Fade the Dead in College Hoops

Fade the Dead in College Hoops

Fade the Dead in College Hoops
By Teddy Covers
Sportsmemo.com

It’s late February, and there’s still two more full weeks of regular season action in college hoops before the madness truly begins. It’s too early to write about conference tournament betting strategies – I’ll save that for next week. But it’s not too late to write about the bevy of ‘dead’ teams that are populating the college hoops landscape right now; teams that are lethargically playing out the string of the regular season. Sometimes, the sharp move is to lay big points fading sorry teams.

Even bad teams have hope in November – the season is fresh and new; teammates aren’t sick and tired of each other or their coaches, and the nagging injuries haven’t started to pile up. And teams that get smacked around in non-conference play for two months get an opportunity to regroup against comparable competition when conference play begins in January.

But when things go south in conference play, it’s not easy for many of these squads to continue competing at the same level they were earlier in the season. By late February, the final few weeks of the regular season are a meat grinder for struggling squads, particularly those who have suffered from injuries and attrition, leaving them banged up and shorthanded down the stretch. I call these squads ‘dead’ teams, and look to bet against them at every reasonable opportunity.

Northwestern is a classic example of a late February ‘dead’ team. The Wildcats have been shorthanded since December, when leading scorer (at the time) Drew Crawford went down with a season ending shoulder injury. The loss of leading rebounder Jared Swopshire (knee) earlier this month made a bad situation worse. The remaining roster is short on both talent and confidence; a bottom tier offensive ballclub and a mediocre (at best) squad defensively.

What happens when a team like Northwestern loses their hope and their passion? Simple – if you bet against them, you make money! The results don’t lie. The Wildcats have lost seven of their last eight in SU fashion, covering only one pointspread in defeat during that span (2-6 ATS). They’ve been held in the 40’s on five separate occasions in this stretch; 9-2-1 to the Under in their last dozen ballgames. Do you think this team will bring their A-game when they travel to East Lansing to face the Spartans on senior day? I wouldn’t count on it!

One thing that sets ‘dead’ teams apart from ‘bad’ teams is their tendency to quit when trailing; unable to respond positively to adversity. Another Big Ten team, Minnesota, is a near ‘lock’ to make the NCAA tournament, which means we’ll be getting opportunities to fade them for weeks to come. The Gophers were 15-1 SU after beating Illinois by 17 in Champaign in early January. Things have not gone well since!

Tubby Smith’s squad is 3-8 SU in their last eleven ballgames. Reports of significant internal chemistry issues have seeped to the surface; a roster and a coaching staff that aren’t exemplifying the concept of teamwork very often. An early double digit lead at Iowa last weekend turned into a 21 point road loss – the Gophers simply had no counterpunch once the Hawkeyes woke up. It was just as bad at Ohio State, a 26-point defeat. Back-to-back flat out ‘quit when trailing’ efforts for Minnesota is a huge red flag, especially for a team that is still power rated as a quality squad.

I wouldn’t count on the Gophers’ ability to hang tough with Indiana this week, nor do I have any interest in laying double digits with them against Penn State next weekend – this is a dead team about to lay big chalk; an easy fade in that role too!

There are plenty of other major conference examples to speak of. South Florida has been positively woeful of late, losing each of their last five by double digit margins while failing to cover a single pointspread. This team played in the Big Dance last year, but I don’t expect them to hang tough against the likes of Pitt, UConn and Cinci down the stretch.

Mississippi State lost at home to Vanderbilt 72-31 this past weekend. The Bulldogs made a grand total of seven shots from the field for the entire 40 minute contest while getting outrebounded 51-17. In their previous home game, Rick Ray’s squad lost 78-36 (24% shooting, -22 on the boards) to a Missouri team that hasn’t won a single other road game all year. I wouldn’t count on a strong showing from the Bulldogs at home against rival Ole Miss this coming weekend either!

Texas Tech, like Mississippi State, was expected to be a bottom feeder this year. Head coach Billy Gillespie was forced to resign before the season after allegations of player mistreatment surfaced. Six players transferred out of Lubbock following last year’s eight win campaign, and interim head coach Chris Walker walked into to an untenable situation when he was promoted.

Yet the Red Raiders were .500 against the spread after upsetting Iowa State back on January 23rd. They haven’t won a game since, while going 2-6 ATS during that span, and still have road tilts at Kansas State and Kansas upcoming on their schedule.

Let’s not forget the mid-majors! Like the Big Six conference schools, mid-major dead teams fall into three categories – very bad teams that have stopped giving max effort, quality programs suffering through a down year, and decent teams who overachieved early but have come back to earth down the stretch. Here are a few examples.

At 6-17 ATS for the season, bettors haven’t made any money supporting Duquesne all year – this team has won only one game and covered only two pointspreads since before Christmas; in the midst of a 1-14 SU, 2-13 ATS run. Their defensive efforts have been non-existent; their offensive execution nearly as bad, and the betting markets haven’t been able to make a line high enough to get the Dukes under the spread.

Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor didn’t survive the Monarchs 2-20 SU start; an absolute disaster for a program that has been a fixture in the postseason for the last eight years, averaging 24 wins per season during that span. They got a small bump when Jim Corrigan was named interim head coach, but the betting markets reacted very quickly. That’s why we’ve seen ODU lose SU as favorites twice in their last three games. And because the Monarchs are ineligible to play in the CAA tournament this year, their final few games are as meaningless as it gets for a downtrodden bottom feeder.

Wyoming started 15-2 and notched a rare top 25 ranking back in early January! But the Cowboys are 2-7 SU, 1-8 ATS in their last nine Mountain West Conference games, including back-to-back no shows in their last two contests. Wyoming’s early season success was largely the result of their gritty, scrappy nature; not their talent level. But head coach Larry Shyatt didn’t have a deep team to begin with, and it got worse when leading scorer Luke Martinez broke his hand in a bar brawl. A plethora of injuries and illnesses have made their depth concerns even worse; bad news against the likes of New Mexico and Colorado State to close out the regular season.

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