The Impact of Foreign Trips in College Hoops
College basketball teams are allowed to make an international trip every four years and smart bettors pay attention. These trips can include 10 practices and usually 3-5 games. Not only is this a chance for players to bond and increase chemistry, it also provides a great cultural experience for student athletes. Teams that regularly replace their roster (think Kentucky and Duke) can benefit greatly in defining roles of players who lack game experience. A new coach will embrace the opportunity to get extra practice time and play in a hostile environment. Veteran teams can solidify their offensive and defensive philosophies to save valuable time at the beginning of the season. They have the advantage of being so far ahead of other teams to start the season. Schools are also using these trips to lure potential transfers to the program. A graduate transfer that has narrowed his choices down might very well use a trip to a foreign country as the deciding factor.
The value of these trips seems blatantly obvious. However, I don’t recommend blindly betting every team who takes a foreign trip against a team that doesn’t. Of the ‘board’ teams that took foreign trips last year (2017), the record was 84-75 (52.83%) in November against the closing line. Many factors that experienced bettors use (access to multiple outs, market reading, betting the openers, etc.) could boost that percentage very easily. Another way to increase your winning percentage is to identify the teams that struggled during their trip and either avoid them altogether or fade them. Finding this information is much easier for the powerhouse programs than the lesser-known teams that are more obscure.
Vanderbilt arrived in the Virgin Islands in early August of 2017. Coming off a successful 19-16 season in Coach Bryce Drew’s first year, the Commodores were only looking to replace their 7’1 best player Luke Kornett. First up for Vanderbilt was the Virgin Islands National team. Leading 69-60 in the 4th quarter, turnovers mounted as the USVI team ramped up the pressure and Vandy blew the lead losing 81-78. 17 turnovers were as much to blame as giving up 12 offensive rebounds. Canadian power Carleton University (13 of the last 15 Canadian National Champions) was expected to provide some valuable competition. While they do have great success in Canada, they regularly get crushed playing American teams in exhibition games. Vandy struggled again with a late lead and gave up a 24-15 run to close the game out and lose their second straight 61-56. Poor offense was the culprit, as Vandy shot 28% FGs and 15% on three-point field goals. After a day of rest, Vandy matched up against another Canadian squad, Brock University. Ironically, Brock won the two Canadian championships that Carleton did not. Torrid shooting from Vandy won this game easily 104-90. However, even in the win Vandy showed vulnerability as they gave up well over 40% on field goals defensively for the third straight game, this time 46%. A second game against The Virgin Islands gave the ‘Dores a chance to measure how far they had progressed. They would be disappointed with an 81-74 loss. Vandy came out sluggish and found themselves down 17 in the first half. Defense, again, was the problem. USVI shot 48% on field goals. Overall, the trip concluded with a 1-3 record and a definite need to shore up the defense. I decided at the time they missed the 7’1 Luke Kornett much more defensively than was expected. This would prove true the entire season but was definitely more pronounced in November. Vandy did not cover a spread the entire month, going 0-6 against the spread. Here are the results:
|11/28/17||Radford||W 74-62||Regular Season||L -15||U 136.5|
|11/24/17||@ Seton Hall (N)||L 59-72||Regular Season||L 6.5||U 140|
|11/23/17||Virginia (N)||L 42-68||Regular Season||L 6||U 125|
|11/19/17||Southern California||L 89-93 (OT)||Regular Season||L 3.5||O 143|
|11/17/17||N.C. Asheville||W 79-76||Regular Season||– –||– –|
|11/13/17||@ Belmont||L 60-69||Regular Season||L -3.5||U 149|
|11/10/17||Austin Peay||W 73-54||Regular Season||L -25.5||U 148.5|
Betting these foreign trip situations blindly is never the answer. Researching the teams individually can get you on the right side of the line most of the time, while either avoiding the struggling teams or betting against them. In this case, simply eliminating Vandy from the list of teams to consider early would increase your winning percentage from 52.83% (84-75) to a strong 54.9% (84-69). Meticulously scrutinizing every trip on an individual basis can be a very valuable asset. Reading the write-ups for the game isn’t fun. Examining every box score (when you can find it) is demanding. But it provides another profitable weapon to add to your handicapping arsenal.