Oddsmakers Struggle Early on Lesser-Known Teams
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 12/03/2008
Maybe it's no coincidence that Black Friday coincides with Feast Week and an abundance of college basketball around the country. After all, smart bettors take this time to hunt for bargains throughout the college hoops landscape. And just like the door busters from a week ago, there are plenty of solid values right now and they might not last long.
Some of the early season against the spread winners have been schools from Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky and Florida. But these are not the Illini, Razorbacks, Wildcats or Gators instead schools like Illinois State, Arkansas State, Eastern Kentucky and South Florida that have posted perfect ATS records so far.
Arkansas State out of the Sun Belt Conference is at the top, covering the spread in its first five games with posted lines. Of course, low-majors and mid-majors combined equal far more schools than the major conferences but this stat is still surprising. Out of the 23 schools that have yet to cover a spread, only three of them are from a major conference and one of them, South Florida, is often overlooked in the power packed Big East Conference.
Now more than ever the books are stretched as thin as possible with nightly games in the NBA, NHL and College Basketball to go along with the weekend and even weeknight NFL and college football games. Of course the Top 25 matchups and the marquee games will be heavily scrutinized by oddsmakers and bettors alike but a large amount of other games are overlooked.
Along with the low- and mid-majors that have had success ATS there are some teams that Vegas still has not figured out in terms of just how bad they really are. UC-Irvine cannot buy a win, going 0-5 SU and 0-4 ATS. One of UC-Irvine's games did not have a point spread. Wright St. is in the same boat, posting both a winless SU record (0-4) and ATS record (0-3). Umass, a school a little more recognizable, has started an uncharacteristic 1-4 SU and the problems have followed the Minutemen to the pay window, too, where they are 0-4 ATS.
Teams like those don't really catch a bettor's eye. They are simply having down years and Vegas is responding with lines that they have not been able to match. The teams that are really interesting are the ones with discrepancies between the SU and ATS record.
Struggling in the win column, schools like Loyola Marymount (0-6 SU), UC Davis (2-5 SU) and Florida Atlantic (3-5 SU) have still continued to earn for their backers. Loyola Marymount is 3-1 ATS despite a winless record and UC-Davis (4-2 ATS) and Florida Atlantic (3-0 ATS) have enjoyed ATS success in relative obscurity and without much scrutiny.
Even more difficult than setting the spreads in this high traffic time for oddsmakers is setting the totals. Schools in the low level conferences have notoriously blown out early season totals one way or the other. This season Long Beach State, Southern Illinois and UC-Irvine have all went over in their four respective games while George Mason, Hofstra, Ohio, Appalachian State, Elon and Penn have all gone three-for-three over the total.
No schools in the major programs have a perfect record in terms of totals with at least two games that had a posted total. Name recognition means a lot in college basketball when it comes to throw down on a team. Bettors would be wise to pay just as much attention to the Atlantic 10 and Atlantic Sun Conferences as the Atlantic Coast. The number of teams might seem mind boggling but games in the Big 12, Big Ten and Big East payout the same as games in the Big Sky, Big South and Big West.
These bargains will not last forever, though. Oddsmakers have shown a proven ability to catch up to these teams as conference play begins and the college basketball season reaches January when college football bowl games start to finish up. Bettors would be wise to start keeping an eye on early season trends no matter how obscure the team or conference is.