For many college basketball bettors – especially the more casual ones – the big preseason tournaments mark the first time that they pay attention to the sport. Preseason tournaments like the Maui Invitational or the Old Spice Classic can offer big name showdowns early in the season when most other games just aren’t that interesting. These tournaments can be great betting opportunities for prepared bettors. If bettors are too casual, though, they can make costly mistakes that can put them in a big hole before the season has barely even started. Here are five mistakes to avoid when handicapping preseason tournaments in college basketball:
Assuming teams are at full strength – If a bettor hasn’t been following the early games a team has played or their offseason preparations then all they can base their handicapping on is what the team looks like on paper. That can and often does lead to bettors giving teams to much credit in the sort term. A team could be talented and full of potential, but it could take a while for them to reach that potential. It could be that they are learning to play without a key leader who has graduated or gone pro. Or maybe they are relying heavily on new starters or even freshmen to carry the load and perform strongly. Perhaps they have changed assistant coaches and that will lead to a change in playing style. If you assume that the team will be playing as well in November as they are capable of playing then you are almost certainly overstating their current capabilities.
Overvaluing reputation – There are some NCAA hoop teams that are always popular in the public eye, and others that don’t get much respect regardless of how well they are playing. If you rely on reputation in your handicapping of any game in college basketball you can make bad bets, but that is especially a concern early in the season before we have a lot of current information to judge the teams on. When a perennial Final Four contender is playing an obscure team that the public knows little about in a preseason tournament it can be very easy to rely on reputations to make a pick. Quite often, though, the popular basketball team won’t be playing as well as their reputation suggests, and the less popular team will be better than most people would guess.
Giving high tempo teams too much credit – Playing high tempo basketball can be very effective for teams, and very hard to play against. They move fast enough to give themselves many chances to score, and they can run an unprepared team off their feet and have them struggling. Early in the season, though, a team that is high tempo can struggle to perform at their highest level. The players may not yet have their stamina where it needs to be because of a lack of game conditioning. There is also less margin for error when a team is playing fast, so when the team isn’t yet comfortable wit their system and each other they can make a lot of mistakes. Playing high tempo can be less of an advantage than it seems early in the year as a result.
Ignoring new starters – It often takes a while for new starters to get up to speed and be ready to contribute at full level. That’s why there is such a focus on teams with returning starters early in the season. Sometimes, though, new starters are ready to hit the ground running and perform at a high level right away. Perhaps a freshman is an elite caliber of player with a college-ready body. Or perhaps a returning player who is a new starter was a regular contributor last year off the bench. Or perhaps the new starter is a transfer player who has been able to practice with the team for a year so he is ready to go and comfortable in the system and with his teammates.
Undervaluing travel implications – Sometimes the travel around a tournament can be brutal. the Maui Invitational and Great Alaska Shootout, for example, can require long trips for teams from the east coast. If those trips are combined with games right before or right after the tournament then the players could play a lot of games in a short time, and could spend a lot of time in the air as well. Early in the season younger teams aren’t going to be really used to that kind of travel, so it can have a far bigger impact than people might think, and a bigger impact than it would on a more experienced squad.