Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Friday, February 17, 2017 at 2:00 PM
One thing that’s become crystal clear within the past few weeks is that late season college basketball and the postseason tournaments are going to feature a lot of toss-ups. There are no obvious superpowers this season. Members of the elite tier of teams are hard to differentiate. In fact, you still see a lot of disagreement between the various computers, the polls, the selection committee, and betting market Power Ratings even though we’re past mid-February!
Things are supposed to be sorted out by now. But…that’s the deal. Things HAVE sorted out and THIS is the way it’s going to be. Everyone at the top is within a point of two of each other…the teams who will be seeded just below aren’t really all that far behind. Put games like that on NEUTRAL courts…and you’re going to see a lot of pick-em’s…and lines of -1 or -2, which are virtual pick-em’s anyway. Whoever wins the game is going to cover the spread.
Sportsbooks don’t mind this so much because there’s a good chance betting action will break about even and they’ll pocket the vigorish. That usually doesn’t happen in Nevada because the public tends to love betting high profile favorites. Sportsbooks get one-sided on those favorites and root for the underdog…typically charging a premium for the right to bet those favorites. (That’s why you’re always reading about Las Vegas either having huge weekends or horrible weekends…which wouldn’t happen if games were bet evenly). Maybe this will be the year sportsbooks just sit back and collect that 10% surcharge on losers.
For those of us trying to pick winners (me for my clients here at this website, you with your own personal picks), this phenomenon is going to create some challenges.
*First, we’re going to have a lot of passes! If my Power Ratings are within a point or two of the market price…which is going to be VERY likely when relatively even teams are facing each other on neutral courts…there’s no numerical edge to attack. Brace yourself for that likelihood. It’s okay to pass. Passing is much better than placing a bet that has no edge.
*Second, public betting isn’t going to create line moves that open up opportunities because square money will split relatively evenly. For example…if sportsbooks have to make UCLA -6 when the “right” line is only -5…then fading the favorite provides value. But, if UCLA is in a toss-up with Arizona or Oregon in the Pac 12 tournament (which will be held here in Las Vegas), those other teams are going to get plenty of action and the line will sit right where it should.
So…the openers are going to be good on this big, level playing field…and fewer games will move in the wrong direction from square money. That’s news sharps hate to hear.
How are WE going to pick winners? Well, you regulars know that basketball has always been my favorite sport to handicap. I believe you need to focus on the following strategy.
Worry less about your team Power Ratings, and focus more on how the top teams FINISH. Veteran teams usually play better in the final moments of a close game than inexperienced teams. Those who make their free throws are much more successful than those who are mediocre (or worse) from the charity stripe. An offense with a clear go-to guy is more likely to score or earn free throws than an offense that passes the ball around because the players are afraid to take a shot. Certain coaches have a history of drawing up great plays (too bad Brad Stevens went from Butler to the Boston Celtics!). Other coaches have a history of imploding under late game pressure.
These last few weeks of the regular season provide a great opportunity to scout the top teams in all the big TV conferences. Hopefully you’ve been watching a lot of games already. Did you see how badly West Virginia choked this past Monday in Lawrence, Kansas? I’m not going to forget that next month. How about the clutch free throw shooting of Duke in that short road upset at Virginia? Duke may be more dangerous than the computers are saying if they keep that up.
Watch as many games as you can that involve likely NCAA Tournament teams. Pay particular attention to the last five minutes of close games. Study both the poise of the players and the tactical choices made by the head coaches. What you learn will pay off often in the postseason (especially in the conference tournaments).
Thanks for reading. If you’d like some help navigating these challenging waters, you can purchase my daily BEST BETS every day right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about longterm packages, call the VSM office at 1-888-777-4155 any weekday during regular business hours or Saturday before the first games tip off.
See you again next week. Basketball season is flying by, and the best is still to come.