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Stay Away From Irrelevant Results

   by Scott Spreitzer - 01/18/2007

If you're like most wagerers, you don't have any trouble at all laying eight or nine points with a college basketball favorite that has a straight up record of 13-3. They must be a great team to have that kind of record, right?

What about a team with a 3-3 straight up record? Would you lay eight or nine points with them? That's a trickier call. You probably wouldn't unless the dog was pretty bad.

What if I told you the 13-3 team and the 3-3 team were one in the same? Is that even possible? In college basketball, it's normal!

The team I'm talking about specifically in this example is the Ohio State Buckeyes. Heading into this past Saturday's nationally televised game against Tennessee , the Buckeyes were:

*13-3 straight up for the season

*3-3 straight up if you threw out all non-board games, or matchups where OSU was a double digit favorite.

Most college basketball teams have a lot of pollution in their won-lost records right now. Everyone schedules several automatic victories early in the season. Some schools schedule almost nothing but that the first two months. If you're going to draw conclusions based strictly on won-lost records, a lot of teams are going to seem great. To make accurate predictions, you've got to clean the pollution out of the record.

I strongly suggest you do that for all teams when you get a chance. Or, as you handicap the games you're most interested in, be sure and do that for the respective teams. Throw out the non-board games. Throw out any game where the subject team was a double-digit favorite. Evaluate that squad on the remaining results. I think you'll be amazed at how many teams drop from having great records to having so-so records. Over the next few weeks, some of those will end up having ugly records in your new "clean" stats even though their full season record will still look pretty good.

The by result of this exercise is that you'll find yourself backing off of favorites, and focusing more on underdogs. This is the most important step you've got to take to move from being a losing wagerer to a winning wagerer. The losing public loves to lay points with big name programs. Seeing great won-lost records for these teams in the newspaper convinces them to lay some pretty big numbers with perceived powerhouses. If you're taking the pollution out of the records, you suddenly see how mortal many of these teams really are. You'll pass games you used to play. You'll take underdogs in games you used to pass. You might even take underdogs in games where you used to take the favorite!

We're already seeing a lot of very competitive games this season. Ohio State only beat Tennessee by a bucket even though they were 9-point favorites in the game. You saw highlights I'm sure from several exciting college games this weekend. To me, it felt just like March Madness last season, where anything could happen in any given game. Nobody was safe from an upset. Few teams were so good that you could just pencil in a victory whenever they took the floor.

If you see a 13-3 record, or something in that neighborhood, your natural instinct is to pencil in a comfortable win. If you see a 3-3 record, your natural instinct is to expect a coin flip. That's the difference between laying a big number, and taking a big number. You make a living in this industry taking points, not laying them!

College basketball is a very dangerous sport for casual handicappers because of this particular phenomenon. College football teams can pad their records in September. But, that's just three or four easy wins, not 10. Teams in pro sports can't pad their records unless they get some very lucky scheduling breaks. In college hoops, any program can create the illusion of strength by scheduling cupcakes in November and December. Bad teams can seem good. Average teams can seem very good. Good teams (like Ohio State ) can seem great.

Mid-January won-lost records are a trap waiting to snare you. Walk around it the trap so you can proceed directly to the pay window.

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