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Injury knocks Purdue from national title race

One of the best all-around players in college basketball blew out his knee this week, and the toll that losing junior forward Robbie Hummel will take on third-ranked Purdue is pretty easy to figure.

Overreacting to injuries is a mistake bettors often make. But it’s not a knee-jerk reaction to say the Boilermakers will be lame ducks in March without Hummel.

How valuable was the 6-foot-8-inch Hummel, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament on Wednesday, to Purdue?

"I’ve got him as a poor man’s Larry Bird," said John Kelly, who has hosted various sports betting radio shows in Las Vegas and writes for EOG.com. "I hate to say no chance."

Kelly has a ticket on the Boilermakers at 30-1 odds to win the NCAA Tournament, and he knows he now has no chance of cashing it.

Purdue, 24-3 and leading the Big Ten, might be OK in the short term. The Boilermakers will be about 2½-point home favorites over Michigan State on Sunday. The Spartans have lost four of their past six games.

"I’m done making excuses for Michigan State," said handicapper Kelso Sturgeon, who was prepared to lay about 4½ points with Purdue two days ago. "I will take a pass with Hummel not playing."

In the long term, the Boilermakers are in big trouble because they lack the depth and talent to overcome Hummel’s absence. Look to bet against them in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke are the favorites to earn No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Purdue, once a promising Final Four contender, is out of that discussion.

Two of Saturday’s top games will be played on opposite ends of the country: Villanova at Syracuse in the Big East and New Mexico at Brigham Young in the Mountain West Conference.

Jimmer Fredette and the Cougars will be favored by about 5½ points over the Lobos. (I surveyed opinions on this line, and the answers came in a range from 3½ to 7½ points.)

"I think BYU is the better basketball team, although I’m kind of a committee of one in believing that," Sturgeon said. "I would lean in that direction. But I’m not knocking New Mexico."

Sturgeon charts about 270 teams on a graph. His performance profile ratings take into account road wins, situations and other factors. He has high praise for Syracuse, which will be about a 4-point favorite over Villanova.

"I don’t count wins at home. They don’t mean anything to me," Sturgeon said. "I’ve had Syracuse ranked No. 1 for the past six weeks. If a team goes on the road and goes 11-0 against the competition they played, there’s something special about this team."

Sturgeon said he also likes Tennessee (+3) at home against Kentucky. It’s risky to bet against John Wall and the Wildcats, but Sturgeon (kelsosportshandicapping.com) expects the Volunteers to "fire their best shot" in a national TV game off a loss at Florida.

"I do think Tennessee will get the job done, and I’m not trying to be the hero, but I think the circumstances will make Tennessee the winner and the point-spread winner," Sturgeon said.

West Virginia, off a loss at Connecticut, will be about an 8½-point home favorite over Cincinnati. Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins is a master motivator with NBA talent on his roster.

"Huggins hates to lose more than anybody in America, and when West Virginia is in bounce-back form they are as dangerous as any team in the country," Sturgeon said. "You can’t win bounce-back games if you don’t have talent."

Sturgeon said he also likes Wichita State (-7) over Southern Illinois, calling the Shockers "an NCAA bubble team" in need of a win playing "on one of the most hostile home courts in basketball."

There are myriad factors to consider when handicapping at this point in the season, injuries being of them.

Duke would be in a world of hurt without Kyle Singler, and the same would hold true for Ohio State without Evan Turner or BYU minus Fredette.

Oddsmakers probably won’t make enough of an adjustment on Purdue without Hummel, who will be sorely missed in March.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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