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College Basketball: Using the Schedule as a Handicapping Tool

   by Scott Spreitzer - 01/02/2006

As we turn a new leaf into 2006, college basketball begins its race toward conference titles and the craziness that is March. Conference play is just beginning and it’s essential to ignore overall records and focus more on team schedules. Simply put, who has this team played? Some schools early season schedules are filled with tough opponents, while others are littered with cupcakes.

Temple under John Chaney is a great example. Chaney often loads up his early season non-conference schedule with supremely difficult opponents. His strategy is to test his team against the big boys early, which toughens them up for conference play. A year ago Temple got off to a 3-5 start. But there was no cause for panic, as Temple took on Auburn, Georgetown, South Carolina, Arizona State, Alabama and Wake Forest! Temple ended up 4-8 in non-conference play, but 12-6 in the Atlantic 10.

By contrast, take a look at Virginia last season. The Cavaliers got off to a high-flying start at 9-2. But that schedule was littered with soft cupcakes, and the Cavs finished the season with a losing record (14-15). It’s necessary to not get carried away with overall records but to carefully examine strength of schedule as the New Year dawns.

For some big-name schools, of course, this is not a concern. Teams like Duke and North Carolina are going to attract great depth and talent. But the college basketball schedule is so filled with games each day, that there are all kinds of excellent wagering opportunities and soft numbers that it’s necessary to examine as many schools as possible.

Oddsmakers can overvalue teams that have terrific records at this point in the season. However, if they haven’t played anyone, how good are they really? More to the point, how good are they going to be when they play better competition or step into conference play? George Mason was averaging 72 ppg heading into this weekend’s action at Mississippi State. The Patriots were stepping up in competition and bettors were all over them: Mississippi State went from a 1-point favorite to a +4 dog when the game closed.

When the final buzzer sounded, George Mason had shot 38% against the rugged, though young, Bulldogs, as Mississippi State not only covered, but won the game. George Mason took only 4 free throws and had 11 shots blocked against the taller SEC team. Even smaller conferences like the Sun Belt and Missouri Valley provide excellent betting opportunities all season. Examining who these teams play at the beginning of the season can help identify which teams might be for real, and which ones are frauds.

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