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Live Underdogs

   by Al McMordie - 02/26/2004

The successful sports bettor knows how to keep both eyes open for potential live dogs.

First, the majority of non-professional sports bettors like to wager on favorites. In this business, the betting lines are built not by how many points one team should beat another, but by how many points the public thinks one team will beat another. Linesmakers hone their craft by balancing stats with the understanding of what the public thinks is going to happen in a game.

For example, during the college football bowl season, LSU and Oklahoma may have been two brilliant defensive teams that were relatively evenly matched, but the line on the game wasn’t pick ‘em. This is because the public perception was that Oklahoma was the better team.

Both teams had a single defeat coming into the game. And even though LSU had a great defense and a near-home field edge for the Sugar Bowl game, the Sooners were still a 6.5-point favorite. This was not only because Oklahoma had been No. 1 for most of the season, but also because they had the Heisman Trophy winner and they have been more successful in their football history than LSU. Coach Nick Saban and the Tigers were a good example of a live home dog, and they ended up winning the game straight up. Since the public loves favorites, there can often be value in underdogs.

Secondly, an underdog can still be a talented team. This past weekend, New Mexico State was a five-point dog at South Alabama despite having a better conference record. New Mexico State had won three of its previous five games and had a terrific frontcourt anchored by seniors James Felder and James Moore. Moore was the Sun Belt Player of the Year last season. New Mexico State was ranked second in rebounding in the Sun Belt, while South Alabama was last, which isn’t surprising since their strength as a team is their guards, and they lack height overall. New Mexico State not only covered, but won the game, 74-65, shooting 47% and winning the battle of the boards, 35-30. Now the Aggies are 4-2 straight up and against the spread over their last six games!

Thirdly, check the schedules. If a team has a losing record, make sure to see what teams they’ve played. If they’ve played cupcake teams and still have a losing record, then perhaps they are a bad team. But if they have a bad record but have played a string of upper-echelon teams, you need to take another look at the line-up or make a note on them. Maybe they’re better than their record? For example, last season, Louisiana Tech played a very difficult pre-season schedule. They played Mississippi State, Florida, Arkansas and Texas, and all of these games were on the road! So, the Bulldogs started the season 3-4, but their record was a bit misleading, and they won 9 of their next 14 games in WAC Conference play.

Finally, check statistics, too. For example, I mentioned that New Mexico State ranked second in the Sun Belt in rebounding, while South Alabama was dead last. Things like that can be a key edge when handicapping a game, especially when you are getting points with underdogs.

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