I love college basketball – can’t get enough of it. That’s part of why I find this time of year so interesting – teams are practicing and getting ready for the season, but there is so much else going on in sports that few people notice. The first few weeks of the year in the college basketball season are a huge opportunity for sports bettors who are ready for the tip off. That means that now is the ideal time to be getting prepared for the season so you are ready to go as soon as games start. It really doesn’t take too much to give yourself a big edge over the betting public. Here are five things college basketball handicappers can be doing now to get their edge:
Returning players – The best place to start is by looking at NCAA basket teams and leagues you are interested in and get a sense of the number of returning starters the team has. A team with significant numbers of returning starters is likely to be better off than a similarly talented team that relies on youth and inexperience, and that edge is especially big early in the season before the young players get some experience. You need to be careful to make sure you get an accurate picture of a team, though. Sometimes a team will look at first glance like they are in an experience deficit because three or four players have graduated or moved on. The more sports bettors look at them, though, it’s common to realize that one of the new starters this year played significant minutes off the bench last year. That can be a case where you know that the team is more experienced than more casual handicappers will, and you can have an edge.
Coaching changes – I truly believe that coaching can have a bigger impact on college basketball than on any other sport. Given the impact on a game that a system can have, and how important preparation and communication is, a good coach with a bad team can often beat a bad coach with a good team. Just look at the number of times recently that a high profile college basketball coach has taken over a new team and we have seen dramatic improvement right away. Because of the importance of coaching it is very important that you get a sense of which teams have made coaching changes, and what the impact of those coaching changes is likely to be. Has the team upgraded their coaching or taken a step backwards? In leagues that you are particularly interested you will want to go beyond just the head coaches. Has a team lost a key assistant that was crucial to the team’s development or recruiting? Have they upgraded their coaching staff through a change in assistants? These are the kinds of changes that a lot of people don’t pay attention to, so they can give smart basketball bettors a nice edge out of the gate.
Conference strength – One of the biggest factors in how good a college hoop team is going to perform this season is how good their conference is. The majority of a team’s opponents are form the conference. A weak conference can make a decent team look very good, while a very strong conference can overwhelm a decent team. Spending some time now to learn about the conference and get a sense of the hierarchy of teams in it will pay off handsomely throughout the season. What you learn now may not be accurate by the time conference play starts, but it gives you a strong starting point as a handicapper.
Freshman and redshirts – More and more recently we have seen young players who can make a massive impact on their teams as soon as they hit the court. It’s not that young players are more talented than they are now. It’s just that they are coming into college more physically prepared, and coaches are willing to give them the chance right away if they are worthy. Most people are going to have a good sense of the highest profile freshmen – the likely one-and-done, high profile recruits. There are far more players than that who will be valuable parts of their teams right away, though. Getting to know the young players, and the players who have sat out for a year, means that you will have a better sense than most of what a team will be capable of early in the season.
Schedules – Earlier we talked about looking at conference strength. Before college basketball teams play their conference games, though, they will play a bunch of non-conference games and tournaments. It’s very important to have a sense of how strong these non-conference games are, and what that means for the team. A relatively easy non-conference schedule could be good news for the team and their record early on, but it could lead to a deceptively strong record when conference play starts. A very tough non-conference schedule can make a team look like a loser based on their record, but the team can be well-tested and ready for conference play. As such, for college basketball handicappers conference schedules that are either easy or particularly tough are definitely worth noting and keeping close tabs on.