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College Basketball Conference 'Capping

   by Scott Spreitzer - 01/02/2007

For most sports fans, the turn of the New Year means watching a slew of college football bowl games while preparing for the NFL playoffs.

For serious sports handicappers, early January is much more about the beginning of conference play in college basketball. Sure, sharp bettors get very involved in the football too. But there are only four games a weekend at first in the NFL playoffs, then just three games in total once you get to the championship rounds. The real money is made in college basketball, because the schedule is HUGE, and the oddsmakers just don't have the resources to put great numbers on every game.

Here are some tips to use the next few weeks in the early stages of conference action in college hoops:

*Remember that all the teams have fresh legs. They're coming off a schedule break for final exams and the holidays. Sure, everybody played a few games. But the schedule was much lighter than normal for most teams, particularly those who only played home games and didn't have to travel.

What do fresh legs mean? They mean different things to different teams, but they mean SOMETHING to everyone!

Uptempo teams will push the tempo even more because they've got energy and enthusiasm. You need to play Overs the first few games with teams who like to run. Conference action began last week for a few conferences. Cal Fullerton and Cal Poly don't mind tempo. They played a 99-91 game against each other against a Vegas total of 156. That went Over by 34 points!

Defensive-minded teams will play even more aggressively on defense. Fresh legs don't always mean a lot of running. For slow-down teams, it means they really battle to shut down every possession. UCLA and Washington State both play that style. They matched up this past Thursday with fresh legs and the game ended 55-52 against a total of 124. That was a double digit cover for the Under.

Underdogs are more likely to get the money than favorites. You might be thinking that the best teams will be even stronger with fresh legs. They might be. But the lines are already stacked against favorites because the public prefers to lay points. When UNDERDOGS have fresh legs and enthusiasm, they're capable of giving the bigger name teams all they can handle over 40 minutes of action. Note that Washington State was a 12-point underdog to UCLA in that game we just mentioned, and almost won straight up. Underdogs went 3-0 ATS in the Pac 10 that night, with one pick-em game.

*Remember that the teams who looked great in November and December will often fall flat in January. This is largely because so many teams give themselves easy schedules early in the season. A string of impressive final scores creates the illusion of excellence where it doesn’t exist. Once these teams have to face opponents who are breathing fire in games that really matter, their whole world changes for the worse.

Their opponents go hard for the full 40 minutes instead of throwing in the towel after 30-35 minutes. The referees call a more balanced game instead of shading things for the home team. And, the players themselves may be dealing with late game pressure for the first time all season. They may not know how to handle it.

Compounding matters is the fact that a great record breeds arrogance. College kids don't know how to handle success. They're prone to seeing a strong record in November and December being due to their own great play rather than a cushy schedule and friendly officiating. They get complacent at exactly the WRONG time.

*Remember to pay attention to the TV schedule. Once the sports world turns its eyes to basketball, the big TV games really get the attention of the kids. If they know they're going to be on national TV on Saturday afternoon against a big name-rival, they're prone to be distracted in their Wednesday or Thursday game just prior. If they know they've got a big game on Big Monday on ESPN, the Saturday game won't get enough attention from them.

Be sure you run through your schedules to circle the big TV games. Then, go back a few days to see who those teams will be playing right before the spotlight showcase. You'll find some great winning opportunities just from this brief exercise.

For me personally, January is my favorite month to play college basketball. March Madness is a lot of fun to be sure. But the schedule gets limited very quickly as the brackets work themselves out. In January, everybody’s playing ALL THE TIME! If you use the right approach you can score a very huge profit in early conference action.

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