Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 at 2:46 PM
The Butler Bulldogs are the poster child for the underdog opportunities that are supposed to reign supreme in March. In a college basketball world where the Cinderellas usually fade away by the Sweet 16, Butler captured everyone’s attention when they reached the NCAA final two straight years. It’s been a while—since 2011 to be exact, since the Bulldogs were on the national stage, but the team they have this year could get them there.
Butler is 16-3 in what’s shaping up to be a good Big East Conference this season. More than the quantity of the wins is the quality of the opponents the Bulldogs have already beaten. Their 70-68 win over Northwestern suddenly looks pretty good as the Wildcats have turned into a threat to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Butler followed that up with a 69-65 win over Pac-10 leader Arizona. They knocked off ranked teams in Cincinnati, 75-65 and Indiana, 83-78. And when conference play started, all the Bulldogs did was take out defending national champion and top-ranked Villanova 66-58.
That resume right there tells you that Butler, a 65-1 bet to win the national championship, can compete with anybody. However, they’ve also proved they can lose to anyone. Defeats at the hands of Indiana State and St. John’s are inexplicable. A recent 75-64 loss to Creighton was more defensible.
Inconsistency is enough to drive a team’s fans crazy, but smart college basketball bettors can find financial opportunity in the Butler roller-coaster, for two key reasons--
*The first is that when you evaluate a dark horse team on the futures market, you’re less concerned with their consistency then you are with their ability to actually beat good teams. We know they’re flawed—a team is a 65-1 longshot for a reason. What we want in these circumstances is to find a handful of teams priced in this range or higher, hope a couple can get to the Sweet 16 and then have the ability to go to another level. Butler falls within the parameters of this betting strategy.
*The second is that, on a game-to-game basis, Butler’s inconsistency has had a certain predictability to it. It comes down to pace and defense. The Bulldogs play at an extremely slow tempo and win by being exceptionally efficient on the offensive end. If they’re taken out of that, it’s a problem. You need look no further than the totals line for your proof. The losses to Indiana State and St. John’s were both games that went Over. In three of the five showcase wins, Butler played to the Under.
The reason for this is that teams like Butler often are not exceptional on defense. The low raw point totals obscure this because they’re driven more by a slow tempo than the quality of the defense. If you can speed Butler up, you can cause them problems.
On the flip side, teams like Butler are often much better on offense than generally given credit for. This isn’t a team filled with players who stuff a stat sheet. Kelan Martin is a good player, averaging 17ppg, but he’s one of only two double-digit scorers. But the Bulldogs still rank 12th nationally in offensive efficiency—the tempo might keep scores low, but this is a team that knows how to get a basket when they need it.
So pick your spots with Butler. Find games where you’re getting points and expect max effort. They’ve shown they can not only cover, but win outright. And find games where they’re a big favorite and look to go against them.