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Quality Teams Often Get Their Revenge In College Hoops...By S.H. Austin

I was thinking about "revenge" games in college basketball as I was watching the scores come in this past Monday night. For the uninitiated, a "revenge" game (for the purposes of this discussion) is a same season rematch where the first round loser has a chance to atone for their loss.

Some handicappers pay a lot of attention to this. Some don't think it means anything. Certainly, wide-scale uses of databases aren't likely to show much of an edge. Terrible teams have revenge almost every time they take the floor in the second half of a conference round robin schedule. Terrible teams aren't likely to place much weight on revenge, or have the resources to do anything about it anyway.

What about good teams? Is it worth asking good teams to play better than the oddsmakers expect when they're in revenge spots? Results from this past Monday night suggest that this is something you should be paying very close attention to.

I've made a list of all the revenge results from Monday Night. The team that lost the first game is listed first. Instead of posting these in rotation order though, I've listed them from largest pointspread favorite down the scale to biggest pointspread underdog. You'll see why I doid this in a moment. The list begins with Butler, a whopping 16-point favorite in a rare revenge game for them against Illinois Chicago. The last game on the list is 16-point underdog William & Mary in their game at VCU.

Butler (-16) beat Illinois Chicago 71-45 (WINNER)
Loyola-Chicago (-9) beat Youngstown State 80-68 (WINNER)
Tennessee Tech (-9) beat Morehead State 65-52 (WINNER)
Wisconsin-Green Bay (-5) lost to Wright State 65-54 (loser)
Tennessee Chattanooga (-3) lost to Furman 68-61 (loser)
SEMO (pk) lost to Austin Peay 75-73 (loser)
St. Peter's (+1) lost to Rider 54-53 (push)
Siena (+2) lost to Loyola Maryland 72-71 (WINNER)
Iona (+2) lost to Canisius 71-61 (loser)
Murray State (+3) beat Samford 57-51 (WINNER)
Wofford (+5) lost to Western Carolina 77-74 (WINNER)
Tennessee Martin (+5) lost to Eastern Kentucky 94-57 (loser)
Cleveland State (+6) lost to Wisconsin-Milwaukee 57-56 (WINNER)
Charleston (+6) lost to Appalachian State 67-56 (loser)
Northeastern (+6) lost to Drexel 68-59 (loser)
Georgia Southern (+7) lost to NC Greensboro 65-62 (WINNER)
Delaware (+9) beat Hofstra 72-68 (WINNER)
NC Wilmington (+9) beat George Mason 63-58 (WINNER)
William & Mary (+16) lost to VCU 90-68 (loser)

You'll note there's success and failure all over the board. On the whole, the 19 revenge teams went 10-8-1 ATS. That's a winning record, but not something that really gets your juices flowing. Don't get me wrong, 56% will win you a lot of money in Las Vegas. It's just that you don't look for trends that only yield 56% records over a short sample. A few buckets here or there and the record might turn around. Certainly a one night record of 10-8-1 isn't proof by itself that revenge is meaningful in college hoops.

I stacked the games this way for a reason. Look at what happened at the top of the list.

Butler (-16) beat Illinois Chicago 71-45 (WINNER)
Loyola-Chicago (-9) beat Youngstown State 80-68 (WINNER)
Tennessee Tech (-9) beat Morehead State 65-52 (WINNER)

Note that the three biggest favorites all won and covered. What does this tell you? It tells you that revenge can be important to GOOD teams. These guys lost the first round to clearly inferior opponents. How embarrassing did it have to be for Butler to lose to a team like Illinois Chicago? These teams would have been obvious favorites on neutral courts. They were clearly superior, and played like they resented those early losses.

So, we have very quick evidence that revenge can be a big factor when it's the superior team in a matchup that lost the opener. This is a big deal. And, it's worth looking for even if it represents a small percentage of total revenge games.

I also wanted you to see what happened in the first halves of these games:

Butler (-9) beat Illinois Chicago 39-16
Loyola Chicago (-5) beat Youngstown State 44-24
Tennessee Tech (-5) beat Morehead State 37-24

HELLO! Talk about breathing fire at the beginning of a game. Butler and Loyola both managed leads of 20 or more points in the first 20 minutes! All three teams covered their FULL GAME spreads in the first half. All three would have covered as favorites of 10-points in the first half alone. Playing the first half line is a great way to take advantage of emotion when it's in place. Handicappers doing that with these favorites went 6-0 ATS Monday Night instead of just 3-0. A 10-8-1 record overall may not get your attention, something like the above should.

Where's the cutoff point for when you should pay attention and when you shouldn't? Different handicappers would have different opinions on that. For me, I like to make a list of all the teams who are "equal to or better" than their opponents based on that night's pointspread. Home court advantage is worth four points in college hoops. That would mean that any road underdogs of +4 or less would be equal to or better than their opponents in the power ratings. Any home favorites of -4 or more would be as well. Let's take a look at those qualifiers. I've taken out all the home underdogs (you can't be the superior team if you're a home underdog) and road underdogs of five points or more.

Butler (-16) beat Illinois Chicago 71-45 (WINNER)
Loyola-Chicago (-9) beat Youngstown State 80-68 (WINNER)
Tennessee Tech (-9) beat Morehead State 65-52 (WINNER)
Wisconsin-Green Bay (-5) lost to Wright State 65-54 (loser)
Siena (+2) lost to Loyola Maryland 72-71 (WINNER)
Murray State (+3) beat Samford 57-51 (WINNER)

How about that? The six teams deemed to be "superior" in their matchups by the Vegas pointspreads went 5-1 ATS in revenge spots. If you apply that "first half" strategy to the three newcomers, you do end up taking a small step backward in this case. Murray State missed a first half cover by a point. The other two games saw the first half result match their full game results.

That leaves you with:
Full Games: 5-1 ATS
First Halves and Full Games: 9-3 ATS

A small step backward from 83% is still 75%, which is nothing to sneeze at.

The beauty of using the pointspreads as your guide is that you don't have to know all the teams inside and out. You're letting the oddsmakers do the work for you, then you're using that work against them. You don't have to follow small conference teams to figure out that Siena is better than Loyola-Maryland. The pointspread of two points for the road dog is telling you that. Anyone could see that Tennessee Tech is better than Morehead State with a pointspread of nine points. When you realize that revenge is in play for the superior team, you can recognize the possible value even if you can't name a player in the whole Ohio Valley Conference.

I hope you'll consider this strategy in the final month of the regular season. I'm not suggesting it will win 83% of the time, or even 75% of the time. It is likely to put you in position for success. You'll be backing the better team with a motivational advantage, which is something quality handicappers always try to do. You may find that the first half lines are particularly vulnerable to this approach. Oddsmakers are basically just cutting the full game lines in a situation where a good team is poised to have a high energy start.

If things haven't been going well for you this season, maybe this approach will help YOU get some revenge!

S.H. Austin

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