Favorite Prices Inflated in Recent College Hoops Action
If you've been paying close attention to college basketball scores the past several days, you'll have noticed that many ranked teams, or otherwise "hot" teams that aren't in the rankings are having trouble playing to expectations. Even if they win, they don't cover tall prices. Many are losing outright.
Many market factors are in play here. Among them.
*The public is starting to bet more basketball now that football is almost over. Squares love betting favorites...particularly favorites that are highly ranked in the polls or getting media hype. Did you see that Purdue, Michigan State, and Virginia were all double-digit favorites Wednesday night against quality opponents? Penn State and Maryland have a chance to sneak into the Dance, and are respected by many computer analysts. Louisville's been playing some of the best ball in the country the past three weeks. As great as Purdue, Michigan State, and Virginia are, those lines were too high because of how rankings influence point spreads.
*Teams are being priced at their "peak" performance rather than at a best expectation for any individual game. Purdue's had some great results...now they have to play great every time out just to get near the point spread. West Virginia only plays well against teams who can't break its full court press. The market is pricing them like they're always facing a team that can't break the press. Texas Tech was getting results back when their five senior starters had an experience edge over all the newcomers across the sport. Tech is still being priced like they have an experience advantage even though that's disappeared in a meaningful way this deep into the season.
*There's tremendous parity in college basketball this season, relatively speaking. Sure, there are still differences between teams. Michigan State is better than Penn State. But, Penn State has some players and is going to battle you for 40 full minutes, particularly as a motivated underdog. If you think about it like a school report card. There are a lot of B-plus teams out there who can hang around with the A teams for two halves. Some won't even make the NCAA Tournament because they've suffered too many close losses. Close losses cover underdog point spreads. (Side note, handicapping the NIT could be a BLAST in a couple of months!).
*Finally, the three-point line has been a great equalizer in this sport. As more and more kids have grown up making the shot...it's not hard for the full slate of teams nationally to find guys who can shoot from long range. This isn't like the old days where guys 6'8" and taller ruled the sport because games were won in the paint. Guys that tall are scarce. Guys who can make the three are plentiful. This gives any underdog a chance to get hot and spring an upset...or to rally from behind to come through the back door in garbage time.
Put all that together, and it's a wonder favorites are covering any spreads at all! Handicapping is more complicated than "always take the favorites." Some dogs are playing so poorly that you can't touch them. Others are teams who struggle on the road but play well at home. Taking that kind of a team as a road underdog is just burning money. You still have to pick your spots. It's great that there are so many spots to pick.
As you handicap games this weekend and through February, pay special attention to the prices on all ranked teams...and any mid-majors who are dominating their conferences even if they're not ranked (like we saw with overpriced Buffalo the other night). If you're just starting to bet college hoops because you focus on football through the playoffs, fight the urge to look for big-name favorites to bet. You're being charged a big "square tax" on those teams. Try to spot when a team is being "priced for perfection" but is unlikely to play a perfect game that day because of their own issues or the strength of their opponent.