The schedule for college basketball teams is typically straight forward. Teams start out by playing non-conference games and maybe throw in a preseason tournament. Around Christmas time the non-conference schedule ends and college basketball teams head into conference play right up to conference tournament time in late February or early March. Every so often, though, some teams deviate from that schedule a little bit by throwing a non-conference game in the middle of their conference season. There are several reasons they could do it – to highlight a game against a major rival in a different conference, to give their team a break from the strain of conference play, or because it’s the only time a higher profile, and therefore more lucrative, opponent could be fit in, for example. These isolated non-conference games require an adjustment from sports bettors because they present a different challenge for team than they have become used to in conference play. Here are seven factors for NCAA basketball bettors to consider when handicapping these games:
What style adjustments do teams have to make? – Most teams are built to be competitive in their conferences. Conference success is what will determine their ability to make the postseason, so they choose their style and recruit to maximize their chances in that conference. Different college basketball conferences have different styles of play, so it is quite possible that this non-conference opponent will be very different in their approach to offense or defense. Some adjustments are easy for some teams to make, while others are just too much to ask. When looking at these games you really have to think about how the styles of play are different, what adjustments the team will have to make to compete, how well suited they are to making those changes, and what that means for their chances to win.
How far do they have to travel? – Travel can often be a big issue in these games. The distances between conference teams is typically manageable, so teams get used to trips that aren’t that taxing. If they then have to travel across the country for this non-conference game that could hit them hard – especially if they aren’t a team that handles travel well as a rule.
Is there a rivalry involved? – there are some non-conference games that are huge and intense rivalries – like Kentucky and Louisville, for example. If a rivalry of that magnitude, or even one that is less intense but still significant, falls in the midst of conference play then that could be a big factor in the game. On the flip side, if there is no rivalry and no real excitement about the opponent then a basketball team could feel a big letdown compared to the intensity of conference play and could play below their highest level. This is particularly a concern if a higher profile, successful team is playing against a lesser opponent. The lesser team could be fired up for the opportunity to make a statement in this case.
Do they need the non-conference win? – Conference wins are more valuable than non-conference wins, but the non-conference wins on a team’s record can be the difference maker between a tournament bid and something less attractive. Sports bettors need to look at how badly a team needs a non-conference win, and whether this win would be enough to be impressive. The more significant the win, the more you can trust their potential to play at full effort.
Where does it fit into their conference schedule? – Is the college team coming off a tough, intense stretch of conference games, or has the schedule been relatively soft? Are they road weary, or have they been enjoying a lot of home cooking? Have things been going for them, or are they coming into the game beaten down and frustrated?
How have they been playing in the conference? – Just like in any other basketball game you are handicapping you should look at recent form in these games. Is the team playing up to their potential? How consistent have they been? Are their best players playing up to expectations?
How will the public react? – Often times the sports betting public will view these games as less interesting than a conference game because of motivation issues or lack of intrigue between opponents. Sometimes, though, the novelty of the matchup, the stakes that are on the line, or the caliber of the teams involved will draw even more interest than you might otherwise get on the teams involved. As a college basketball handicapper you need to be aware of how the media and the public are regarding the game. Whether the game is nationally or regionally televised is also a big consideration for bettors.