Conference play starts right away in college basketball, and will take us right into the NCAA tournament. There are some key differences that sports bettors need to understand and adapt to between non-conference play and conference play if they want to have a profitable winter. Here are seven ways that college basketball handicappers need to recognize in which conference play is different:
Familiarity – In non-conference play college teams will often play teams that they have never played before, or ones that they haven’t played very often. That means that opponents can do things that are unexpected and that can catch a good team off guard. In conference play, though, teams play their opponents every single year – and often twice a year. That means that basketball teams know what to expect from opponents, they have likely played against star players before, and the element of surprise can’t be relied upon in the same way. Familiarity often breeds contempt, too, so conference games are often much more emotionally charged than non-conference ones.
Intensity – A lot of NCAA basketball teams don’t necessarily have grand national ambitions. That means that winning non-conference games is important, but not nearly as important as winning conference games for those teams. The non-conference games are as important for preparing for conference games as anything else. Conference games matter more for a lot of teams because a strong conference schedule is the only way that they are going to have a chance to find a spot in the postseason. That means they are going to be fired up and working harder, and you can be more certain of effort levels in these games than at other times.
Styles aren’t likely to differ as significantly – In non-conference plays you can get playing styles that clash badly between teams – one that is aggressively running and gunning while the other wants to slow the pace to a crawl. That can still theoretically happen in conference play, but it isn’t nearly as common. Because teams play each other every year within their conference every year basketball teams tend to play like each other – or at least in a way that can match up well against the best teams in the conference.
Similar levels of talent – In non-conference NCAA play you can see levels of talent that are wildly different. Mid-majors just can’t draw from the same recruiting pool that even average major conference teams can. Game planning and effort can overcome talent to a degree, but a lot of times the more talented team is going to have a major edge. Within a conference, though, hoop teams are able to draw from the same geographical areas, and have a shot at at least reasonably equal talent.
Betting volume increases – Non-conference play comes at a time that hardly registers for casual bettors. The NFL is in full swing and college football is really interesting when college basketball starts, so the public and media attention for the sport is, at times, minimal. As conference plays gets underway, though, the college football season is ending, and the NFL playoffs mean that there are fewer football games to distract. That means that public attention, and therefore betting volume, increase dramatically after the turn of the calendar. Any time public betting volume increases you have to be aware of what biases they are likely to have, and what impact that has on line movement, the lines the oddsmakers set, and where the value is for the observant college basketball handicapper.
Freshmen are more experienced – When freshmen and other players are starting or playing significantly for the first time they are obviously going to get a lot better as time progresses. They are going to be far more comfortable with the speed of the play and complexities of the college game. By the time conference play starts they have had a chance to play a dozen basket games or so, and so they are more settled in and generally effective as a rule. As a general rule, the further we get into the season, the less significant the age of the roster and the number of returning players is.
Injuries can be more of a factor – By the time conference play starts players have had to travel a lot and play a lot. They are bruised and battered – even if they aren’t specifically injured. You always need to pay close attention to injury reports and the players that are missing from any team in any sport. When you get this far into the season, though, you also need to pay close attention to the walking wounded – the basketball players who are in action but who aren’t able to perform at full level. These players will fall under the radar of the public bettors, so their impact may not be factored into the lines to the extent that they should be. That can lead to nice value for the smart college basketball handicapper.