How to Bet College Basketball Early-Season Tournaments
by Trevor Whenham - 11/21/2013
We’re heading into the preseason tournament portion of the college basketball season. Every year there are more and more of these. From the established and high-profile like Maui, Puerto Rico or the NIT to the truly obscure, there is something for everyone over the next couple of weeks. For bettors, these early tournaments can provide some very good opportunities for early profit. They can also be a money pit, though, if you make sloppy mistakes and fall into the traps these tournaments can lay for you. Here are six factors to consider when handicapping these preseason college basketball tournaments:
Look at what teams are, not what they will be: When we look at a team on paper, we tend to look at what they are capable of in best-case scenarios. The problem can be, though, that teams in November very often aren’t able to play at or near their full potential. Young players are asked to do so much early in their careers now, so there is very often an adjustment period as teams get used to new lineups and youngsters get used to the challenges and responsibilities of playing at the college level. When assessing teams in these early tournaments, we need to be very aware of their current state — whatever those limitations may be. On the flip side, sometimes a team can be in position to look better early in the season than they can reasonably expect to by the time March rolls around because of their experience. Five returning starters on a team can be a gift to handicappers in November tournaments.
What came before?: Some teams roll into preseason tournaments without a real test in advance. They play nothing more than warm-up games, and they haven’t really been challenged. That can help build their confidence, but it means that they haven’t faced any adversity, and they will be seeing a big step up in the quality of opponent. Other teams like to be tested early and often, so their tournament games — especially the early ones — may not be nearly as tough as what they have already faced. Because the challenges faced by teams are so different, it is crucial that handicappers spend the time assessing what has happened and what it means for the teams here.
Consider the strain: Teams can be asked to play three or four games in a few days in these tournaments. The only other time they will face that many games in a short time are in their conference tournaments in early March. The strain of these tournaments is tough for any team. It can be tougher for teams that have a disadvantage, though — a lack of depth, inexperienced starters, injuries, a new coach, and so on. If two teams meet, the less-talented one can come out on top in these tournaments if they are more prepared for the challenges of the tournament.
Look for style adjustments: It is very tough for teams to adjust to playing against very different styles of play. If one opponent likes to run-and-gun and the next presses and slows the tempo down as much as possible, then a team has to essentially play two entirely different games. It’s tough for a team to make these adjustments during the regular season — never mind when they only have a day or less between games to make the shift. Young teams, one-dimensional squads, or teams with coaches who don’t tend to adjust well could be at a disadvantage in these spots — and that can spell profit for bettors.
Fans?: In a lot of preseason tournaments, fan support isn’t particularly significant. Attendance is often slight, and when there is a crowd it might not be a very partisan one. Sometimes, though, the fans can give one team a big edge. If one team is particularly public, if the tournament is being played close to home, or if it is in attractive location and the team’s fans tend to travel well, then the crowd could be the difference in the game. The general betting public doesn’t assess crowds well at all, so you could find an edge of a couple of points just from this angle in certain spots.
Is there a public angle?: This early in the season the public bettors are not going to be very sophisticated in their analysis of teams. They aren’t paying a lot of attention to college basketball yet, and when they do they are attracted by high-profile teams and storylines. Big stars, high-profile freshmen and star coaches will get more than their share of action, while strong, unranked programs likely won’t get the respect they deserve.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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