Well, it's all but guaranteed money now. Line Drills posted another 7-5 week last week, our second consecutive winning week. The season mark stands at 17-19 but the momentum is undeniable. After all, kids, what separates large hairy mammals (like Tom & Keith) from lower evolutionary phyla? The ability to learn.
This Wednesday MAC fans are treated to a full slate of six simultaneous conference games, in which the home team is favored in five. We'll examine each game on its own merits, of course, but keep in mind these performance trends as catalogued by our talented staff of hundreds of PhD statisticians:
MAC conference play, performance against the spread (conference only, through 1-26-14):
Visitors: 25 - 11 (wow!)
Underdogs: 23 - 13 (double-wow!)
... when favored by double digits: 3 - 5
... when favored by 5 - 9.5 points: 3 - 7
... when favored by 0.5 - 4.5 points: 1 - 7
We can only give you the data, loyal reader. Maybe at some point either the odds-makers or the home teams will catch up. Until then, beware the slightly favored home team. Of which there aren't any in this set of games, interestingly.
Today's theme, in honor of socially awkward MAC basketball fans everywhere who might need a little help, is pick-up lines. When you're out watching MAC basketball at your favorite watering hole, be sure to employ these liberally. Feel free to post your thanks (or your favorite) in the comments section.
Ball State @ Akron (-13.5)
It's rematch time at the JAR, where the Cardinals and the Zips meet for the second time this January. Three weeks ago, Akron was coming off of a humiliating end to non-conference play, and struggled to a 4-point win. The interpretation was both that Akron might be vulnerable, and that the Ball State team that finished 7-1 in their last 8 MAC games last year might find a way to be competitive. I'm not sure that either of those assessments was accurate - Akron is playing solid ball right now in a league they've dominated for over 2 years, and Ball State has a solitary conference win.
Are Hustle Belt readers old enough to remember Hack-a-Shaq? Shaquille O'Neal was so dominant in the paint, and so terrible from the line, that the theory was to just foul him if he caught the ball in good position, and take your chances with him at the stripe. Shaq shot, in aggregate, about 53% from the line in those young & dominant days. I mention this because we're clearly going to see some Hack-an-Ak at some point in important games. This Zip team - the whole team - is shooting 60% from the line in conference play. What if you intentionally foul them liberally when they're in the 1-and-1? Statistically, this means that on average, the team would garner only 1.8 points from the floor on those three trips combined (then they get to the double bonus). Even in the double bonus, they're going to average just 0.86 points per trip if you put them at the line. I've seen Demetrius Treadwell strong to the glass. I've seen Quincy Diggs create with the ball. I've seen Jake Kretzer show in-the-gym range. Hack-an-Ak, people. It's going to catch on.
The line: Is it hot in here, or is it just you? Akron hasn't lost to Ball State since March, 2004. Some other time we'll show some different ways to bet (i.e. the money line), but for now remember that although that's 9 wins in a row, many have been close. Spread betting is all about the number, not necessarily about the win.
The pick: Ball State +13.5. Too many points to lay with an Akron team that is really good, but hasn't shown signs of blowing people out. I think the only way they'll clobber a team - like they did EMU - is if they get hot from behind the arc. Otherwise, they'll win, but struggle to put up big points because of the free throw issues.
Bowling Green @ Eastern Michigan (-9)
This is another rematch from the January 8th slate of season openers, when the Eagles went to the Stroh and won 56-51. Statistically there wasn't much separating the two teams, and the Falcons gave away points by shooting 16-28 from the foul line. The teams combined for only 4 made 3-pointers - this will be a slower-paced, half-court game, and figures to be quite competitive.
These teams are currently the 7 & 8 seeds in the MAC, coming in with identical 3-3 records. The Eagles are coming off a disappointing week, with a non-competitive loss to Akron followed by the heartbreaking late fade against Ohio. Bowling Green has to be the most schizophrenic team in the league this year, with road wins at Western Michigan and Ohio, but home losses to Northern Illinois and Miami. Maybe they're more dangerous on the road?!
The line: I seem to have lost my number - can I have yours? If either team can put up a magic number of about 65 points, they're going to win. These are two tough D's.
The pick: Bowling Green +9. Keith & I joke about the fact that he loves favorites and I love points - get used to a lot of underdog picks today because I was pretty surprised at some of the spreads. Again, pretty much an even matchup the first time, and since then it's the Falcons who have the more impressive achievements.
Western Michigan @ Buffalo (-6.5)
If it weren't for Miami's unexpected resurgence, this would be the game of the day. The Broncos head to Alumni Arena to face the Bulls, and the frontcourt matchups are especially intriguing. Shayne Whittington versus Javon McCrea. Connar Tava versus Will Regan. Good stuff, MAC fans. In a lot of these east / west matchups, it may be fair to say that the east division team ‘needs' the win more, since they'll be beating up on each other for the next 9 weeks.
Last year, both Whittington (23 points, 14 rebounds, 4 steals) and McCrea (22 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks) excelled in this matchup. Buffalo got almost no contribution from its bench, as was their norm last year, and lost by a dozen in Kalamazoo. The matchup may come down to similar factors this year - the Bulls' top players are as good as any in the league. Can they get contributions up & down the lineup in order to be consistent contenders in tough MAC games, or will we just ogle nice biceps & stats lines from the Kraken while watching Buffalo limp to another .500 finish in conference?
