Betting college basketball in November and early December is a unique experience. Most casual bettors are obsessed with football or the early days of the NBA, so they have not yet even noticed that the college season has started. Other sports keep college basketball out of the major spotlight on TV and the web, too. Yet there are a whole lot of very good games being played, and there are plenty of chances for smart bettors to make a few bucks at relatively low risk. To make that cash, though, bettors need to consider a bunch of factors that are more important now than at any other point in the season. Here are six big early-season factors to pay attention to:
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Age and experience: The experience of a team and the age of their starters loses significance as the season goes along, but early on it can mean a whole lot. Even the most precocious of freshmen is taking a massive step up in class and will be, to some extent, overwhelmed. New starters need to figure out their role and deal with the pressure of their reality. Early on, an experienced team has a better chance of knowing what the coach wants and delivering it. An experienced team is more likely to be more effective out of the gate than a young one. A lot of bettors don't pay enough attention to this - especially with lower-tier and less-familiar programs.
Evaluate early assumptions: If you are a college football fan and bettor then you probably enter the season with a lot of assumptions about a lot of teams. You have considered which highly-ranked teams you really believe in and which ones you have serious doubts about. You know which under-the-radar teams you like and which popular bandwagons you aren't jumping on. As soon as the season gets rolling, though, you need to do everything you can to look at the teams you like and the ones you don't and gauge whether what you thought appears to be true early on.
Watch game locations: Early in the season you can never be sure where games are going to be played. There are all sorts of preseason tournaments, and higher-profile teams play all sorts of one-off neutral-site games for promotional purposes, too. Neutral-site games almost seem like the norm early on. Location has a massive impact in games in college basketball - the crowd can win or lose games. Whenever you are looking to bet a game, or to evaluate what a result means, you need to be certain you know the location of the game. The difference between a game played in front of a crazed, partisan crowd and one played in front of an indifferent, neutral one can be very significant.
Beware the hype: Entering the season, there is always all sorts of hype around some teams and some players. As often as not, though, that early hype turns into a serious letdown. Look at the list of ranked teams entering the season or the list of preseason All-Americans for any given year. There are some teams and players that obviously deserved the recognition, and others that just disappeared entirely. Until we have a good sense of what teams and players are actually capable of - and not what 'experts' think they can do - we have to be very careful not to let the hype have too much impact on our decision-making processes.
Eye the new coaches: There is a massive amount of changes in the coaching ranks every year. High-profile programs get tired of coaches and make changes. That causes turmoil all over as guys climb the coaching ladder and leave voids behind them. Sometimes new coaches hit the ground running and are able to accomplish what they hope to right out of the gate. For other programs, though, it can take a long time to get to know the new players and get their new schemes in place effectively. As much as possible, you need to get a quick sense of how steep the learning curve for coaches will be in their new locales. When possible you should look at changes in assistants when head coaches have stayed in place, too. At Michigan this year, for example, Billy Donlon, who was successful as the head coach at Wright State and left by his own choice this offseason, was brought in to deal with a defense that had been a major liability for the Wolverines. In their first real test they completely manhandled Marquette, and the defense was so different it was unrecognizable - with most of the same lineup as last year. Spotting situations with the potential for big impact like that can be very fruitful early on.
Spot the dangerous unknowns: Through nonconference season we see plenty of well-known teams from major conferences playing against teams that are, at best, only vaguely familiar. Often times these can be blowout mismatches. Sometimes, though, the little-known team is actually pretty good, and they get a big upset - or even just cover a fat spread. The time you can spend studying the also-rans to see which ones are potentially dangerous is time well spent.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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