When it comes to betting on college basketball, smart bettors know that coaches really matter. College players are young and inexperienced, so the guidance of a coach can make the difference between a bad team and a great one. Coaching is obviously important in every sport, but the impact of a coach on a day to day basis is more significant in college than anywhere else.
Why are coaches so important in college basketball? Here are five of the many reasons that college basketball handicappers need to understand and use when betting:
Recruiting – The head coach often doesn’t take the lead role in recruiting, but he has to make sure it is moving in the right direction, and they often have to seal the deal with big recruits. The better a college coach is at recruiting the better the players around them are going to be, and the better the chance of success in the long term.
Preparation for the season – Coaches in college have a limited time to get their system installed and get their players comfortable with what is asked of them. Games count right out of the gate, and if they are playing in a preseason tournament the games can be tough very early on. It’s important that the teams know what they are doing, and a good coaching will have them knowing form the start.
Putting players in positions to succeed – Coaches have a very delicate job – they have to put basketball players in the positions that will allow them to succeed as well as they can. They have to be sure not to burn out older players, or force youngsters into positions that are going to be more of a challenge than the player can handle. They need to maximize their fragile, finite resources very carefully.
Game prep and strategy – Beyond the general preparation and team management that a coach has to do they also have to get players prepared for the specific opponent they are facing on the basketball court. Good coaches are able to assess what their opponents are likely to do, spot their weaknesses, and find ways that their players will be able to exploit those weaknesses.
In-game adjustments – This is absolutely crucial. Basketball games almost never turn out like a coach expects them to – there are just too many factors that go into the outcome of a game to reliably predict. When things don’t go as planned teams have to change to compensate, and the ability of the coach to do this effectively – and to pick his players up when they are down – will largely determine their long term effectiveness.
Factors for handicappers
Being able to assess coaches and their impact on the game is a valuable skill for handicappers. Here are three things for handicappers to keep in mind when they consider the men in suits on the sidelines.
Reputations are given more credit by the public than they should be – The betting public loves big names, and they will back those names blindly. Often, though, those reputations and the stature of the name don’t accurately reflect what the coach has to offer at this point. It is absolutely crucial that you are judging coaches and their performance by what they are currently doing, not what they have done in the past. Sometimes a coach will have been really good or even great in the past, but for whatever reason – age, a system that hasn’t adjusted, weak recruiting – they aren’t currently living up to what they showed they were once capable of. It’s surprising how often it won’t be the big name coach in a matchup who actually deserves extra credit from sports bettors, but rather the younger, hungrier, more innovative one.
Look at the staff – Assistant coaches in college basketball don’t get nearly as much recognition as those in football, but they are just as important. It can be hard to get a good sense of who the assistants really are and what they bring to the table, but anything you can pick up is going to be helpful. One thing I like to look for is when an older coach makes a drastic change in his staff. In 2010 John Beilein at Michigan changed virtually his whole staff, and the impact was dramatic in terms of defensive style and efficiency, and the general level of focus and intensity of the players. As a result of the change the Beilein we saw wasn’t the Beilein we have grown used to in recent years. Changes like that are always valuable for handicappers to take note of.
Look at how teams respond after trailing in first half – This is the best single indicator there is of the current effectiveness of a coach. Often times things won’t go as a coach hoped in the first half of a game. What matters for a coach is the ability to adjust in the second half and get the team back on track. If a basketball team is consistently able to come back and cover or win after a rough first half then it’s a good sign that the coach is worthy of respect. If the team isn’t digging itself out of those holes, or is starting strong then faltering in the second half, then college basketball handicappers might want to be tentative in their thinking about the coach and his team.