How to Use the Emotion and Situations Surrounding Last Home Games
The final two weeks of the regular season are upon us as teams push for conference titles and prepare for the conference tournaments and a run to the NCAA tourney. We've outlined some late season situations to evaluate in recent articles and pointed out the strength of home court in college basketball. In the last two weeks alone, nine teams lost for the first time this season after being undefeated at home, and just seven teams in the country remain unbeaten at home.
Many teams play well at home down the stretch, but with home court success and high-profile teams comes inflation and often a tax on the betting line at the sports books. There is a fine line between redemption and dominance when evaluating second-meets, last home games and home court. While stat profiles, scheduling and situations make up part of the handicapping process, so too does motivation, including rivalries and the Last Home Game (LHG) situations.
Many of these last home games bring a level of emotion and effort from both the players and fans, as seniors make their final appearance for the home faithful. Year after year we see teams that seem to have lost their way rise up in an emotional spot late in the season, while other winning teams and those pushing for a conference title bring their best in a late season redemption or LHG spot.
These kind of efforts and situations are prevalent throughout the final weeks of the season, and it gives you an idea of the emotion and meaning of these late season contests in front of their home fans. While some teams are pushing for conference titles, others are just trying to finish above .500 or prepare themselves for the upcoming conference tournaments. Other teams are playing out the string and know the conference tournament is their last shot to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Thus, some of the remaining games will have far less meaning to teams on the downturn or struggling with cohesion, chemistry and potential coaching changes.
Coaches likely on the way out can impact player performance and their ability to respond, so pay attention to potential deadbeat coaches who will be fired or replaced, knowing that some teams have 'tossed the towel' on a lost season. While there may appear to be some value in the betting line, you must still be careful betting on some teams who have failed to be competitive or lost their way. Oklahoma was 11-1 in early January and ranked top-7 in the country. The Sooners have now lost six-straight games, and are 16-11 overall and 6-9 in the Big 12. Could they fall completely out of an NCAA tournament bid? You would think a revenge rematch with last place Iowa State in the Sooners last home game March 2 would bring a big effort.
Minnesota and Wisconsin have fallen hard this season with losing records after each made the NCAA tournament last year. The Badgers beat the Gophers Feb. 19 in overtime 73-63 to miraculously cover the point spread (-7.5) after trailing the entire second half. Minnesota is a dead team, losers of 9-straight while going 1-8 ATS. Do you want to lay points with the Gophers in their last home games Feb. 21 in a revenge rematch with Iowa to decide the last place finisher in the Big Ten?
Last season another towel-tosser down the stretch of a losing season was UNLV, who suffered through one of the worst seasons in history in Las Vegas. Even in its biggest rivalry game at home late last season, out-manned UNLV couldn't rise up and be competitive in a 94-58 blowout defeat to rival Nevada. Yet the Rebels rose up just days later in their Last Home Game to beat Utah State as a home underdog. So there is part of the emotion of LHG's and late season college basketball with much on the line, and even sometimes just pride and passion to perform in a last home game, rivalry or revenge match-up. It's been a bounce back season for UNLV, who is 19-8 and in fourth place in the Mountain West (8-6) this season. Perhaps the Rebels biggest win of the season was in Reno Feb. 7, as UNLV (+9) pulled a big upset over rival Nevada, 86-78. Nevada bounced back with three straight wins in tough travel spots, including a first place showdown victory at Boise State. In that contest, the Wolf Pack lost their emotional leader and on-court coach Lindsey Drew to a torn Achilles. Drew was top-5 in the country in assist/turnover ratio and a lockdown defender. Coach Eric Musselman, one of the best coaches without the recognition in a power conference, is about to secure Nevada's second-straight Mountain West regular season title in his third season in Reno. Nevada will play their last home game Feb. 25 vs. Colorado State. While the emotions will be high, so will the betting line at 20 or more points. With just a seven man rotation, Nevada is likely to conserve some energy and take a win and move on, as their next game is a big rivalry redemption rematch in Las Vegas against UNLV, who will also be sky high playing their last home game Feb. 28.
So, you can see the emotions involved and different situations and settings including last home games. As you evaluate these LHG's and final weeks of the regular season, watch and observe a team's chemistry, coaching and comments, and how a team is playing and performing. Recognizing value or inflation in the betting line will help you as you evaluate the schedules and situations that may provide additional motivation, energy and effort. Cohesion, chemistry and motivation (or lack thereof) are key factors beyond the stats and box scores, and last home games are often a night when the emotion and energy reach peak levels, especially against a big rival or with a conference championship on the line.
The sports books will often 'tax' a winning home team with more to play for and also give far less credit to losing teams playing out the string at home. And as we've witness in recent weeks with some top teams losing for the first time at home, the pressure to perform can be immense. We cashed in on Wichita State (+6) last weekend when the Shockers snapped AAC leader Cincinnati's 39-game home winning streak as the Bearcats try desperately to hold on to first place and win the American Athletic Conference. We also lost with Wichita State the prior game against Temple, as the Shockers rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to win 93-86, but failed to cover the spread. That's what can happen when an opponent makes 16 three-pointers like Temple did, but if you continue to closely evaluate stats, situations, match-ups and motivation, you'll become more proficient and cash-in on more late-season contests and last home games.
Last Home Games of Interest and with Conference Championship or Higher Seeding Implications.
Feb. 22 – South Dakota at South Dakota State (Summit)
Feb. 24 – Idaho at Weber State (Big Sky)
Feb. 24 – Harvard at Penn (Ivy)
Feb. 25 – Wright State at Illinois Chicago (Horizon)
Feb. 27 – Davidson at St. Bonaventure (A-10)
March 3 – North Carolina at Duke (ACC)
March 3 – UCLA at USC (Pac-12)
March 3 – UC Davis at Cal Irvine (Big West)
March 4 – Cincinnati at Wichita State (American)
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay