College Basketball Betting: Tips on How to Handicap the Remainder of the Regular Season
The last few weeks of college basketball’s regular season can be tough to navigate for bettors. The biggest issue is the large amount of data that’s being baked into every point spread and total. Maybe a team offered value in early January because of a scheduling quirk or a key player became eligible mid-season and proved to be a difference maker. Those angles are no longer readily available meaning bettors are forced to look elsewhere for edges. Let’s discuss some things to look for when betting late February college hoops.
Must Win – ‘Tis the season for Joe Lunardi and his obligatory “bubble watch.” And nowadays, it’s not just the bubble but Last Four Byes, Last Four In, First Four Out, and Next Four Out. If you’re from a power conference or a high mid-major and currently sport a winning record, the media would have you believe that you’re still live to reach the Big Dance. But a lot of those teams have what is commonly referred to as “work left to do” meaning their stock needs boosting. Look at any team ranked in the 40’s, 50’s, and even 60’s and there’s bound to be a handful of upcoming games against better competition that if won, could propel them into the tournament. These games are labeled “must win.” There’s two issues I see with betting teams in must win games. For starters, if you’re having to win games in late February, it typically means you’re not very good. And while it’s fine to look for situations that smell of big efforts, you have to make sure you’re not paying a “must win” tax. There’s nothing more dangerous than betting a team that needs a win and having to lay -4.5 when power ratings indicate they should be -2. Next is the pressure associated with needing to win. Most middle-tier power conference teams have been trading off wins and losses for much of league play. Asking them to close out the season winning four of five requires a lot of physical and emotional energy and some teams, particularly those hurt by injuries, simply don’t have enough left in the tank.
Slower Pace – This is directly correlated to the “must win” angle. A team needs to win so it makes sense they’ll play better defense and also be more cautious on the offensive end of the floor. Those two factors, if executed, lead to lower possession games and thus unders. This is fine in theory but it strongly goes against the concept that in late February, “you are who you are.” If you’re 10th in a 12-team league in defensive efficiency or average 70 possession per game, it’s unlikely you’re going to become a lock-down defensive team overnight or embrace a “four corners” mentality on offense. I do think there are situations where a normally weak defensive team can perform better than it’s season numbers or play it a little closer to the vest on offense but if a team hasn’t made a wholesale change by this point, it’s generally not going to happen.
Mid-Majors – With the exception of Northern Iowa (44th KenPom), Yale (50th) and maybe East Tennessee State (56th) there are no mid-major teams that have a shot at an at-large berth. This of course means then need to win their respective conference tournament. For some conferences, their tournaments are formatted to reward regular season success and put the best teams in the best situation to reach the Big Dance. This is done with home games and/or byes. The MAC for example has 12 teams with 5-12 playing at campus sites before moving to a neutral floor where 1-4 await. Betting a team needing to win because of a seed always seemed iffy to me but it’s something to consider. On the flip side, and this is an angle that I’ve had past success with, is teams that have zero to play for. Take the MAC for example. There are currently seven teams vying for the coveted top four seeds. There are five teams that have little to no shot. I don’t necessarily look at those five teams has candidates to “tank” but you’ll come across a few teams than simply don’t care all that much and play a more “roll the ball out” style which tends to help games go over the total. A good example was last year’s Charlotte squad which didn’t even make the C-USA Tournament. The 49ers were the slowest team in the conference and yet with little to nothing to play, a small uptick in pace and decline on defense, they closed out the year with six straight overs.