NCAA Basketball Handicapping: Big-Name Teams in Trouble
by Trevor Whenham - 1/16/2015
When football season winds down, a lot of football bettors become casual college basketball bettors. It's a good way to pass the endless days of winter. Since they haven't been paying much attention to college hoops for the early part of the season, though, they rely on the names and reputations of teams to make their betting decisions as much as anything else. It's not a great approach at the best of times, but it can really be a problem when proud and mighty schools have hit a rut and just aren't playing at a level they should be. Here's a look at four mighty programs - former National Champions all - that are not performing at a level they should be - or were expected to be - this year:
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UCLA: The Bruins have absolutely been a disaster this year. They are 11-7, which is far from where they were supposed to be at. They have won their last three games but had lost five straight before that, capped by a 39-point blowout at the hands of Kentucky. It's just plain ugly. The team isn't performing any better for bettors, either - they are a bleak 7-11 ATS. The team doesn't seem to be on the same page as their coach, and they can't get out of their own way. Super freshman Kevon Looney has been inconsistent - to be kind. Of the biggest concerns, though, is the stunning lack of depth. Thanks to academic issues - among others - the bench is down to just three players. With a rotation so lean, there is just no way to match up well in tough games - and there are several of those in a Pac-12 season. The rough times for this once-proud franchise are going to continue.
Michigan: The last couple of years have been an amazing run for John Beilein and his Wolverines. They lost in the championship game to Louisville in 2013 and made it back to the Elite Eight last year. Five players in the last two years have gone to the NBA from the program, though, and the continuous reloading has caught up to them. There is no shortage of talent on this team, but they just can't get out of their own way. A team that can always shoot suddenly can't find the basket this year. They don't have an inside presence. They lack focus and intensity - Beilein has accused them of playing in tuxedos more than once. They have lost seven of their 17 games, but what is most concerning about that is how often they have not even been competitive in their losses - and how little they seem to care about it. Beilein is a top coach, so if anyone can get the team back on track then he can. It's hard to imagine this team being nearly good enough to contend in their conference, though. After two deep runs - and expectations of a third heading into the season - it's tough to imagine this team even making the postseason this year.
Florida: Like the Wolverines, the Gators are an Elite Eight team from last year that is not playing like they really want to get back. They opened the season ranked seventh in the country, and many viewed them as the one potential threat to Kentucky in the SEC. Now they are just 10-6, and they have lost to each decent team that they have played so far. The saving grace for them is that the SEC is not exactly dominant. They are off to a 3-0 start in conference play and should be able to win plenty more games along the way - though there will be more losses than their ideally should be as well. They are a bleak 6-8-1 ATS on the season, and it's almost as hard to get excited about them as it is about Michigan.
Michigan State: The Spartans aren't quite in as rough shape as the others on this list, but they were the second ranked team in the Big Ten heading into the season, and they have just not lived up to expectations. In an often weak schedule, they have just played four solid teams - Duke, Kansas, Notre Dame and Maryland. They lost all four of those games. They also have a really ugly, and completely incomprehensible, loss to Texas Southern. On paper this team was not as good as recent ones the Spartans have had, but it still seemed like it was going to be good enough to go toe-to-toe with top teams. They should still be a tournament team if the Big Ten season goes well, but they won't scare anyone that draws them - not like they should, anyway.
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