Bryan Leonard dug through some of his old material and came up with several rules to follow while betting college basketball. Keep these in mind when betting the green and you’ll see a return on your investment in college basketball.
Of no-names and schedules
Basketball fans love the big name teams. Duke, UConn, North Carolina, Arizona. But you’ll notice successful handicappers don’t always give out top plays on the most recognizable schools. That’s because there’s value all over the board when wagering on college hoops, and it’s not always on the marquee teams.
This is in stark contrast to what happens during the college basketball season. There are dozens of games each day and even up to 70-85 games on a college basketball Saturday. With so many games, it’s much more difficult for linemakers to make accurate numbers on every game. There will be mistakes and soft lines, which are the handicapper's best friend.
And sometimes you may not even recognize the schools or conferences. One week I released my Southern Conference Game of the Year on Davidson. It was a great spot for a play on the visitors and – in my judgment – a very bad number. Davidson had a well-balanced team that matched up fairly well with a good Georgia Southern squad. I looked at a line of about one or two points, but Davidson was a plus-8 1/2 road ‘dog.
This brings into play the importance of examining a team’s schedule carefully. Davidson had a losing record in part because of its tough schedule, playing Texas Tech, North Carolina, Georgetown, Seton Hall and Duke – all but one on the road! The stats may have suggested that Davidson gives up a lot of points, but this was deceptive because of this awfully difficult schedule.
The game was an easy cover, as Davidson outrebounded Georgia Southern 39-28, trailed by two at the half on the way to a 62-60 defeat, but an easy cover. Davidson might have even won the game if they hadn’t missed nine free throws. Still, my clients and I didn’t need them to win – just cover the +8 1/2-points.
The moral is: Don’t ignore small, no-name schools and examine schedules carefully. Wins and losses, straight up and against the spread, are found when you read between the lines.
This is when the second season for handicappers begins. Once college basketball conference play goes into full swing, it allows bettors to gauge statistics and match-ups.
Many teams schedule a string of non-conference cupcake games early in the season in order to run up big scores and easy victories. However, they could then falter quickly as they step up in competition during January and February conference play. Virginia and Hofstra come to mind this past season - two teams that got off to strong starts but struggled as the competition got better.
Other times, teams schedule difficult non-conference games early in the season - and sometimes take serious beatings - to toughen them up for conference action. Jon Chaney’s Temple Owls have done this often over the last decade. It’s essential for handicappers to utilize power ratings and carefully check records versus quality opponents.
Another factor to take into account when ‘capping conference play is that teams will play each other more than once. It’s important to look back on any recent meetings and see what took place. If one team blew out another, look at the box score to see why. And ask questions. Did one team dominate the glass? Or did the opponent simply have a bad shooting game?
This can mean the rematch will be equally one-sided, or it could mean the team that lost badly is out for revenge. Looking back at past years helps as well. You can find a trend where each team rolls over another on its home court, which happened for several years with ACC rivals Duke and Maryland. Or you might find that one team has the other’s number and consistently gets the cover whether they’re at home or at the other team’s place.
Check conference standings, too. Conference games likely have greater importance for teams that can’t afford any more losses. In addition, you can find teams that have already fallen out of the conference race, which means they might begin packing it in, especially on the road against stronger conference foes.
Conference play offers a more level playing field than the early season. For those with an eye for it, the "second season" can assist an astute handicapper with more angles than earlier non-conference action.
Many times during the season and even in some conference tournament games, you can find teams that are less interested in wanting to play hard. That is, they know they’re going to get hammered or they’ve slumped so badly down the stretch that they realize they have no shot at going anywhere in tournament play.
In short, they’ve given up on the season or on a particular game where they are a big underdog and know their season is over. This is far less likely in late March, however, as good teams keep winning and are motivated to play all out.
Road play: It’s important to check home/road play for college hoop teams. This is also something to keep up on from the Sweet 16 on. Some teams have a noticeable weakness on the road, such as poor road defense, or they consistently fail to cover when away from home. Most college tournament games this time of year are neutral courts, but it can be helpful to check both teams’ road play when analyzing individual match-ups to get a sense of how they play away from home.
Non-conference competition: Some helpful sports wagering web sites have this broken down in easy-to-read columns. On the other hand, you must take this a step further, too - examine next who those non-conference games were against. If they were against all small-school teams with poor records, then it’s not as helpful as if they played against top-notch non-conference opponents. Illinois faced Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Wake Forest and at Arkansas last year and whipped them all by double digits.
Location: Sometimes teams luck out by getting placed in a tourney bracket that is close to home. North Carolina, for instance, opened the tourney last year playing in Charlotte against Oakland (Mich.) and Iowa State, two teams that traveled a long way. The Tar Heels won by 28 and 27 points, respectively. A close location can mean more fans in the stands cheering for a particular team, giving it a slight edge.
Their role as a ‘dog?: Check how some teams fared as an underdog during the season. Two teams that have already been knocked out of tournament play are Cincinnati and Mississippi State, clubs that combined to go 1-9 SU, 3-7 ATS as a ‘dog this season. When the pressure is on against top-notch teams, some clubs simply can’t step it up.
History: Has this team been here before? Some teams are new to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Check their recent history. Is this a surprise team that came out of nowhere to get this far? Does their starting five have any experience at all in late March tournament play? Digging into various details can help turn a profit during March Madness.