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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Our series of February college basketball handicapping tutorials continues this week with a discussion of Power Ratings. Last week we talked about boxscore stats you should be studying if you’re serious about winning, and how to use "conference only" stats to prepare a power scale. Today, we dig further into the Power Rating approach that gives you a projected line for every game.

What are Power Ratings? They’re simply a set of numbers that express the “point difference” between two teams. Different places have different scales. Some handicappers prefer to go from low to high (a team rated at 10 is 10 points better than a team rated at 20). Other handicappers prefer to go from high to low (a team rated 80 is 10 points better than a team rated at 70). Individuals have a lot of discretion for how they build a scale they’re comfortable with. The important thing is that your scale ultimately expresses THE POINT DIFFERENCE between two teams.

*If North Carolina is playing Duke (or whoever vs. whoever), you want to know at a glance which of those teams is better and by how much.

*You then want to factor in the value of home court advantage, which is generally 3 points in college basketball, but 4 points in leagues that are more spread out geographically.

*Come tournament time, you’ll already have a natural scale that will work perfectly on neutral courts. The vast majority of postseason action represents neutral court basketball. Even if a team is hosting a conference tournament, the other teams playing each other in early rounds are on a neutral court.

If you haven’t ever created Power Ratings, it can seem like a daunting approach. IT IS A DAUNTING APPROACH because there are so many teams! The best way to start from scratch right now is to use Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings at USA Today. Just print those out, or write down the numbers from the conferences you’re most interested in, and use them as a starting point going forward. Those are ground zero. Then, adjust teams higher or lower as results come in so you’re reflecting the most current reality in the sport.

Why not just use Sagarin’s numbers all the time? History has shown that Sagarin’s numbers by themselves don’t beat the market. If that were happening, Vegas would go broke! And, frankly, oddsmakers are aware of those rankings and use them to influence their own numbers. You want to use computer ratings as a STARTING point, then use your own handicapping skills to sharpen them as the season progresses. By the way, this is also true if you’re using rankings from college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy. His pay customers get projected scores for every game. Those projections DON’T beat the market. If you want to beat the market, you have to outsmart the market with your own wrinkles on what’s already known.

How many teams should you rate? We suggest do-it-yourselfers should focus on their favorite conferences, or their local geographic conferences. Trying to stay on top of 200 or 300 teams is quite a time commitment for a do-it-yourself handicappers. Sharps can do it because they have the time, money, and resources. Until you’re a full-time pro, you need to bite off manageable hunks and focus on perfecting those. Pick the conference with your alma mater (because you’re probably already very much in synch with that team), maybe 1-2 other local conferences, and then 1-2 conferences who are on TV all the time. 

Once you get more comfortable, you can add in a few more conferences. Come Dance time, you can dig in deeper with the qualifying teams so you can make the most informed choices possible through the early rounds, the Sweet 16, and so on.

How do you adjust the ratings on the fly? That’s what separates the experts from the pretenders! We suggest a conservative approach. Don’t overreact to outlier scores. If a team wins a 30-point blowout, that may have been due to a hot night rather than an increase in quality. You’ll be best served by being conservative with score margins, but more aggressive with anything you see regarding super-surgers (who string together good performances) or teams who have thrown in the towel (who string together bad performances). Oddsmakers are generally slow to react to midseason changes in temperament. A team that “finds itself” with youngsters finally getting the hang of things may cover 8 of its last 10 games. A team that gives up hope may fail to cover 8 of its last 10.

Best of luck to those of you who will be incorporating Power Ratings into your college basketball handicapping approach. If you’d like to take the easy way out, BIG, JUICY WINNERS are always just a few clicks away! You can purchase game day BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. We also have great rates for the rest of basketball. If you’d like to talk to a live person about full season options, call our handicapping office during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155.

Our tutorials will continue through February as we gear up for MARCH MADNESS. We’ll see you again soon in the handicapping NOTEBOOK!

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