College Basketball Handicapping: Any Betting Value on Murray State After Loss?
by Trevor Whenham - 2/10/2012
I have been wanting to write about Murray State for quite a while now. Of course, I wanted to write a different article than I will be writing now.
Before Thursday night the Racers were a huge story. They had won 23 games in a row, were ranked as high as No. 7 in the country, and seemed to have a very good shot at ending the season undefeated.
That all changed last night, though.
They were playing a Tennessee State team ranked just 189th in the RPI, and they were at home, so it should have been another easy win. They blew it, though, and now they’re just another team — one that the public is going to treat harshly.
The trick for bettors now is to determine whether this team was overhyped before the loss, or if they are still a team to pay close attention to despite the setback. The betting public will turn against the team. Are they doing the right thing, or is there value in being an optimist here? Let’s take a look at the Racers from three angles:
This section should really be called ‘lack of betting success’ because this team has been a disaster for bettors since the beginning of January. It’s not coincidental that that’s also when this team had won 14 straight and was starting to build some serious national buzz.
Since then they have been favored in every game they have played — and by double-digits in eight of 10 — but they are just 1-8-1 ATS over that time. Before then they were a much more impressive 7-2-1 ATS.
Even worse, their last cover came on Jan.7, so they have gone eight games in a row without paying off their backers.
The combination of increased public betting attention that has inflated lines with the pressure of being undefeated has dramatically turned around the betting success of this team.
Contrary to what some might think, then, the question is whether they can start performing better against the spread now that they have lost, not whether they are going to be a worse team to bet on after the loss.
The pressure of being the last unbeaten team is intense. That’s bad enough when it is a major conference team that is used to playing in the spotlight. When most people don’t even know what state Murray State is in, though, (Kentucky) then the attention is going to be more dramatic and more difficult for players unfamiliar with it to cope with.
Think of it this way — would a team that has beaten just one ranked team and three in the Top 50 of the RPI and a team that plays in a brutally weak conference have a chance of being ranked at all — never mind ranked seventh — if they weren’t undefeated? The streak elevated them, and the end of the streak will remove attention from them just as quickly.
There are reasons that could be negative for the team — a hit to the confidence, and so on. Overall, though, you have to think that the lack of pressure now will be mostly positive.
The national media presence will decrease, people will ask about other things than just the streak, and they can get back to doing what they do like they like to do it. The way they played late in their loss to Tennessee State was illuminating. They blew a 13-point second half lead, and as the pressure intensified they got less focused, and more erratic. They played like a team, that had too much on their shoulders. Now they don’t.
Teams can rise or fall after a setback like this. I’d bet on a rise here.
Weakness of schedule
This is the one reason for concern, and to have some reservations about my optimism surrounding this team going forward.
Despite their high ranking at the start of this week there is a very real chance that the team could fail to make the NCAA Tournament field of 68. They play a BracketBuster game against St. Mary’s. A loss there would be a disaster. It would mean that they would have to win their conference tournament to get in because they wouldn’t have what it takes to be an at-large team — they are going to be lucky to wind up in the RPI top 50 because of the weakness of their schedule and conference.
They should win their conference tournament, but then they never should have lost this game, and the tournament is being played in Nashville — the home of Tennessee State. Missing the tournament would be an epic failure, and the pressure of that possibility will only increase as the season progresses — especially if they take another misstep.
A team that already has shown that they don’t love pressure really doesn’t need more pressure piled upon them — especially not negative pressure like this could be.
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