By: T.R. Slyder, TRSlyder@yahoo.com, AndyDisco on Twitter
I should have written this article a few days ago, when KY was still #1 in the country. Saying that they can't win now, after losing to 17th ranked Tennessee, doesn't make this prediction sound quite as gutsy. But it is still as true, and they will be the betting favorite heading into the tournament (barring injuries), even if they aren't the overall #1 seed.
Kentucky just has "sucker bet" written all over them. By "sucker bet" I don't mean that they have zero chance to win the tournament but just that they offer terrible betting value. Horse racing fans have been familiar with a sucker bet for years- invariably its the horse in the race that, 1) is the biggest name for whatever reason- usually its best races are better than the best races of the other horses its facing that day, has a big-name trainer/jockey/owner, has the most talent yet isn't able to run its ideal race as often as others in the race, etc. The overwhelming talent level serves as a siren song to lure in the suckers, the undecided and the spineless. If this horse wins the race it could be by 8 lengths, yet no one would be surprised if the horse throws in a clunker of a performance and finishes in 5th place, either. The sucker bettor lazily thinks, "If every horse runs their best the favorite will surely win. Therefore, I will bet on the favorite." but fail to look deeper. What they need to say instead is, "This horse runs at 100% (of potential) only 65% of the time, whereas less favored horses who are, 90% as talented, can run at 100% closer to 90% of the time.".
Another contributing factor that turns a horse from "favorite" to "sucker bet" status, is a relative difficulty to distinguish between the other logical contenders. It's rare to see an archetypal sucker bet horse be 2-1 with horses being 5-2, and 3-1. Usually the sucker is 2-1 and the other horses are more like 4-1, 9/2 and 6-1. So how does this relate to KY?
1. They are the sexy pick, for sure. No one disputes that Kentucky is by far the most electrifying team in the country, the most talented and easily the most fun to watch. IF they played up to their potential they would win any game they are in. The problem? their two losses haven't came against highly ranked foes. In typical John Calipari fashion, this is a team that can lose focus, get flustered when they don't get their way, and panic when they get hit in the nose. They're a lot like a bully that acts tough but cries after they get hit.
2. Kentucky has the most exciting player in the country since Kevin Durant, in John Wall. That isn't a bad thing for Kentucky, but it is in terms of offering value to the bettor. Visions of Danny Manning and Carmelo Anthony highhandedly carrying their team to the promised land still delude bettors and decrease the value on the team with the best player.
3. They're a bandwagon team. This is what happens: Kentucky fields an outstanding team, they have a sexy new coach who has done everything but win an NCAA championship (coincidence?), new uniforms, and arguably the most passionate fanbase in NCAA basketball, and they play a very entertaining brand of basketball. CBS and ESPN realize this and decide to cash in. ESPN is at its horniest when a large market team and/or superstar with a huge following gets hot. Can you recall being over saturated with news about teams like the Yankees, Red Sox,The Cubs (when in the playoffs) or players like Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, or Tiger Woods? I thought so. You can add Kentucky to the list because it's good business. ESPN knows that when they broadcast a KY game, KY's huge and loyal fanbase will tune in, as will most other college basketball fans. The result is a huge audience and huge profits. This is why you see Kentucky on national TV more often than a team like Purdue, who was ranked third before losing their best player- there is just more money in to broadcast a KY game over a Purdue game. This familiarity then leads to more buzz- now that KY games are on tv more, they are more likely to be on SportsCenter, PTI, the blogosphere and talked about around the cooler. With all this buzz, the casual, the suckers, the uninformed and the spineless think, "well, I haven't followed much basketball this year, but I keep hearing about KY, and they look impressive as hell on SportsCenter, so I guess I'll bet on KY." The influx of that sucker money, reduces their Vegas odds, and subsequently, everyone else's odds, and lowers the value on all bets made on KY. Think of this as morons taking money out of your pocket if you bet on KY. It's called a sucker bet for a reason.
4. John Calipari is their coach. That guy is as erratic, big-headed and chokey as his players. When was the last time a Calipari-coached team OVERachieved? They don't. They look amazing blowing teams out 85-61, but never win the dogfights. They panic in close games, and since they can't hit free throws, they lose. It's always the same story- great athletes, but no veteran leadership or mental toughness, because any Calipari player worth his salt left for the NBA as a sophomore at the latest. Under him, the only kids that stick around to graduate are either head cases, or just plain underachievers. All of Calipari's teams do this, and this group will be no different.
According to VegasInsider, Kentucky is the second choice to win the NCAA Tournament Future Pool, at 4-1. (Kansas is the favorite at 2-1). Following KY on that list are Syracuse, Villanova, Texas and West Virginia. Such a (relatively) mediocre and undistinguished bunch do little to attract significant betting attention, as a result, the betting question becomes, "Well, it's gotta be Kansas or Kentucky, because I can't tell the other teams apart." and that is just lazy betting.
Don't be fooled by KY as a sucker bet. While talented, excited and enticing to wager on- they offer by far the worst value in the field. If KY were 15-1, 10-1 or even 8-1, you could live with their shortcomings, but as the second choice at 4-1, you can't live with them.
That's how I roll.