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Avoid February Doldrums

   by Scott Spreitzer - 02/13/2007


You've probably heard that April showers bring May flowers, but do you know what March Madness inspires?

February doldrums!

Yes, I know we're going backwards in time with the analogy instead of forward in time. But, that's the way handicapping is. The anticipation of something in the future will influence what's going to happen tonight. The looming excitement is a distraction that has a backward influence. With March Madness just a few weeks away, we're about to see some very flat performances (See: Pitt v. Louisvlle) from teams who can't help thinking about the excitement ahead.

*We should avoid laying big numbers too with teams who are destined to be top seeds in the Big Dance. They will have trouble getting motivated on a game-by-game basis in the next few weeks, particularly against opponents that don't get their juices flowing. Yes, they'll cover some games. But, as a group, they're likely to have a losing record as double digit favorites.

*We should avoid laying points with teams who have just played a rivalry game. College squads will still get sky high for their most hated opponents. It's much more difficult to stay at that intensity peak right afterward when the tournaments are so close on the calendar.

*We should avoid laying points on the road when the home team has revenge. I've found in recent years that many of the most prominent upsets had this feature. The superior team can't get motivated for a team they already beat, particularly with the tournaments looming. The home dog has revenge on its mind against a bigger name opponent, and puts on a show for the home crowd.

*We should avoid laying points with teams who are on the bubble in terms of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. You might think these teams will have extra motivation. They will. But the whole world will be betting them for that reason, which drives the line up a couple of points higher than it should be. Often these teams get conservative because of the pressure, and are lucky to eke out a tight victory. That's a horrible scenario for betting on a favorite.

As is often the case, I've given listed some favorites to avoid. It often seems to come back to that doesn't it? Smart players avoid the favorites that average players can't resist. Las Vegas sportsbooks make money off the average player. Smart players make a living cherry-picking the bad lines.

I don't want to suggest that only favorites are subject to the February doldrums. Here's a list of underdogs to avoid:

*Avoid underdogs who have failed to cover their last two-three games. At this time of year, many lesser teams kind of throw in the towel on the regular season. They can already tell that they'll have a losing record. This caliber of team will still get up for a rival, or as a home underdog against a powerhouse. You don't want to take them in "generic" games though because the intensity just won't be there. These teams know the only games that can salvage their season will be in the conference tournaments.

*Avoid underdogs who will be playing their arch rival in the next game. Every college team has somebody they hate. In February, the games that surround those top priority outings don't seem like they matter all that much. It's amazing how many appealing underdogs fall flat on a Wednesday night, only to rise up and play great the following Saturday in the game they cared about.

*Avoid underdogs who catch a power in a bounce back spot. Top notch teams may suffer a loss because of the February doldrums. They typically bounce back strong the next game against a lesser foe. You don't want the wrong team at the wrong time no matter how attractive the line looks.

I annually find this the most profitable stretch of the regular season. If you can learn to anticipate the highs and lows for college teams, you'll see things the same way. Follow these guidelines so you won't suffer your own February doldrums!

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