each of them meets their End, likely with a crippling disappointment on some neutral court in a postseason tournament, they will get one last shot at electrifying their home fans in their final home game. You can bet that those will be affecting nights and situations that each will fight to the bitter end to cap with a victory.
But besides certain key senior stars, there are certain teams in college basketball that boast not just one marquee senior starter, but many. And over the next two weeks each of these clubs will have a shot to ride the wave of emotion on Senior Night to a strong score at the window. Below (in date order) is a look at 10 teams – teams that are dominated by fourth-year players – that should be extra-amped up for Senior Night and could provide us with some strong situational plays to close out the regular season:
1. Portland (Saturday, Feb. 27 vs. Santa Clara)
The Pilots have four senior starters (when Nik Raivio is healthy) and is the most experienced team in the West Coast Conference. Their last three regular season games are on their home court and they are embroiled in a critical race to get the No. 2 seed in the WCC Tournament. That would give them another home game and a double-bye into the semifinals. They won’t be slipping up here.
2. Northern Iowa (Saturday, Feb. 27 vs. Ill. State)
The Panthers are the dominating team in the Missouri Valley this year and own one of the top home court edges of any mid-major in the country. Their three best players – Adam Koch, Jordan Eglseder and Ali Farokhmanesh – are all seniors and will be playing their last game against the defending MWC champs. The Panthers haven’t lost at home this year and already beat ISU by 15 in the first meeting. This one could be just as ugly.
3. Cal (Saturday, Feb. 27 vs. Arizona State)
Cal is another team that boasts four senior starters – Jerome Randle, Pat Christopher, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin – and is also in desperate need of victories. And this one has the added edge of featuring the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Pac-10. If Cal wants to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team they likely have to win the regular season title. And they get a shot at doing so in their seniors’ last home game.
4. Cornell (Saturday, Feb. 27 vs. Penn)
I wouldn’t want to play for Penn this Saturday. Cornell is the only team in the nation with five senior starters and that group comprises one of the top teams in Ivy League history. So not only are these guys playing the last game of their storied careers but they also have revenge against the Quakers for an emotional loss at Penn earlier this month. If Cornell beats Princeton on Friday they will also have a shot at wrapping up the Ivy League title and a third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth with this victory. If they lose to Princeton, they will need this game even worse. Revenge. Senior Night. Shot at the NCAA Tournament. I mean, does it set up any better?
5. Kent State (Saturday, Feb. 27 vs. Miami, OH)
Kent State is another group where five of the top six scorers will be playing their final home game. And they’ll be doing so against a traditional MAC rival in Miami, OH. This is an in-state rivalry game and is also a revenge spot for an overtime loss at Miami back in January. The Flashes are tied atop the MAC East standings and do have a critical game at Akron on deck the week following this game against the Redhawks. Normally that would be a classic look ahead spot. But not on Senior Night. Not with this group.
6. Maryland (Wednesday, March 3 vs. Duke)
The three best players for the Terps – Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne – could have scripted this any better. They will get the final home game of their star-crossed careers against the most hated team in the country, Duke. This game could also go a long way in deciding the ACC regular season title and also offers a revenge spot for a Blue Devils blowout in Cameron just weeks ago. I mean, you think that the atmosphere in the Comcast Center won’t be electric?
7. Auburn (Wednesday, March 3 vs. Miss. State)
Believe it or not, but Auburn is one of the more experienced teams in a BCS conference. And they are also the only team on this list that will likely be a home dog in their final home game. Four of their top five scorers, including leaders DeWayne Reed and Tay Waller, are seniors and two of them are three-year starters. Auburn is a three-point chucking team that relies heavily on emotion. The gym should be full of it this night.
8. Tennessee (Wednesday, March 3 vs. Arkansas)
The Volunteers are another team that relies heavily on the presence of talented upperclassmen. And while some may look at this class as a group of underachievers there is no doubt that they have always played better when motivated. Wayne Chism, Bobby Maze, and J.P. Prince, three guys that have carried this team through one of the more tumultuous seasons in Vols hoops history, will get to take one last bow in Rocky Top.
9. Dayton (Saturday, March 6 vs. St. Louis)
The Flyers are squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble and desperately need any win that they can get. But this game will be even more crucial because it’s against surging St. Louis. The Flyers rely heavily on five seniors in their eight- or nine-man rotations. That includes a pair of four-year starters and one of the winningest classes in school history. St. Louis is not a good road team and Dayton enters this game with revenge. They will not lose. Now we just have to hope that the number is under 15.
10. Idaho (Saturday, March 6 vs. Hawaii)
It’s been a disappointing season for the Vandals as they have been mired at the bottom of the WAC standings. But the group of five seniors on this squad – who represent five of the top six scorers on this group – have helped put Idaho hoops on the map. And here they’ll get to beat on one of the worst road teams in the nation.
Wake Forest (Sunday, March 7 vs. Clemson)
Texas (Monday, March 1 vs. Oklahoma)
Tulsa (Wednesday, March 3 vs. SMU)
Houston (Wednesday, March 3 vs. Rice)
Illinois State (Wednesday, Feb. 24 vs. ISU)
Boise State (Sat. March 6 vs. SJSU)
La. Tech (Saturday, Feb. 27 vs. Idaho)
Hofstra (Sat. Feb. 27 vs. Georgia State)
Siena (Sun., Feb. 28 vs. Marist)
App. State (Sat. Feb. 27 vs. Samford)
Western Carolina (Sat. Feb. 27 vs. Chattanooga)
UL-Monroe (Saturday, Feb. 27 vs. North Texas)
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