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Handicapping College Bubble Teams

   by Scott Spreitzer - 02/24/2008

Over the next few weeks, you’re going to start hearing a lot of media talk about “bubble teamsâ€쳌 in college basketball. You avid fans know that’s a reference to teams who are borderline qualifiers for at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. There aren’t enough spots to go around to everyone who can make a case for inclusion. Many teams are right on the cusp of getting in.

The general public tends to mis-handicap games involving teams on the bubble. They imagine a “must-winâ€쳌 scenario for these squads, then bet on them regardless of the price. You should remember:

*You can’t bet on ANYBODY regardless of price. Even with the very best teams you have to make sure you’re getting value on the line.

*Teams who are on the bubble obviously aren’t able to play great on command, or they wouldn’t be on the bubble in the first place! This is a group that’s “pretty good,â€쳌 but inconsistent. You can’t bet on them like they’ve suddenly become juggernauts.

*Teams on the bubble are now very well publicized. EVERYONE knows who the borderline teams are. Because the public bets on teams in must-win situations, the lines tend to get inflated. Even if your handicapping analysis suggests a strong outing is at hand, you’re going to have to lay seven points instead of five points, or 12 points instead of 10 points against a cupcake. Your hurdles just got higher.

*Teams on the bubble are under pressure they haven’t dealt with all season. The big name teams like North Carolina and UCLA deal with pressure all the time. They’ve got targets on their backs. They have to learn to play their best when it most matters. Most bubble teams have little experience in that situation. If you’re fourth or fifth best in a big name conference, or third best in a mid-major, the fishbowl is a strange place. It takes awhile to get used to.

Add it all up, and what do you get? You get overpriced, inconsistent teams who are feeling pressure for the first time! That’s who you want to bet your money on?

Over the long haul, I think you’ll be better served by this strategy:

*Go against bubble teams whenever your ratings or analysis suggest that oddsmakers have inflated the line a couple of points because of public action. You’ve got to take those free points whenever they’re offered. History has made it clear that most bubble teams don’t rise to the occasion. Some will, most won’t…and that “mostâ€쳌 will make you a lot of money when you’re getting free points.

*Take the bubble teams as home underdogs against big name powers. You may have watched Miami of Florida beat Duke last week on ESPN. That victory vaulted Miami into ESPN’s “bracketologyâ€쳌 version of the Big Dance. Temporarily anyway, the Hurricanes went from “outâ€쳌 to “inâ€쳌 because they upset a top flight team. Pressure is less of an issue in this type of game because the bubble team isn’t supposed to win anyway. They can play loose and free, and bring peak energy in front of a boisterous crowd. It’s also worth noting that you’re not losing any points to the line because the public is much more likely to bet Duke than it is Miami in a game like that. In many of these matchups, you’re getting free points even though you’ve got a well publicized bubble team! The public just can’t lay off the power programs at single digit prices.

*Consider taking the “Underâ€쳌 whenever a bubble team is a home favorite. Because the game is important, they’re going to play defense. Because there’s pressure on them to win, they might show nerves on offense. If they get a lead, they’re more likely to sit on it in the last 10 minutes to clinch the win. There’s definitely value on the Under in these types of games. I mentioned that many bubble teams are inconsistent, or they wouldn’t be on the bubble in the first place. In top priority games, defense is much more consistent than offense. Playing Unders will put the inherent inconsistency of these programs to work for you. Sharp wagerers should always be looking at additional ways to exploit an edge.

I know you’re all excited about the coming conference tournaments and national championship race. Taking advantage of the bubble tendencies I’ve outlined today will help you build a bankroll to play with during the postseason.

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