Before we know it the college basketball season will be underway. Early in the season the sport doesn’t get a whole lot of betting attention. The problem is that it just doesn’t get much attention because there is so much else going on – the NFL and college football are getting really interesting, the NBA is under way, and the NHL is at full steam. I’ve talked to a lot of bettors who don’t start betting college basketball seriously until the new year. Others, though, can’t wait for the games to start and think that November and December are the best months to bet on the sport. Let’s look at the pros and cons for college basketball handicappers of betting the early games in the college basketball season:
Little attention = softer lines – Because there is so much other stuff going on, and because the early games in a good college basketball team’s schedule rarely really test the team or matter in a major way, there is usually much less betting action on games in November than there will be on games in February. As is always the case, the more betting action on a particular game, the more risk a sports book is taking by offering that action, and the harder they will work to make a very good line. Games with light action, then, are great for prepared basketball bettors, then, because they are in position to spot any errors that are made with the lines – much more likely in these games than in heavily bet ones – and exploit them. The lines in games with little action are also slower to move, so you have more time to act on an advantageous spot.
Clear advantages can stand out – Later in the season things like experience, stamina, and injuries can make it hard to get a sense of who is going to win a game. Early in the season, though, you can often spot a likely winner based on just a few key factors. For example, a college team that is returning four or five starters is going to perform better early on than one with just one returning starter, and that can give a team a huge edge in an early game.
Good way to get in form for the heart of the season – Teams use these early games to get ready for the heart of the conference season when the games matter most. Some sports bettors like to use the early games in college basketball in the same way. You can use the games to try out new approaches to handicapping, or to improve your handicapping speed or accuracy, or to get comfortable with a new conference.
No track record to rely on – Handicappers feel their best when they can depend upon recent, trustworthy information to make their bets. Early in the season we don’t have that. For the first couple of games the only stats we have are form the previous season, and so much changes every year in college basketball that relying on past stats is very dangerous. If as a basketball bettor you use a stats-heavy approach to betting then you might be more comfortable waiting until a few games have been played and you have some meaningful stats to use.
Less coverage – In the heart of the NCAA hoop season the national media is covering college basketball closely, and local papers are devoting more time and attention to the teams as well. Early on, though, the quality and quantity of the coverage is far lower. College basketball is one of the sports in which you can gain a lot of information, and often a solid edge, by following what is going on with specific teams – injured or hurting starters, roster changes, and so on. This is especially true for teams that are outside of the public eye. The worse the coverage it is, the lower the chances that an aware bettor can read something that can convert to a betting advantage.
Motivation less clear – When a college basketball team is playing a conference game in January you can be sure that they are doing everything they possibly can to win the game. That’s not always true in November. I’m not suggesting that a team would set out to lose a game. Often times, though, when a team is better than their opponent in November they will use the game as a glorified practice. They’ll give bench players more playing experience, try new and unpolished schemes to get them ready for prime time, and generally use the game to work out the kinks and get ready for the bigger games. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a basketball team that should win handily put forth half an effort and just squeak out a win without coming close to covering the spread. Often times with good teams in early games college basketball handicappers have to guess what team will show up. Guessing and betting are not good friends and can hurt your sports betting bankroll.