The general betting public for college basketball has plenty of biases – favorites and the over, for example. Oddsmakers are fully aware of those biases, and they adjust the lines accordingly to maximize their chances at profit. That means that successful bettors are also aware of those biases, and they factor in the line movement in their hunt for value. When it comes to college basketball, one of the public biases is the support of teams from major conferences when they are playing against mid-majors. The public loves bigger name programs, so they will almost always back the higher profile school. Needless to say, that’s often not the best approach. There are some bad teams in the major conferences, and some really good teams in conferences no one pays attention to. If you can find situations in which the mid-major deserves a lot more credit than the public thinks they do then you have found some very attractive value. Here are five situations for college basketball handicappers to consider in which a mid-major can be poised for a big day:
Experience beating decent teams – The easiest way to know if a college team has the ability to beat major conference teams – or at least play them tight and cover the spread – is to see how they have done against major conference teams in the past. A mid-major that has had success against higher profile teams in the past obviously has the talent to compete, and they aren’t going to be intimidated by the perceived step up in class. On the flip side, a team that hasn’t had much success against major conference teams – or hasn’t had much experience playing them – could be intimidated, and it’s hard to know in advance how well they match up.
No major talent deficit – If the major conference team is significantly bigger, faster, and more athletic than the mid-major, then the smaller team is going to have troubles competing. The betting public assumes that those types of athletic mismatches are always going to happen in these games, but that’s obviously not the case. The more it seems that the lineup for a mid-major matches up well with their opponent, the more value you are going to find.
A system that emphasizes strengths – Smaller college basketball programs that succeed over the longer term typically do so because they emphasize systems over specific players. They know that they probably can’t compete with the big boys in terms of talent because they can’t compete in recruiting. Coaches that have the ambition to make some noise nationally have to find ways to overcome the recruiting deficit, and creative systems are the best way to do that. Major conference teams likely won’t have been exposed to systems quite like some of the more unique and successful ones used by mid-majors until they play against them the first time. It is hard to prepare for a basketball team like that, too. It makes sense, then, to spend the time to understand the type of system that a team will be playing. You’ll want to get to know what kind of system the team uses, what teams the major conference squad has faced that play a style that is similar in some way, and so on.
A major conference NCAA team not as good as they seem to be – The sports betting public thinks that major conference teams are the better teams in these situations. Often times, though, they aren’t. The public won’t be fooled by a major conference team with a really lousy record. Where they will often have an inaccurate opinion, though, is with a team that has a record that seems impressive but which isn’t nearly as strong as it seems because of the strength of competition. If the public sees a team from a major conference with a 10-2 record they will assume the team is playing very well, and they will back them enthusiastically. If the ten wins have come against lousy teams and the two losses have come against the only two good teams they have played, though, then the record means nothing.
Major conference team looking beyond the game – The best situation for betting on a mid-major is when the major conference basketball team has a big game against a high profile opponent soon after this game. Say, for example, that a team from the Big Ten will be playing Duke right after they play the mid-major. There is a pretty good chance that the Big Ten team will be worried about Duke and how they are going to handle that game. The players will be thinking about the boost that they could get from beating Duke. They certainly could be less focused on the game at hand, and less prepared to give their best effort. The smart college basketball handicapper knows that’s a recipe for an upset – or at least for a cover by the mid-major.