When most college basketball bettors – certainly casual ones – are looking at the games on offer on a given day looking for the most attractive they are drawn to the ones with the biggest names involved. Games between ranked teams always draw the most money, followed by those with one highly ranked team. I don’t start with those games at all. I actually rarely bet them. I go to the other extreme – I like to start with the games with the worst basketball teams playing. I love ugly games – I don’t watch them, but they are great to bet on. Here are four good reasons why the ugly games are the best ones in my eyes for smart college basketball handicappers:
Predictability – Handicapping is, of course, all about being able to predict what is going to happen in a game. Bad college basketball teams are almost always more predictable than good teams. Good teams have talent, and talent means flexibility. That means that these college teams have the ability to easily adjust in most cases when their opponent does something that catches them off guard. They also have the ability to change things up just to catch the opponent off guard. Bad basketball teams can’t do that. They usually only have one thing that they can do reasonably well – and that’s often generous. Because bad teams don’t have the luxury of changing up what they do you can almost be certain of what they are going to do. It’s much easier than in other games, then, to look at how that team has done against similar opponents to determine of what they are capable of doing. With the truly elite two or three teams in the country you can predict what you are going to get – dominating, dynamic performance. The same in the reverse is true with bad teams – they are consistently, predictably unable to do anything that will surprise you or their opponents, and they don’t have the ability to adapt or change.
Unders can be less stressful – Betting unders is always stressful – especially in the last few minutes of a game as teams use timeouts and foul opportunities to pile up the points. If a game between bad teams sets up as an under play, though, then my stress level is almost certain to be lower late in the basketball game. To score a lot of points in the last couple of minutes of a game teams have to be able to shoot effectively, they have to avoid turnovers, and they have to have the discipline to get to the foul line without letting their opponent do the same. Bad teams are not very good at any of those things. While it’s not uncommon to see two good team score 15 or 20 points in the last couple of minutes of a game to go from an under to a solid over you just don’t see that nearly as often with bad teams. Bad teams don’t turn an under into an over nearly as often and that’s helpful information for the college basketball handicapper.
Lines are soft – The books have limited resources, and they have to allocate those resources to where they are most vulnerable. That means that they are going to put a lot more effort into setting the line for Duke vs. North Carolina than they will for Stetson vs. USC Upstate. The latter game is far more likely to have a suspect line, then. The books are also going to see more action – dramatically more – on the first game, so they will be following it much more closely, and changing the lines much more quickly. If there is a vulnerability with a line in the big game there is a good chance that it will be corrected before you get a chance to play it. In lesser games, though, time is on the sports bettor’s side.
Public action is very limited – The betting public only cares about big games. Using our earlier game, there will be dramatically more money bet on the Duke game – likely hundreds of times more – than there will be on the Stetson game. In fact, very little of the small amount of money that is bet on the Stetson game will be public money at all. I am a big believer in watching the line movement in a game and comparing it to the distribution of bets so we can spot strange line moves and learn from them. In high profile games this can be challenging because the massive amounts of public money can obscure the smart money and make what is going on less obvious. In games between bad teams, though, the line movement is all but guaranteed to be because of smart money action, so it is significantly easier for the smart college basketball handicapper to spot and capitalize on.