Handicapping Neutral Site Basketball Games
There are more neutral site games played in college basketball than in any other sport. There are actually more played in college basketball than all other sports combined. That means that neutral site games have to be on the mind of college basketball handicappers to a much higher degree than they do for handicappers of other sports. You can out-think yourself if you worry too much about these games, but if you ignore the impact of the setting entirely then you are doing yourself a disservice. Here are four questions to ask yourself when thinking about neutral site games in college basketball:
Are they really neutral? – Sometimes neutral site games really aren't that neutral. We're talking about college basketball, but a college football example leaps to mind here. When Virginia Tech and Boise State met at Fedex Field to start the season it was theoretically a neutral site game, but it was a short drive for Hokies' players and fans, and a trip across the country for the Broncos. If you watched any of the game you know that the game might as well have been on Virginia Tech's campus for all of the neutrality that there was. Virginia Tech still lost, but they probably didn't lose by as much as they would have if the game was truly at a neutral site. If the game is played dramatically closer to one team's campus than the other then it might provide an opportunity. When games are played in a school's gym then the home court advantage is factored into the line. If you feel like that advantage hasn't been factored into a neutral site game that isn't very neutral then you could have some real value on your hands.
What's the crowd like? – Some neutral sites are just starved for any basketball action they can get, and they will pack the arena for the game. Other places don't even seem to notice that a game is going on – you could shoot a cannon through the stands without hurting anyone. If one team is more popular to the general public than the other then they are going to have a bigger advantage the bigger the crowd is. Predicting how big a crowd is going to be in advance can be tough, but the quickest way to do so if you aren't sure is to go to the ticket provider for the game and find the best seats that are still available for sale. If they are courtside then you can assume there won't be many people there, but if the best tickets are stuck up in the rafters then it will be a full house.
What building? – Even is a game is being played in a truly neutral site the setting can sometimes offer a big advantage to one team or the other. If the arena they are playing in is a massive new temple of basketball then that could be more comfortable for a team that plays in a similar arena than for one that plays in a small old barn. If the neutral site is an iconic old building – like Madison Square Garden – then the team that is more used to playing big games in impressive settings could be more at ease than one who doesn't see the bright lights very often.
What has the team done in the past? – As with most circumstances a lot can be learned about these situations from what has gone on in the past. Some teams have an established history of success when it comes to playing neutral site games. Others just can't seem to get their mind on the game when the crowd isn't engaged and rooting on one side or the other with intensity. Beyond how teams have done in neutral sites you will also want to think about geography. Some west coast teams, for example, struggle when they travel to the east coast regardless of what court they are playing on. If a coach has recently joined a team then it also makes sense to look back at what they have done at past schools. You might be able to find a profitable situation by doing this – like if a coach who has traditionally done well in neutral site games goes to a school that has done poorly in these situations. The new coach could easily have his team more prepared than the public will expect him to, and that means value.
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