Early in the college basketball season a lot of bettors won’t be familiar with what to expect from most teams because they haven’t seen them play or read much about them. That means that many of those sports bettors will rely heavily on the preseason and early season rankings to judge which teams are good and which teams aren’t. That’s obviously not the best approach. Early in the year the college polls are largely determined by reputations and hype because there is little concrete to base things on. If you want to be a successful handicapper, then, you need to be able to separate the teams that are ranked and clearly deserve to be from the ones that shouldn’t be ranked, or which are ranked higher than they deserve. Here are six questions for college basketball handicappers to ask to help determine whether a team deserves the attention they are getting. Incidentally, you could ask the same questions to help determine whether an unranked team isn’t getting enough credit:
How much returning talent do they have? – This is an especially important question early in the season. Basketball teams will often times be highly ranked if they have impressive, highly talented freshmen or other new starters on the team. The problem is, though, that quite often a new starter isn’t ready to perform at the start of the season like they will be able to once they get comfortable. A team that has a lot of returning talent – particularly starters that also started last year – can probably justify expectations of a strong start and solid performance. If the team’s expectations are based on new starters stepping into the lineup and shining, though, then patience will be required, and the team could easily be ranked too high early in the season.
How do they handle pressure? – The higher a college hoop team is ranked the more pressure they are going to feel early in the season. Ranked teams get more media attention, and opponents get fired up to play against – and upset – and a ranked squad. Teams that are able to survive under that pressure are going to be much better off than squads that tighten up and let it affect their play. Looking back to how the team and the coach has handled pressure in the past can provide valuable clues for the basketball bettor about what to expect now.
What is their schedule like? – A lot can be determined by the schedule the team faces – especially early in the season. An average team can look very good if playing weak opponents, while a solid team can look underwhelming if they are playing a very strong schedule. The public and the media have a tendency to panic if a team starts poorly, or to get too excited if they start very well, and the rankings will often reflect that in the first few weeks of the season. Before you get too excited or disappointed you have to make sure that the schedule hasn’t had an undue influence on the performance of the team early on, or that the upcoming schedule won’t likely have an impact with their performance going forward.
Why are they so popular? – At the heart of evaluating a team this is the question you have to ask. Is the basketball team popular because they have come off a strong season, they are well coached, and have a deep and experienced roster? Or are they popular because a player or coach is hyped, they made a big change, or they pulled off a big surprise the last time we saw them? You need to get a sense of what is driving the enthusiasm for the team, and then determine if that enthusiasm is justified.
How do they compare to the teams around them in the rankings? – The rankings are ultimately a very subjective measure. The 15th team in the country could be a very average team if it is a weak year in the sport, or it could be a potential national champion if it’s a strong year. To get a better sense of whether a team is deserving, then, you should compare that team to the teams ranked in the few spots higher and few spots lower than the team. If they compare well to those teams then the ranking is probably warranted. One good way to compare two college teams is to handicap them as if they were playing each other on a neutral court.
How do they compare to the teams in their conference? – Just as you can learn a lot from comparing the basketball teams to those around them you can also gain knowledge form comparing them to the other teams in your conference. If a team appears to be the fourth or fifth best team in the conference but they are the second highest ranked team in the group then they are probably overrated. If they appear to be one of the two best teams in the conference and are ranked behind four other conference teams, though, then they could be a surprise to bettors, and a potentially profitable bet for the college basketball handicapper in the know.