Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Wednesday, January 27, 2016 at 11:00 AM
Last week I mentioned that I wouldn’t spend too much time looking at College Basketball Futures prices, at least not until we get much closer to March Madness. The prices aren’t moving around too much. And, they’re arguably more linked right now to team reputations rather than current quality. Basically, “the market” assumes most of “the usual suspects” will figure out a way to matter come Dance time even if they’re going through a midseason lull right now.
That’s not very interesting to follow, particularly in a fascinating season like this!
So, I’ll find some other college basketball topics to discuss for these Wednesday reports the next few weeks. Today I want to go over how to create Power Ratings. Many old school guys here in Vegas have always relied on their own numbers. Even with the advent of computer ratings…sharps just use those to help tweak their own numbers rather than relying exclusively on the computers.
What are Power Ratings? It’s simply a scale that shows you the point differential comparisons between all teams. If you’ve done it right, your numbers should give you a fairly accurate ballpark estimate of what the line should be in any game that’s thrown at you. This is real handy come tournament time because a team may be playing in their conference championship game on a Saturday…but then facing LSU in the first round of the Big Dance…and then Villanova in the second. A Power Ratings scale gives you a basis for handicapping very diverse matchups.
Some bettors use a top down “neutral court” scale, which would look something like this…
North Carolina 90
Higher is better, just like on a basketball scoreboard. In that sample…North Carolina would be favored by 2 over Miami on a netural court, three over Duke. Home court advantage is usually worth about three points in college hoops, so you’d make adjustments for wherever the game is played. Miami would be -4 at home over Duke, which is what the line was the other night.
Many old school guys go the other direction. The Gold Sheet, which was widely read back in the ‘80’s and 90’s, used this approach…that would look something like this…
North Carolina 10
The point differentials are the same…but the best teams have the lower numbers instead of higher numbers. Pick whichever approach fits your brain the best. Most everyone’s comfortable with what they grew up with…and find it hard to go the other way! Computer ratings usually go top-down. If you want to tweak your own numbers with those, it’s probably best you do the same.
How do you compile these numbers? Most old school guys just use their gut. Those of us with oddsmaking backgrounds use our research, knowledge, and then what we see in the market. Let’s say I have Kansas four points better than Baylor on a neutral court…but then sharp betting in that game suggest the margin should be higher or lower. I’ll watch the game, then adjust my numbers if needed. Nothing wrong with using sharps as your unpaid consultants! Younger, more math minded handicappers use margin averages in scoring or more complicated algorithms to create a point scale. Start with rough estimates…and within a few games you’ll be pretty much in synch with the teams you’re following.
Honestly, there are weaknesses in all three approaches because there are so many teams and it’s such a complicated sport to handicap. It’s true that many of the oldest true-blue types have been left in the dust by the quants. But, it’s not like the quants are perfect. Their numbers miss a lot too. To me, the best handicapping involves your own strengths, plus what you can learn from the others. Make a good faith effort to create numbers you can be confident with, but not arrogant with. Nobody’s numbers are ever perfect. And, even if they were for a day…something would happen to change the basketball world (an injury, a change in team mindset, fatigue from travel, whatever).
I will offer up this helpful hint. Do your best to create a scale on the side that reflects what you could call “market” Power Ratings in the conference you follow most closely…or in the major TV conferences. The market can be stubborn about adjusting when teams play better or worse than expected. Oddsmakers are conservative by nature (and, many these days are just copying lines posted by other conservative oddsmakers!), and quants miss many of the triggers for changes in form because they’re too buried in their numbers (UNLV started covering spreads after a coaching change for example…and quants were “chasing” that development rather than seeing it live). Creating such “market” ratings and comparing them to your personal ratings can help you find edges and exploit them until the line adjusts.
If you’d like some help finding smart college basketball bets, you can purchase my top selections direct from Las Vegas right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the VSM office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours.
I’ll be back with you Thursday to talk about the NBA in advance of TNT’s weekly doubleheader. The red-hot Toronto Raptors will be featured in a home game against the New York Knicks. Toronto has covered eight of their last nine…as the market has been slow to notice their improved play. Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.
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