College Basketball Handicapping: The Art of Betting the Second Half
With college basketball season officially underway, let’s look at some tips and strategies to help you become a successful second half bettor.
1. Watching games really helps – By watching the first half, you’re able to gather a lot of info that wasn’t readily available prior to the game. You can see if a key player gets injured or spent 15 minutes on the bench due to foul trouble. You can see that flurry of points the last two minutes that skewed the score of what was 18 minutes of slow paced and offensively inept play. You can see how refs are calling the game — I’m probably not playing a second half under if the refs call multiple hand-check fouls 30 feet from the basket. It’s really tough to spot any of those things from just looking at the box score. As you develop as a bettor, you’ll be able to bet second halves based solely on a box score. But your winning percentage with half time bets should be much higher on games you watch.
2. Box scores – Regardless of if you watch a game or not, every box score tells a story. First thing I look at is free throws. I want to know what team is being the aggressor. If Team A shot 25% but got to the line 15 times while Team B shot 52% but got to the line only twice it’s likely the shooting percentages for both teams will end up comparable by the end of the game. Rebounding is also key. If I see a team dominate the glass that’s generally an indication they are the superior team. When you find situations in which a team like that is trailing or maybe leading by a bucket or two against a far weaker foe, it’s a good bet on situation.
3. Margin – This plays a big role when it comes to totals. Games that are tight throughout the first half — particularly if they are low scoring — have a higher probability of bogging down the last two or three minutes where possessions are milked, fouling isn’t need, and thus scoring is limited. I tend to avoid playing those over. I also tend to avoid playing overs on games where the halftime margin is in that 25 or more range. Refs tend to swallow the whistle when the game becomes lopsided. Bench players, who are typically weaker offensively, see extended minutes. And the last five minutes of the game tends to have more of a Let’s Just Get This Over With vibe. If anything, I’ll look to play those type of affairs under so long as the coach of the favorite doesn’t have a history of padding his team’s stats. When the margin is 6-12, those are games that have a good chance of featuring fouls and thus free throws late which obviously helps over bettors. Another profile that I like is betting over when a big favorite is trailing at home due to an abnormally bad shooting performance.
4. Adjusted price – I don’t know who started it but the concept of betting a game based on “adjusted price” is wrong on so many levels. Adjusted price is what Gambling Twitter likes to use as a way to convince itself they are getting some sort of deal. For example, a team laying -20 that trails by 10 at half is priced -15 at half. Using basic math, that team’s “adjusted price” is now -5 for the game. First off, bettors fail to recognize that outscoring an opponent by 16 in a half, isn’t always easy. And there’s a massive difference between -15 and say -10 in which the team trailing just needs to win rather than win by margin. In all my years of doing this I’ve found that in that situation it’s the underdog where the value lies. But too many people see an “adjusted price” of +5 rather than the +20 to start the game and think it’s not a good bet. Remember, few sports produce outcomes further away from the closing point spread and total than college basketball. Favorites storm back in the second half all of the time but it’s usually because the half time box score provided some sort of indication they would. So be sure to ask yourself, why exactly was the -20 chalk trailing? With a little legwork you’d be surprised how often you come to the conclusion that -20 was simply a bad number. This type of thing happens a lot during November when favorites playing these seemingly easy non-conference home games are priced based on pedigree rather than actually quality. Lastly, I also tend to stay away from favorites that trail at half and are priced in what I like to call “no man’s land.” For example, a team is laying -15 for the game but trails by 10 at half and is -9 at halftime. I find that more often than not, that team either comes all the way back to win or loses by double-digits. So if you do like the favorite, know that you are essentially laying -11. Again, this is a profile where the underdog can offer value if you eliminate the “adjusted price” mindset.
5. Getting off bets and middles – This is something I don’t recommend to newbie bettors. Again, college basketball is wildly unpredictable. A bettor obviously saw something that prompted them to make a wager on the full game. I think it’s a mistake long term to allow 20 minutes of basketball sway your opinion enough that you proceed to bail on a bet. Unless there is an injury or something egregious that you missed in your original handicap, just stick with your ticket. And if you have to “eat it” that’s fine. Things can change radically from one half to the next and for every bet you successfully “get off” there’ll be one that ends up winning. And it goes without saying, when you do attempt to get off a bet you don’t expose yourself to getting “middled.” Speaking of middles, these can be really tempting, especially with totals. You bet under 160, the halftime score is 31-29, and the second half total comes 77. You immediately think it’s a slam dunk to play over 77 and win both bets but fail to acknowledge that your original handicap was for all intensive purposes spot on. And the close margin suggests scoring could be limited late. Playing under 160 with a 60 point first half is a very high percentage bet. Winning is hard and when you come across one literally starting you in the face, take the money, man! Note that I know guys that succeed long term at actively playing middles. But those guys also have specific profiles, parameters, models, and data bases that tell them when it’s advantageous to bet middles. Unless you have those at your disposal, keep it simple.