In NCAA basektball, Gonzaga is looking mortal these days, but for many years they were so much better than every basketball team in their conference that it just wasn’t fair. Before Butler made history by going all the way to the championship game in 2010 they have rolled to a perfect record in the Horizon League. Memphis’ success on the national stage under John Calipari coincided with totally ridiculous dominance of Conference USA. These aren’t the only cases in which one team was clearly and dramatically better than the conference they play in, but they are all very strong examples.
For college basketball handicappers these teams present a real challenge. We know that they are likely to win every conference game they play, so it can be hard to find value betting on them in those games. The important thing for the sports bettor, then, is to get a good sense not of how the teams stack up against the teams in their conference, but how they measure up outside of the conference. It’s hard to get a true sense of what teams are capable of when they play teams that aren’t worthy of playing against them. When the conference season ends and the team heads into the postseason and faces better basketball teams again you have to be able to quickly assess how good they really are because their record and their conference play will tell you nothing meaningful. When a team is far too good for their conference here are four ways college basketball handicappers can tell how good they really are:
Non-conference play – At first glance this seems so obvious it’s painful – if NCAA conference play isn’t meaningful because the level of competition isn’t high enough to really offer a challenge and tell us anything then we should look back at games the team has played against good teams out of conference. There’s a bit more to it than that, though. Was the basketball team challenged by top level talent in the non-conference play? If the weak conference schedule was preceded by an equally weak non-conference season then it is all but impossible to know how good the team really is and all you can do is guess. On the other hand if they played a tough non-conference schedule and looked very good doing it then their weak conference schedule isn’t a concern because we have a good sense of what they are capable of doing.
Style of winning – Given that the team is winning all of their games you have to dig deeper to find meaning. All wins are not created equal, and some build more confidence than others. The basketball team knows that they are likely to win every conference game they win, but different teams handle that in different ways. Some teams do just he bare minimum – play just hard enough to win, and shut down once they get a comfortable lead. Others play like the game is on the line right up to the final whistle – even if it has been over since before the half. It can be very hard for teams that have been floating along for a couple of months to suddenly flip a switch and play at full speed again, and they can easily have developed bad habits through their slack play that can affect their ability to do well ATS.
Statistical measures – When as a sports bettor you can’t get meaning from wins and losses you have to look beyond that to other measures of how a team is progressing and performing. Are they out-rebounding their opponents significantly on bot ends of the court? How well are they shooting from various parts of the court? Is their effective field goal percentage solid? How efficient are they offensively and defensively? Do they play with a steady tempo, or are they victim to whatever tempo their opponent prefers? Do they have a deep bench, or are they too top heavy in their production? Savvy statistical analysis can tell college basketball handicappers a lot about how the team is performing even when their opponents don’t offer a challenge.
The conference – Even if a conference only has just one competitive team NCAA basketball bettors can still learn a lot from the relative strength of the conference. Where does the conference fit in the pecking order of conferences – right below the major conferences or far down the list? How have basketball teams out of the conference fared in the tournament and other postseason opportunities in the past? How did other teams in the conference perform in their non conference schedule? The better they performed, the more impressive the dominant team’s performance is for the college sports bettor.