College Basketball Handicapping: Betting Conference Tournaments
by Trevor Whenham - 3/9/2010
The NCAA Tournament is so close that we can almost taste it. Before we can enjoy the perfect madness of March, though, we have to get through the rest of the conference tournaments, including all of the major conference tournaments. With the obvious exception of the Pac-10, where there doesn't seem to be any good teams, those major conference tournaments aren't likely to significantly change the perceptions of the teams at the top of the conferences - though they will settle some big bubble questions. More significantly, the conference tournaments offer yet another good betting opportunity for us to enjoy during the embarrassment of betting riches that is college basketball in March.
To make money on the conference tournaments, though, you have to approach them in a way that makes sense. Here are five things to keep in mind as you get ready to make the most of the conference tournaments:
Health - This one is a no-brainer. Before you make a bet on a team you need to make sure that that team is healthy so that the team you are betting on is the team you think you are betting on. This is something you would do for any other game, so why wouldn't you do it here?
There is another aspect to health that you have to consider here, though. If a star player, or even a key role player, isn't at full health, and the team is an NCAA Tournament lock, then there is a good chance - though not a certainty - that the player in question will be used sparingly to save himself for when it matters.
Injuries in conference tournaments, then, create an extra level of handicapping challenge, and require you to get inside the head of the coaching staff to guess what they are going to do and what that will mean.
What's the point? - Winning the conference tournament is always a big accomplishment for any team, but unless a team needs the win to find their way into the NCAA Tournament field then no team would trade a conference tournament win for NCAA Tournament success. That means that you need to consider motivation in a big way in conference tournaments - an issue you rarely have to consider during the regular season.
Teams that already have their tournament berth and seeding secured may not go the extra mile to earn the win - unless the coach feels that pre-tournament momentum really matters. Teams that are on the bubble could be particularly motivated, and that could lead to improved play, or it could force them to tighten up and play below their expectations. A talented but underachieving team could be particularly dangerous as the tournament progresses if they know that a win is their only chance of dancing.
In short, motivation is crucial in handicapping conference tournaments, but you have to go beyond the immediately obvious and give some thought to what is likely to happen.
Going for the sweep - This is one of the most dangerous mistakes people make. If a team has already lost to their conference opponent twice in the regular season, then there is a school of thought that suggests that they are ripe to pull off the upset the third time around. It's one of the oldest and most commonly heard adages in sports - that it's very hard for a team to beat another three times in a row. There's only one problem - it isn't true. Historically, the team that has won the first two games is more likely to complete the sweep, but not at a high enough rate to be useful.
Location - This one has to be on the list, but it also doesn't need to be talked about very much - I trust you can figure it out for yourself. If the tournament is played in the building of one of the teams in the conference then they probably have an edge over their opponents. If it's in a neutral site then teams that play closer to that site could have more support than those that have to travel farther. Not rocket science, but important.
Be choosy - It absolutely makes sense to bet on the conference tournaments when they present you with real value. It's equally important, though, to put the tournaments in perspective. These tournaments aren't the main event - they are just the appetizer for what's to come later in the month. The last thing you want to do is to damage your bankroll before the NCAA Tournament even starts.
From where I sit it only makes sense to be more cautious than normal in evaluating conference tournament opportunities to make absolutely sure that you have a good edge before taking the plunge.
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