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College Hardwood Holiday Handicapping

   by Scott Spreitzer - 12/20/2006

Final Exams throw a monkey wrench into the schedule of every single team. Different universities are on different schedules. So, nothing lines up very well. Most every team will take about a week off from playing games. It's fewer days for some, more for others. The problem for handicappers is that you need to find out how the kids are going to handle the layoff.

If they play well, the announcers will say the layoff helped them get fired up to play again. You heard the guys on CBS talk about that when Ohio State crushed Cincinnati recently. Ohio State was sick of scrimmaging against each other, and they were chomping at the bit to play somebody else!

Of course, if they had come out sluggish, that would have been because of the layoff too. The offense lost its timing. The shooters were rusty because they've been out of game action so long. You'll hear that a lot on TV the next couple of weeks as well.

My advice is to leave any team alone that's had more than five days off. Let them get back into a rhythm. There will be plenty of games coming up very soon.

*Conference play is just around the corner. This is a really big deal to most teams. November and December action is just a precursor for the games that really matter.

Many teams will suffer a lull in intensity. They were sky high for the beginning of the season. They'll be sky again for the start of conference play the first week in January. Between now and then, they're just finishing out the non-conference schedule against teams they don't care about. This is a horrible time to lay big pointspreads with well-known teams. You'll get a peak effort from them about once every three games.

*Oh, did I mention the holidays? Remember, for freshmen, it's their first time away from home for the holidays. The way basketball has evolved, freshmen play a bigger role now in the sport than they ever have. Do you really want to take any guesses about which teams will play well, and which teams will be distracted?

Any of these factors by themselves would provide a significant hurdle for quality handicapping. In this case, they all line up together! Final Exams come right before the holidays, which come right before the beginning of conference play for most of the board teams (some have already started with a sprinkling of college games). It's a true triple threat of distractions.

How should you handle it? Here are some tips:

*Don't be afraid to pass. There's nothing wrong with passing games when true edges don't exist. In fact, that's one of the key weapons professional wagerers have in their arsenal. They don't force plays. A penny saved is a penny earned even during the holidays.

*Track everyone's schedule so you know when they've taken their week off, and when they've had a few games to get in synch. Don't just trust your Vegas wagering schedule. A lot of teams play non-board games at this time of year. You may think a team has been off for a week when they actually played two games in the last five days against opponents from unheralded conferences. The players are sharp and ready to play well, but you're passing the game because you want them to get a rhythm. They've got a rhythm already! Use the internet to find the complete schedules of the teams you're studying.

*Don't ask for two good games in a row. The distractions we're talking about are real. So, the "letdown" or "lookahead" factor can loom very large. If a team plays a great game, particularly on TV, they're likely to relax and start thinking about Christmas, or about the beginning of conference play. History has made it clear that big name teams don't string together strong performances during this schedule stretch. A few will, the vast majority won't.

*Look for underdogs rather than favorites. If you're like most people, you have a tendency to bet on superior teams figuring they give you more insurance. But motivation can be a great equalizer. The big name teams are likely to get distracted by the issues we've discussed. But, the underdogs they're playing against could be fired up because they're facing a big name team! A team is less likely to worry about the holidays or league play if they've got a chance to play somebody like Duke, Kentucky, or UCLA (or any of 30 other teams who rule the roost in various parts of the country).

This is a great time to go against big favorites, especially those who are coming off great performances or big TV victories. It's a terrible time to ask for too many big pointspread blowouts. Some will happen, but the percentages will favor big underdogs in the big picture the next few weeks.

Of course, the best advice at a time like this is to ask for guidance from professional handicappers. It's our job to find winners regardless of the conditions. Spend time enjoying the holidays with your family, while a trusted investment advisor helps guide you to the best wagering options.

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