‘Spreading’ Knowledge on the Road to March


Shabazz Muhammad and UCLA have struggled against the spread this season.

Matt’s Bankroll: $1,685

Last Week: 5-6 (-$250)

College Basketball: 19-11 (+$55)

In February 2010, we gave Matt $7,000 to wager. When he loses it all, we’re going to replace him with a monkey.

The scoreboard read UNLV 70, San Diego State 62. The clock showed 3:09 remaining. And even though my big play was the Rebels minus-4 points, I knew I was screwed. That’s because moments earlier, from my seat at midcourt, I could read UNLV coach Dave Rice’s lips as he delivered crunch-time instructions during the final media timeout:

See that jerk about 15 rows up, in the San Diego State shirt? That’s the guy who called into question my coaching abilities this week. So here’s the game plan: Over these final 189 seconds, you’re going to stand around on offense, milk the shot clock on every possession, then hoist up one terrible, off-balance shot after another. We will NOT score another basket—do you hear me?!? Defensively, you’ll allow some easy transition buckets, an uncontested 3-pointer and some cheap free throws. Then we’ll make one valiant defensive stand at the end and get out of here with a two-point win. Are we clear?

Gotta hand it to Rice’s troops: For one of the few times all season, they executed flawlessly—and in the process executed my five-week winning streak.

To say I was bummed after the final horn sounded is like saying those stranded-at-sea Carnival cruise passengers were a tad annoyed. But my wrath wasn’t directed so much at Rice and UNLV as it was at myself. The Rebels—whose 9-16 record against the spread ranks 311th out of 320 Division I teams through February 18—are simply the poster children for a zany college basketball season that’s had handicappers popping headache pills like they’re Pez.

According to Covers.com, six of the top 15 teams in the point-spread standings have losing straight-up records, including three of the top five: San Francisco (11-15 SU, 15-6-1 ATS) is the nation’s second-most profitable team; Fordham (6-20, 16-7 ATS) is fourth; and Utah (11-14, 15-7-1 ATS) is fifth. At the opposite end are such teams as Richmond (15-11, 6-17 ATS), UNLV (19-7, 9-16 ATS), Kentucky (17-8, 8-14 ATS), UCLA (19-7, 10-15 ATS) and Oregon (21-5, 10-14 ATS).

Now you know why it’s been a lot easier to fit that wallet in your back pocket in recent weeks. Unfortunately, March is knocking on the door, and the only thing more depressing than being broke heading into the NCAA tournament is being broke heading into the nudie bar (or so I hear). With that in mind, let’s mine some data and see if we can resuscitate the bankroll (note that the following stats, courtesy of TeamRankings.com, are through February 18):

DOG HUNTING: If you’ve been playing underdogs consistently this season, odds are you’ll be in a higher tax bracket a year from now. Among the ’dogs in the hunt for “Best in Show” are Utah (11-3-1 ATS as an underdog), Georgetown (5-1), Evansville and Cal State Fullerton (8-2), and Butler, George Mason and Tennessee (7-2). On the other hand, Marshall (1-10 ATS as a ’dog), Richmond (2-8), Purdue (2-8-1), Denver (2-7) and Cleveland State (4-13-1) qualify as runts of the litter.

CHALK TALK: Denver and Cleveland State might be ugly pups, but they’ve been gold when favored, going 11-2-1 and 5-1 ATS, respectively (meaning, if you bet on both teams as favorites and against both as underdogs, you’d be 36-9-2). Other strong favorites include Cal Poly (9-1), James Madison (10-2), Toledo (7-2) and Miami (11-4-1). Conversely, you’d get more joy out of lighting your money on fire than you would laying points with Old Dominion (0-5), Idaho (2-10-1), Drexel (3-13), Fullerton (2-8) and Florida State (3-9).

LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN: Finally, with conference tournaments serving as the juicy appetizer to the Big Dance, it’s worth highlighting the moneymakers in league play: Samford (11-2 ATS in the Southern Conference), Cal Poly (10-2-1 Big West), Georgetown (10-2 Big East), Missouri State (12-3 Missouri Valley), Denver (11-3-1 Western Athletic) and San Francisco (10-3 West Coast). Anchoring the bottom are Old Dominion (2-12 Colonial Athletic Association), Duquesne (2-9 Atlantic 10), South Florida (3-10 Big East) and Arizona (3-10 Pac-12).

What about the Rebels? They’re 7-13 ATS as a favorite, 2-3 ATS as an underdog, 3-8 ATS in the Mountain West and 2-8 ATS on the road—including 0-for-5 as a road chalk. Hey, look at that: On Feb. 23, the Rebels play at Wyoming … where they’ll be favored. Hmm …

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Ken Johann’s Hemingway-like visage nearly disappears in a tobacco cloud. Decades of Winstons have produced a deep, raspy voice. My throat and lungs nearly seize. When UNLV soccer coach Rich Ryerson calls to ask if Johann wants to accompany him to the Rebels’ basketball game that night, the octogenarian booms: “Does a bear shit in the woods?”



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