College Basketball Handicapping: Teams that Could Disappoint
by Trevor Whenham - 11/11/2013
When the college season starts, handicappers are challenged by being forced to predict how good teams are when we haven’t seen them play for a long time and don’t know how they have developed. As freshman are more and more ready to contribute at a high level right out of the gate, handicapping top teams gets even tougher because we have no way of knowing how good the freshmen will be, how quickly they will be relied upon, and how effectively they will mesh with the upperclassmen on the roster.
Preseason rankings are a good starting point for evaluating teams, but they are far from perfect. Looking at the preseason AP Poll this year, here are five teams in the Top 15 that have the potential to fail to meet expectations and to disappoint public bettors as a result. All five teams are very talented and dangerous and could play into April at their best, but they are all vulnerable:
Kentucky (No. 1 in the AP Poll): This team is absolutely loaded with blue chip freshman — as they have been every year under John Calipari. After last year, though, we can’t be too confident about how well the talent will come together and perform. Last year they entered the season ranked third in the country, and they wound up losing in the first round of the NIT. This year they are a more talented squad, but there is still reason to be cautious — especially because the betting public certainly isn’t showing any restraint. Cautious optimism is a more responsible path than reckless abandon when handicapping this team. As always, there are several players on this team who could be done in Lexington after one year and a few who could be drafted very early in the first round. That means that chemistry and the willingness to put team over individual stats are not always certain. I like this team a whole lot more than last year, but I would be very surprised if they remain the top-ranked team for much of the year.
Kansas (No. 5): The hype surrounding Andrew Wiggins is out of control. The guy has just now played his first college game, yet he is an all-American, the long-presumed top pick in the draft, and he carries the weight of his homeland of Canada — where they are paying more attention to the sport than ever before because of his fame. That’s a tremendous amount of pressure, and offseason and preseason reports on Wiggins’ performance have not been all-around positive. This team is about far more than just Wiggins, but he’s going to be a big distraction no matter what, and that will especially be true if he performs below expectations for any stretch of time.
Louisville (No. 3): The defending champs have a very good team and could be in a position to defend their title again with a bit of luck. There is a lot working against them, though. They face the immense pressure of defending a title, and that has forced other teams to underperform in recent years. The team has had some bad injury luck as well, and they need to hope that that doesn’t continue. Perhaps most significantly, though, rule changes that seem to be targeting pressure defenses like Louisville plays could have a big impact on this team and will challenge their ability to adapt and adjust. They have very good talent, but it’s hard to know if they have enough talent to play outside of their comfort zone and still win.
Michigan (No. 7): The team that Louisville beat to win it all lost Player of the Year Trey Burke and star Tim Hardaway Jr., but they could be deeper and more talented overall this year despite the losses. There are concerns, though. Can Mitch McGary replicate the incredibly high level of play he maintained through the NCAA Tournament, and will a back injury that has delayed the start of his season be a concern going forward? He’s a key, and so is the quick emergence of a strong point guard to replace Burke — likely freshman Derrick Walton primarily. Combine those concerns with an absolutely brutal early schedule — Iowa State, Duke, Arizona, State, Stanford, plus the Puerto Rico Tip Off all before Christmas. That could really shake the confidence of this young team if they aren’t ready for prime time.
VCU (No. 14): The Rams are going through what Butler went through a couple of years ago, and what Gonzaga faced so many years ago now. After a few years of performing just under the radar and shining in March, the expectations for this team have reached a whole new level. They are ranked 14th in the preseason poll, and they aren’t going to sneak up on anyone anymore. They are a very well-coached, talented team that deserves the attention, but they are going to find that life is different in the spotlight. Of a bigger concern, though, the rule changes that could challenge Louisville could be a major issue for this team, too. The Havoc pressure defense that took them so far last year will be impacted significantly by the new vigilance of the referees. Havoc creates turnovers, but when the team can’t create turnovers they just aren’t very good defensively. If it is harder for them to create those precious turnovers then they could be in real trouble.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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