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NCAA Hoops -- Too Much to Handle?
by Matt Fargo - 11/05/2006
With College hoops kicking off this week, itâ€™s time to once again examine what goes into handicapping this sometimes overwhelming sport.
College basketball is considered by many to be one of the toughest sports to handicap while at the same time, it is also considered to be one of the most profitable. With 225 Division I lined teams, there are usually in upwards of 80-90 games to decipher on any given Saturday during the season. The average sports bettor cannot possibly handicap all of these games especially when the lines arenâ€™t released until the prior afternoon.
The volume of possible action is what makes churning out consistent profits so difficult to some. However, with that many possibilities on the board, some of those lines are very soft since the linesmakers also find it difficult to throw good numbers on all of those games. Finding those teams with hidden value is what you want to strive for and I will give you a few tips on how to do just that.
Stats, Stats, Stats
In my opinion, the most important component of handicapping is looking at the statistical numbers. A lot of cappers use stats as a secondary tool and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it if that is how they are able to pick more winners. I do use situational handicapping in certain areas but not as much in college sports as I do in professional sports. I feel stats are very important when handicapping college hoops because they are real and genuine even though parity isnâ€™t very prevalent. These college kids go out and play hard for their team every game, not just for themselves because they are in a contract year or looking for special bonuses.
When looking at the stats, you have to make sure you are looking at the right stats and also looking at them correctly. Simply looking at points scored for and against can be very misleading at times. For example, Texas A&M led the country in scoring margin at one point last season at +34.8 ppg. A novice might see that and say that the Aggies are playing great basketball right now but not notice that they have played the weakest schedule in the country that includes wins against NAIA Texas of the Permian Basin and Division III Trinity. If stats such as this are being used in your analysis, either factor in schedule strength or use only comparable Division I numbers.
One stat that can be used no matter who the competition is free throw shooting. The basket is 15 feet away no matter who the opponent is. The numbers might be slightly skewed based on pressure situations for some teams and not others but for the most part, they are a good indicator.
Assist to turnover ratio is another one of most important stats to look at. The average A/TO ratio is around 0.950 in college basketball so anything above 1.20 is what I consider outstanding. Early in the season, you will see a lot of inflated numbers due to the soft schedules a lot of teams play. Once the conference season starts, these numbers will decline based on the more difficult schedules. Keying in on the correct stats and looking at them the right way can give you some great additional insight.
Throw out the Trash
This time of the year with most teams still playing their non-conference schedules, there are a lot of real garbage games on the board. I define garbage games as those with favorites of 20 points or more. Even when conference season begins, these high lined games will still be around. For a team to be favored by this many points means one of two things. The chalk is a superior team and should be able to name the score or the underdog is so bad that they have no business even hanging around in this contest.
Laying 20 or more points can give the average bettor some high level stress as they try to avoid the dreaded backdoor cover. Grabbing 20 or more points is just as gut wrenching as you are hoping your longshot can stay within the number. Itâ€™s simply too much to handle since luck comes into play in a number of these outcomes. Last season, there were lines of 20 or more points in 68 games that involved the major conference teams. The favorite covered the number 36 times while the dog cashed 32 times, making it pretty much a wash.
On occasion, an edge can be found in these games whether its injury, a look ahead situation or a hangover but they are few and far between and my advice is to just not even bother wasting your valuable time. There are better numbers out there for you to find. Two years ago, Duke was favored by 20 or more points eleven times, the most out of any team in the country. They went 5-6 ATS in those games and the kicker is that in seven of them, the final margin was within 4.5 points of the closing line. Move along pleaseâ€¦
Take a look at injury reports each and every day. As a hypothetical example, ESPN will give you information on Georgia Techâ€™s leading scorer being out for their next game but they wonâ€™t tell you that the leading scorer for Rider is out as well. While injury reports list actual players injuries, they also list eligibility information as well. Early in the year is especially important since it is final exam time for the first semester.
A number of players have been sitting out through their teamâ€™s first few games in order to get their academics in order. Players may also be sitting out the first semester because of NCAA regulations with transfers. These reports will usually tell you when a player will become eligible. Late December is the most common time that players return to action after sitting out the fall semester so keep an eye on those reports for the next couple weeks.
Again, you will hear from the media about the big name schools but itâ€™s the smaller schools that you want to keep a keen eye on. Finding players involved in games that are going to be out or just coming back are the ones you can concentrate on and handicap more in depth. You may think you have a strong play going only to find out that a key player will not be in action. If thatâ€™s the case, out the window it goes.
There are numerous sources available where you can get a set of power ratings. Better yet, compile your own set that you can tweak and play with until you have come up with a solid bunch of rankings. Comparing your numbers against the lines can give you some very good parameters to use to try and filter out some of the games you are looking to handicap.
If your ratings make Illinois a 16-point favorite over Oregon and the line is â€“17, you might want to disregard that game and move on. Compiling your own set of power ratings will take some time to find the greatest accuracy but it will pay off in the long run. Setting up your numbers can be as easy as using different power ratings from other places or they can be more complex incorporating stats, schedules and other useful tools.
For example, my numbers employ 5 sets of national ratings along with stats such as shooting percentages, rebounding margins and assist/turnover ratios. I also incorporate strength of schedule numbers, which can be a valuable tool that is often overlooked.
Ideally, if there is a Saturday card with 80 lined games, you want to knock that down by about 75% to get down to 20 games. This will give you a lot of better options and you can free up valuable time to handicap those games more in depth to come up with some strong winners.