College Basketball Handicapping: Big West is ATS Cash Cow
by Robert Ferringo - 12/9/2009
So what would you say if I told you that the Big West is better than the Pac-10 this year?
"Of course that is rubbish," you would say. "Teams like Pacific and Riverside would be buried in the Pac-10 even in a down year. Any one of the teams from the Pac-10 would carve a path of destruction and desecration through the Big West, blasting opponents left and right for the better part of the winter. The BW is a wasteland of transfers, dropouts, has-beens, wannabes and Guys Who Couldn't Cut It. Never have they been nor will they be a better league than the mighty Pac-10. Not in this lifetime."
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You would say that. And you would be right: talent-wise the Big West is still just three steps away from a junior college division and can't touch the Pac-10. They may steal a non-conference win here or there (UCLA has already lost to Cal-State Fullerton, presently the second-worst rated team in the Big West, AND Long Beach State) but on the whole it's a pipe dream to think that the Big West could challenge the Elite for regional supremacy.
However, the teams from the BW have been one of the best out West so far this year in the one area that counts most - at the betting window.
Here is a look at the collect records against the spread, as of the start of business on Wednesday, for the conferences out West:
Mountain West - 31-16 against the spread
Big West - 27-19 ATS
West Coast - 25-24
WAC - 19-22
Big Sky - 24-27
Pac-10 - 24-31
The Mountain West is perpetually the most underrated conference in the country and one of my favorite leagues in the sport. They are a bit top-heavy in terms of ATS results, with New Mexico (7-0-1), UNLV (4-1) and Colorado State (5-1) doing most of the damage at the window for the league. But all in all it already looks like it's going to be another fantastic season atop The Mountain.
But the Big West has seemingly come out of nowhere to sneak in as the No. 2 moneymaker west of the Rockies.
What has been most surprising about the West's ascent is that this league generally experiences much more turnover, in both coaching and players, than most of the major conferences in the country. Most of the teams are comprised of transfers from other D-I benches, JUCO players, or random freshmen and four-year projects that you just never know what you're going to get out of. Usually these teams take a longer time to gel because each year most teams are dealing with such an influx of random personnel.
What is even more stunning is that the Big West actually started the season 2-8 ATS as a group. That means that since Nov. 20 the league has gone on a collective 25-11 burst and, at this point, have essentially elevated to the level of automatic play.
So far this season the Big West teams are 16-12 against the spread as underdogs and 11-7 ATS as favorites.
Now, let's make sure that I'm clear on this - the Big West isn't necessarily playing great basketball. The No. 1 reason that they have been covering lines is that they are generally catching a boatload of points. When a team like Cal-Poly is squaring off against a team like Stanford it's not a shock that Poly is a 17- or 18-point underdog and that the Cardinal are taking most of the public action. There is a horde of exceptional athletes and players on the Left Coast and a limited number of slots in the bigger conferences. And these ballers always manage to migrate to places like Irvine, UC-Davis and Northridge.
You don't know where those schools are, do you? Well that's just fine. In fact, that is the secret of the Big West's success: anonymity. Of course square bettors will lay 16 points and put their money on a Purdue, a Cal, or a Notre Dame. People know those programs. But it takes a lot of sand to take Cal-Northridge +16 heading to Washington to face a ranked Husky team. And the general reaction of players that even notice that game on the board is, "Who the hell are they?"
The Big West has not just been strong because they are a the beneficiaries of mercy lines from the oddsmakers or because they are ignored by the general betting public. The conference rankings that I follow are comprised of a bevy of statistics. And after finishing 17th in conference rankings in 2007 and 20th in 2008 (a decade-low) the Big West has bounced back with a strong run since the start of last season. They closed 2009 as the No. 16 conference, ahead of both the MAC and the Sun Belt, and so far this year they are the No. 15 conference in the country, ahead of the Metro Atlantic (Siena, Niagara, etc.).
And that is where the money is. Siena and Niagara are a pair of teams that garner a lot of respect and rumors of potential at-large bids. However, they are presently rated just No. 63 and No. 126, respectively. By comparison the top two teams in the Big West - Pacific (No. 52) and Long Beach State (No. 96) outrank that Metro duo. Yet I guarantee more people are going to side with Siena against some BCS school than they would jump on LBSU.
Further proving that the Big West is one of the top mid-major conferences around is the fact that six of the nine teams in the Big West are rated No. 175 or higher. Just four of 10 out of the Metro share that distinction and a mere four of 10 from the Horizon League (Butler) can make that boast as well.
There is but a month left in nonconference basketball. And while the books may not be as generous with the points surrendered to these schools over the holidays I do believe that there are winners yet to be claimed by the clubs in the Big West. Only one of these teams is going to make the NCAA Tournament (and you better believe I'll be betting on this No. 14 or No. 15 seed, whomever it is) but that doesn't mean that all of these teams can't continue to be the best bets out West.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and he has gained around +180 Units and $15,000 for his $100 bettors since mid-February in college basketball. You can purchase his college basketball picks here.
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