College Basketball Betting: What I Learned This Season
It’s mid-February and for most college basketball fans and recreational bettors, the season is about to heat up. To me, while not in full-on take-a-knee mode, I’m scaling things back with one eye on the upcoming MLB campaign. Part of that reasoning is largely because I’ve had one of my more profitable seasons. Maybe it’s the way I’m wired — it totally is — but I’m not about to throw away a bunch of units chasing some sort of March Madness handicapping glory.
Today I wanted to discuss some of my experiences from this season. I’d say 99.5% of my work is done alone. I consult a few other bettors from time to time but it’s mostly me in a recliner working on a shitty Windows 7 laptop that happens to have saved passwords to various accounts I never took the time to write down. I think it helps to have someone to bounce ideas off of but I’m at my most successful with “blinkers on.” Basically I’ve been in my own little college basketball bubble for four months. Here’s what I learned…
I have no idea the percentage of games that have been canceled due to COVID but there’s been plenty. For someone like me, who as mentioned, works alone, it’s been worth a few units. How, you ask? I’ve simply had more time to be thorough. Saturday’s are still daunting but during the week, I’m able to really dig in with my research. Some might say, less games, less opportunity but I’d rather have 20 games to choose from that were fully handicapped than 40 I skimmed through because it’s 1 am and I can barely keep my eyes open.
I Quit Worrying (as much) About Injuries
I spent the entire first half of the college football season researching and stressing about injuries and COVID. I also spent the first half of the college football season in the red. I was finding really good stuff, sometimes before the market even noticed, and betting incredibly good numbers, only to later discover I neglected to handicap the rest of the game! Someone once told me that when a player is out it’s not like the team is forced to play 10 vs. 11 of 4 vs. 5. Yes, some guys do matter. And yes, there were winning bets based primarily on contact tracing or rash injuries. But I put far too much weight on those situations and it cost me overall. It was only when I started to block out some of the “holy shit, the entire secondary is out” talk and focus more on the game as a whole that things started to click. And I applied that to college basketball. If the senior point guard or 6-11 rim protector is out, yes, I’m factoring that in. Beyond that, I was firing.
Seven Days Made My Season
I’m not a high volume bettor, something I’ve discussed at length before. There are a lot of perks to that approach, most notably less stress and less swings. I keep track of all of my bets and daily results and much of the year is spent chipping away. The downside to it is I need to win at a higher clip compared to some of the high volumes groups out there. Heading into tonight, I’m right at 58% on just under 300 plays (including halftime and live wagers). Of that 58% is two separate “runs” that went a combined 24-6. That’s more than half of this season’s profits over the span of about a week. There’s no lesson to be had other than I obviously didn’t bank on a mid-season 17-unit windfall. I’ve also had seven day runs essentially ruin a season so don’t think I’m immune. The cool thing about this year’s good fortune was that it came just a few weeks ago; a time that can be notoriously tough. If anything, it dispels the notion that full-time bettors spend much of their time winning. If I were to go back and break down some of the top seasons I’ve ever experienced, I promise each of them had a similar run that accounted for a vast chunk of the yearly profits.
COVID Helped Offenses
Warning: There is literally zero statistical data that supports that statement. I looked at Covers’ season-to-date numbers and they were right at 50/50 over/under. I also checked our good buddy KenPom’s numbers and there wasn’t a single nation-wide offensive statistic that was significantly better than recent seasons. But what I do know is nearly 70% of my bets this season have been on OVERS. Prior to the season, if you would have told me I’d have a 70/30 split and hit 58% I would have called you a clown. I had one really good year pre-KenPom that I was 45/55 — you know, back when points per game was built into the line. But generally, I’m around 55-60% OVERS. The reason I tend to play more OVERS is I’m an information whore and most information I come across in terms of pace and tempo suggests faster. Maybe three of four times a year does a coach say he wants his team to slow down and milk clock. The rest of the time, it’s the typical coach-speak of we need to get out in transition, look for easy buckets, etc. Finding that type of info is only one piece of the puzzle but I generally now how and when to apply it. Anyway, here’s some of my hot takes on COVID and offense: I think it’s easier for road teams to shoot in empty gyms. I also think with limited practice time, team defense has suffered — I say that fully aware, the national averages say otherwise. Teams are also out of shape and operating with short benches. The first thing to go with fatigue or lack of fitness is defense. And COVID pauses and scheduling on the fly forces teams to focus on themselves rather than the opponent. When you haven’t been in a gym for 10 days, opponent walkthroughs take a backseat to running ladders. Let me be clear; I’m not a 357-team handicapper. I rarely play mid-major conferences. In fact, I’d say 80% of my wagers were made on the SEC, PAC-12, Big 12, and Big Ten. Hell, I barely played anything in the ACC because I never had a really good read on any of the teams. So much of what I’m basing this on is around 15% of college basketball. Maybe I was just able to do a consistent job isolating value on a small sample of teams/OVERS. Who knows. I will say that I already have some post-COVID UNDER angles I have written down for next season.
Life is a Lot Easier When You Aren’t Trying to Sell Plays
I’ve never really spoke on the matter but selling plays, especially after my following started to grow, wasn’t enjoyable. I can for the most part handle everything that sports betting throws my way but the concept of being responsible for someone else’s bottom line was a hurdle, even after a decade, I just couldn’t overcome. I’d put out two plays, win them both, and go 0-5 with what I played on my own and through some sort of deranged logic, felt good because, hey, at least “my guys” won. And I was proud of the fact that I never tried to “sell dreams” or ram product down people’s throats on the podcast. I also worked hard, moved the market, AND won but still couldn’t fully commit to having a paid service. I know some good guys that sell plays and do it the right way so I’m not going to bash the entire tout industry even though it is in large part a cesspool. But sports betting is stressful on it own and not having to worry about some guy I don’t know who ponied up both faith and cash on my ability to pick winners is something that undoubtedly played a part in this year’s bottom line.