Sports Handicapping Tips: How to Bet Conference Play in College Basketball
by Trevor Whenham - 12/22/2011
When the college basketball schedule shifts from nonconference play to the conference season bettors need to shift their thinking as well. The fundamentals of successful betting are still the same -- it’s still the team that scores more points that wins, after all.
There are some key differences between the two parts of the schedule, though, and the more successful college basketball handicappers will recognize those differences and find ways to exploit them. Here are five key shifts to focus on:
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It’s all so familiar
Teams play the other teams in their conference at least once per year, and in most cases twice per year.
If it’s a conference that has stability in coaches then there are few secrets. Teams know the styles of their opponents, they are comfortable in the buildings, and the travel is usually easy and definitely familiar.
Unfamiliarity in conference play can provide real challenges for teams -- especially young ones, or ones with young coaches. That’s far less of an issue here.
When things are more familiar then handicappers have the luxury of focusing more on how teams match up on the court because there are fewer other factors that can influence the outcome.
The large majority of college basketball teams have no national ambitions They know they aren’t going to win a National Championship, and they aren’t likely to get ranked unless they have a truly remarkable season.
For those teams, then, the nonconference schedule is essentially just a preseason for the only part of their schedule that matters. Their only shot at glory is winning their conference. In conference play, then, many teams play with more intensity, and the crowds respond in the same way.
If a team has looked unfocused in nonconference play then the shift to conference play may get them back on track and playing up to potential.
Looking for teams that haven’t played up to their potential in nonconference play is a sound approach for handicappers.
Returning players matter less
Early in the season bettors focus on the number of returning starters a team has. A veteran team can often outperform a raw team even if the inexperienced team is more talented.
By the time conference play rolls around, however, teams have played several games, and players are more familiar with each other and what is required of them as college athletes.
The advantage of experience is significantly less in conference play, so handicappers should adjust accordingly.
Mismatches are far less common
Bettors could make a career of just finding mismatches in nonconference play and exploiting them. It’s important to lose that mentality when conference play starts, though.
There are obviously better and worse teams in every conference, but teams in the same conference can recruit the same basic level of players from the same geographical areas, so they are reasonably well matched.
Betting volume increases
The start of conference play corresponds with the end of the college football season and the waning of the NFL season. That means that the sport starts to get far more media attention than it does in November.
With media attention comes public betting volume.
The more public betting volume there is the more bettors need to be aware of the impact that is having on how odds are set and how they move. The public has clear biases -- towards popular teams and high-profile coaches and players, and towards favorites and the ‘over’.
The more money they bet on those biases the harder it can be to find value if you agree with them, but the easier it could be if you don’t.
Either way, in conference play it is crucial you are tracking where and how the public is betting.
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