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by Scott Spreitzer - 01/08/2007
I was watching one of the sports networks on the first Thursday in January, and they were talking about the remaining undefeated teams in college basketball. They thought it was particularly interesting that both Oregon and UCLA were unbeaten. If Oregon could get past USC that night, they'd be playing host Saturday to the #1 team in the country in a battle of undefeated teams.
Now, you've been a sports fan long enough to know that whenever you hear something like that on TV, there's going to be an upset! The announcers are only broadcasting what the players themselves are already thinking. Oregon was likely to be distracted by UCLA's pending visit. They would be ripe for an upset that night against USC.
USC (+9) 84, Oregon 82
So much for being undefeated.
Oregon was so flat for the USC game that they allowed the Trojans to shoot 55-percent from the field. That's not supposed to happen when an inferior team is playing on the road. But it does happen all the time in college basketball because young athletes have trouble focusing on the task at hand.
As handicappers, you owe it to yourself to look for these situations so you can take advantage. I don't mean to imply that all potential upsets are going to happen. It's a matter of percentages. If you're looking at the right key indicators, you'll be able to win more than you lose. That's all it takes to make money.
Here are some keys to look for:
*Look to play against a favorite whenever its next game will be against an opponent in the top ten of the national polls. The higher the ranking of that upcoming foe, the more likely it is the home favorite will get caught looking ahead.
*Look for solid spots against any favorite if it just upset a highly ranked opponent. Many flat performances from college teams are a result of what just happened rather than what's coming up next. Upsets are the result of both lookaheads and letdowns.
*Keep and eye on favorites that covered three games in a row. The lines start to get too high at this point. And, it's right when the team is due to get overconfident anyway. I've uncovered many upsets this way that nobody sees coming just because everyone is misreading the pointspread streak as momentum. More often than not, it's just a case of the team playing over its head.
*Look for spots to play against favorites who just had a great shooting game. If you're reading all the boxscores, you'll often come across amazing shooting performances. These obviously don't hold up. If a favorite just shot 55-percent or better in its last game, the team is due to fall back to earth. The oddsmakers and public will rate them off the final score of that prior game. You'll know that it was a false indicator.
*Favorites are can be weak whenever their opponent is a quality squad that has revenge. This is a great tool in the second half of conference play. I usually use the midway point in my power ratings to define quality for this example. Any team that's in the upper half of the country in my power ratings will get attention as a revenge-minded underdog. Even if they don't pull the upset, they often cover the spread and cash the ticket.
*In the last two-thirds of the conference campaigns, go against any favorite in the top 20 of the national rankings that has won at least three games in a row straight up. It takes awhile for this one to kick in normally. But once the conference season gets going, you'll find that highly regarded teams follow a certain pattern. They win a few games, get complacent, then suffer a stunning loss. This motivates them to get their act together again. After a few more wins they get complacent again. You want to take good teams after a loss because they'll have peak motivation. This article is about finding upsets. Top quality teams (the kind that always have a target on their backs) are most prone to upsets after they've won at least three games in a row.
I know, this sounds like a lot of work. Winning takes a lot of work! You don't have to play each and every game that qualifies based on the above parameters. Use them to find nominees that make some sense. Then, trim down to the very best choices. Action-minded wagerers will take shots on most of the teams that fit. Picky players might try just a handful.