Litmus Test Losers

There were two college basketball games I was playing very close attention to this past weekend. I want to focus today's coursework in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping on two high-profile losers of those litmus tests.

Both were in serious consideration for #1 or #2 seeds in recent days. Now, it's possible both will fall down to #3 seeds. I'll take them one at a time.

TENNESSEE LOST AT LSU SATURDAY
You probably know that LSU's best player was a scratch minutes before tipoff. This should have allowed Tennessee to erase the memory of the prior week's horrible loss at Kentucky from the minds of pollsters, pundits, and sports bettors.

The Volunteers looked to be taking care of business much of the way. They led 64-55 with 6:45 to go in regulation. Tennessee wouldn't make a basket from the floor for more than six minutes. It did make a late layup to force overtime, before losing in the extra period.

You could call that TWO flunked litmus tests, because Tennessee lost the end of regulation 16-7, and then the bonus five minutes 11-9 to a team missing its best player. This is particularly alarming to me in terms of tournament potential because the Volunteers had THE MOTIVATION FACTOR working for them in dramatic fashion. They should have been breathing fire. Instead, it's now four ATS losses in a row (and five of six) for a team that was literally ranked #1 in the nation heading into Lexington.

Other causes for postseason concern:
*Tennessee only forced 7 turnovers in 45 minutes of action
*Tennessee lost the ball 14 times itself
*Tennessee lost patience defensively and got foul happy in the paint
*Tennessee coach Rick Barnes still doesn't know how to win big games!

Look, anything can happen in college basketball. Tennessee has the talent to play with anyone, and might score an important win or two in March. But, I'm pretty skeptical about that right now. The Vols will have to change my mind in the SEC Tournament, or I'll be fading them in the Big Dance.


MICHIGAN LOST TO MICHIGAN STATE SUNDAY
Talk about a chance to make a statement. Michigan was playing on its home floor against a hated rival, one that it will be battling for the Big 10 Championship and Dance seeding over these last several days of the season. It wasn't so much that the Wolverines lost and didn't cover. It's that what was supposed to be a "great" defense was badly humbled.

Note that this was a VERY slow game. Michigan allowed 77 points on only 62 possessions. And, they did so while letting Sparty shoot 68% on two-point baskets (19 of 28!), and only forcing six turnovers. Maybe Michigan was so worried about denying three-point shots that it lost sight of everything else. You just can't be that soft inside vs. top teams...particularly if you're also putting them on the free throw line 30 times.

Granting that Michigan State looked terrific. The Spartans usually close seasons well under head coach Tom Izzo. This season they started better than normal, which gives them a really high ceiling. But, from Michigan's perspective, this was a flunked litmus test. It was favored by 4.5 points, which is larger than the standard value of home court.

I guess I could give an honorable mention to Villanova too. The Wildcats lost their third game in a row Sunday at Xavier, after falling to St. John's and Georgetown the prior two outings. To me, that's not quite on the same scale. This is a down year for Villanova...and the combination of PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS with THE MOTIVATION FACTOR aren't currently pointing to Villanova as a team that's going to scare people in March. Tennessee and Michigan are high up on the futures board.

Your homework this week is to pay close attention to who ISN'T getting the job done in high profile battles (college or pro)...particularly when they are in situations when they should. I'm not talking about occasional flat spots. Those happen in late February. Teams who are cruising start looking ahead. Neither Tennessee nor Michigan should have been looking past this past weekend. Both should have been primed for peak intensity, and laid eggs anyway (particularly in some key box score stats).

Some NBA teams are flunking tests too. I can't circle them all for you! Stay on top of the nightly cards to make sure your reads are fresh for the "playoff style" basketball we'll be seeing from now through the spring and early summer.

If you'd like some help finding nightly basketball edges, KELSO STURGEON'S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered by calling my office at 1-800-755-2255 during normal business hours. I have great packages that take you through the rest of March Madness or the NBA Playoffs. Don't forget to ask about Major League Baseball when you call.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates your attendance. I know how excited you are about March being just around the corner...and there's more buzz than usual at this stage of the NBA season. We're going to have a lot of fun studying and handicapping basketball in the coming weeks.

I will probably be looking at another college topic in our Friday class get-together. Soon, mid-major conferences will be starting their tournaments, with the big boys right on their heels. I trust that you're already well-prepared given our coursework throughout the season. I'll do my best to spot developments as they happen to keep us ahead of the market. See you Friday.