The line: Are you a parking ticket? Because you've got FINE written all over you. Last year McCrea fouled out late as the Bulls took the loss, but the Bulls might hope for some home-court officiating to tilt the balance the opposite way this year. As a side note, I'd be interested to know if anyone else thought Toledo got a little home cooking in the Kent State win this past weekend. I sure thought so.
The pick: tough one. I do like Buffalo at home, where they seem to play a lot better. But in general, I'm taking the points - especially when I get more than 5 - when I think teams are essentially evenly matched. Western Michigan +6.5.
Northern Illinois @ Kent State (-11)
The Huskies led by 10 point with 8 minutes to play, and by 3 points with 1 minute left in the first matchup between these two on January 15th. Leading doesn't always equate to winning, and Kent State battled back, and controlled the overtime in a 73-64 win. Still, if you watched this game, you should have come away thinking the teams were roughly evenly matched. Both teams were competitive in losses to Toledo, and both lost to Buffalo (twice for NIU) without putting up too much of a fight. Even last year when Kent State was pretty good, the Huskies beat them by 2, meaning they've basically played to a dead draw in their last 80 minutes of regulation.
Kent State has specifically underachieved at home on the young season, losing to Ohio and Western Michigan in games that one might have thought they'd win. They also fell behind by 7 at halftime to Ball State, but exploded in the second half for 54 points (!) and the win. In the end, that may be the most relevant fact: Kent State was supposed to be better this year, they haven't shown up much against the top teams, but they did pull out wins against the Cardinals and the Huskies. And they probably played their best game of the season in the loss to Toledo this past Sunday.
The line: If I could rearrange the alphabet, I'd put U and I together. NIU (close enough to U ‘n' I) remains a very young roster that still has a chance of coming together as the year goes on. Aksel Bolin is the only impact senior on the squad - only Central Michigan is throwing out younger kids on the floor each night.
The pick: Northern Illinois +11. Did I mention that underdogs are 23-13 against the spread this year? And that the last 80 minutes of regulation basketball have produced a net difference of 2 points between these clubs? I would have been happy to give maybe 5 or 6 points with Kent State coming off the strong Toledo effort. Double digits are not happening.
Central Michigan @ Ohio (-14.5)
The game is played at both ends of the floor, and both will attract attention because of different trends coming into this one. Central Michigan can score liberally by pushing the pace and relying on Chris Fowler and the underappreciated Braylon Rayson (averaging 9 points in just 18 minutes per game). Ohio's defense is among the best in the MAC in most categories, and the Bobcats will figure to try to settle in to a half-court set whenever possible.
Meanwhile Ohio has topped 60 points (in regulation) only twice in 6 conference games. Maurice Ndour was huge in the Akron loss, but has fallen off to 11 per game on sub-.500 shooting in the four games since. Central Michigan is worst in the league at defending the 3-point shot, perhaps because they have to collapse inside to make up for a lack of size. This should mean a big opportunity for Stevie Taylor and Nick Kellogg to get it going from behind the arc.
The line: Your body is 65% water, and I'm thirsty. Chris Fowler is shooting an astounding 57% from the field - ever so slightly dehydrated, perhaps - as he is looking to become a Steve Carlton-like MVP candidate for the lowly Chippewas.
The pick: Central Michigan +14.5. This was a tough one too - The Ohio coaches will be unlikely to call off the dogs if they get going, since they'll want to build confidence at the offensive end. But as bad as the Chips have been this year, only 1 of their conference losses (by 0.5 points - a 15 point loss to Toledo) was by this many points. They've scored enough to keep it entertaining.
Toledo (-3) @ Miami
I'm not even looking at last year's result for the Rockets and RedHawks, as these are two of the teams that have transformed the most in the last year. Exciting times for fans of both teams, as Toledo (RPI 33!) continues to build a case for national recognition and maybe at-large consideration, while Miami's back-from-the-dead routine has been fun and unexpected. Both of these squads are really doing it with team effort - yes, Rian Pearson and Will Felder are legitimate player of the year candidates, but watch either team play and you'll be impressed with at least 2 or 3 more players from each team.
Miami's backcourt is about to start getting serious press if they keep winning. Will Sullivan can shoot the rock, Quinten Rollins is a true point, Willie Moore is settling in to transfer life since he was allowed to hit the court mid-season, and they all play tenacious defense up and down the court. For Toledo, Julius "Juice" Brown has been terrific - even if the shooting percentage is starting to get uncomfortably lower - and I like what I'm seeing with Nathan Boothe in the middle, even if the numbers don't yet suggest he's a major force.
The line: Are you from Tennessee? Because you're the only 10 I see. Transfers J.D. Weatherspoon and Justin Drummond (neither one from Tennessee - but apparently there is not a soul on a MAC roster from Tennessee, and I really wanted to use this line) have helped elevate this Toledo team to another level. The Rockets will lose senior leader Rian Pearson to graduation this year... but the rest of their impact rotation should return intact next year. Look out.
The pick: Toledo -3. This is going to be an entertaining game. But Miami still hasn't shown its stuff against the MAC's elite. Honestly, I'm kind of rooting RedHawk here - who doesn't love an underdog? - but I'm happy to lay only 3 points in taking the MAC's top team to win. Miami's defense may give Pearson /Brown trouble - I think the transfers will need to have a big game.
All 6 visitors against the spread? Five underdogs? This can't end well - your thoughts welcomed in the comments below.