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College Hoops: Patience is a Virtue

   by Scott Spreitzer - 12/11/2006

The worst thing you can do in the early stages of the college basketball season is to get too aggressive and bury yourself in action.

You’ll be tempted to do so for several reasons:
*You're an avid hoops fan and you haven't placed a college basketball bet since March Madness.

*You know that the lines can be very soft early in the season and you're anxious to take the fullest advantage.

*You've been reading some preseason publications and you're convinced you can see some things coming that the oddsmakers are going to miss.

*You've watched some of the early season tourney action and you can't believe how much some of the big name teams have changed from last year. You can see in the pointspreads that the public hasn't noticed!

Hey, all of that may be true. But you've still got to be careful. It's very easy to trick yourself into thinking you're smarter than you are about these early season games. The oddsmakers and public will definitely make some mistakes. You will too. The preseason publications will nail some teams correctly. Others they'll miss by a mile. Those early tournament games were fun to watch. Not all of them foreshadowed what was going to happen in the next few weeks for the winners or the losers.

Here's my advice for handicapping college basketball before conference play gets rolling in early January.

*Be conservative with your action. There are a million games on the board on the busy days, and you'll be tempted to place bets all over the place. Even if this works one day, it's unlikely to work for the whole month of December. You'll be killing yourself with the vigorish, and with lost bets in games you really shouldn't be involved with. Stick with your strongest plays, and monitor your leans on the side. If your leans are hot for a few days running, then you can work them into the mix a little more.

*Watch a lot of games where you don't have a bet. Far too many people in the general public sit in front of the TV and root for their bet. They don't learn anything about either team on the floor. They either fall in love with a team that covers for them, or decide to hate the coach and the star player if the team fails. To consistently beat basketball, you've got to know the key fundamentals that determine who wins and loses. What you learn from watching a game you don't bet could help you pick winners with those teams in their next several outings. What you learn rooting for your bet is basically nothing.

*Don't get delusions of grandeur about becoming on expert on all of the teams on the college board. Focus on the conferences in your local area, and the big name teams who are on national TV all the time. I know guys who just own the Big Ten, or the Sun Belt because they devote most of their energy to smaller hunks of teams. Seriously, if you can hit 55-percent following the sport in general, you can probably add three-to-five percentage points just by focusing more closely on a smaller sampling. You'll trim off the games you shouldn't have been betting anyway, and you'll be smarter than the oddsmakers in your particular area. Remember, they've got to put lines on every game. You can cherry-pick the best spots. Because of the sheer volume of teams, college basketball is the single strongest sport for this pinpoint handicapping approach.

*Avoid being tricked by the tendency of the media to celebrate star players. Newspapers do that in their headlines and lead paragraphs. TV coverage hypes the stars so much that you're sick of them by February. Basketball is a team sport, and teams execute at the macro level. Study how well the ball moves around on offense. Look to see if defensive rotations are cutting off any openings. Read the boxscores to look at team shooting percentage and rebounding marks. This stuff is what wins games, conference titles, and championships. If you're in synch with what's happening on the floor, it's much easier to project an outcome and compare that estimate to the Vegas number. If you're just hoping some big name players are going to step up for you when you happened to bet, you’ve got no chance of winning consistently. Stars are inconsistent. Defense and rebounding aren't.

It's a shame to see the college football season coming to an end. But college hoops will give us plenty to get excited about between now and March Madness. In the coming days and weeks, let patience guide you to profits!

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