College Basketball Betting System
by Robert Ferringo - 02/05/2009
That line has to be a mistake.
You look at it. First, the line gets a befuddled stare because you know that the spread can't be THAT. You scowl at it, at first angry because there is probably something wrong with the Web site you're getting your odds from. Then the light bulb goes off. Yup, the oddsmakers made a mistake. Easy money, as they say. Because, I mean, there's no reason that the No. 16 team in the country should be an underdog to some unranked team, right?
One of the most simple, common, and long-standing college basketball betting systems is to bet an unranked team that is favored or is a 'pick' against a ranked team. The whole idea is pretty straightforward and cuts to the core of successful handicapping: the oddsmakers know more than you and you always want to do the opposite of what the sheep in the public do. That's it, plain and simple. The square bettors see a ranked team getting points and they think it's a either a mistake or that the line is a joke. But this method of thought is precisely why they are considered "squares".
Some bettors like to refer to these spreads as "trap lines". As the name suggests, the belief is that the oddsmakers are trying to bait or trap you into betting on the Top 25 team because "they should win". The fact that you're getting points on what is most likely a very popular public program - that's what the Top 25 is - is just a bonus in the eyes of most bettors because your team should win outright. Therefore, it's a trap.
Wrong. Or, at least, that's how it used to be.
Systems like this one are generally part of the handicapper's cannon because they have proven themselves successful over a long period of time and because their basis is sound, fundamental reasoning. Well check, and check. In 2005 this system produced a solid 34-24 record. In 2006 it was a sensational 38-22. That is a 72-46 overall mark, which is good for 61 percent success rate and $100 per unit bettors would have been up over $2,100. Not bad for a system that takes all of about five minutes to figure out each day.
But then in 2007 the system got off to a pretty weak 6-5 start in the games prior to conference play. And although it started to get hot in January, the novelty of this system wore off pretty quickly and it finished the year just 28-25. But looking even closer at that number you'll see that, excluding the NCAA Tournament, our unranked favorites over ranked opponents system actually closed the season on a 4-12 slide, and most of those games were not even close.
Which brings us to the present. And in 2008 the system has been an outright disaster. So far this year our system is a putrid 6-14 against the closing number. (There are some other games that have straddled or seesawed around a team being a 1.0 favorite or underdog, but for the purpose of this exercise I'm just using closing spreads.) When you combine this year's ugly start to the 4-12 close of this system last year that is a 10-26 record and a brutal minus-$1,800 for that same dollar player from February to February.
So the key question here is whether or not this system has any long-term future success left in it. Have the oddsmakers "gotten wise" to this system and started shading lines away from creating this spread situation? Are favorites this year just somehow better than they have been in years past? Should we start to go the other way and get on these Top 25 underdogs?
Those are some tricky questions and I don't think that they have simple answers. As for the oddsmakers "catching on" I would say absolutely, 100 percent not. There are so few strong betting systems out there that can actually beat the books on a consistent, long-term basis that the thought of linesmakers taking them into consideration is laughable. The oddsmakers have their equations for setting their lines and they don't need to worry about what a handful of players will do. So that is 100 percent out, and trap lines are a myth.
(However, I do believe in Red Flag Lines. It's the same concept, but you really have to know what you're doing in the first place to recognize them.)
I also don't believe that favorites are somehow outperforming years past. There has been no indication from the greater sample size that favorites are somehow having a better overall season this year than in year's prior.
As for whether this is a bump in the road or the death of this system, I would lean towards the former. When it comes to systems betting it's all mathematics. And there is going to be peaks and valleys to any system, but over the long term if your matrix is sound and your reasoning correct then over a long enough time frame you're going to come out on top. I do believe that betting on unranked favorites against ranked opponents has merit and can be a good long-term strategy. But I would also only suggest it as a tool and I would only suggest it to someone with the discipline to make the wager every single time the opportunity presents itself and to be able to do so over an extended - four years or more - time frame.