Handicapping the Big 10/ACC Challenge

I've decided to pop in with a college basketball lecture today because of the importance of the annual Big 10/ACC Challenge that begins Monday night and runs through the week. We have several teams from both conferences who are making headlines in early action. Michigan State just won a tough four-team tournament played here in Las Vegas over the weekend. And, they weren't even one of the teams people have been talking about!

First, here's the schedule, using the Nevada Rotation...

Monday
Nebraska at Clemson
Minnesota at Boston College

Tuesday
Illinois at Notre Dame
Virginia Tech at Penn State
Michigan State at Louisville ***
Pittsburgh at Iowa
NC State at Wisconsin
Indiana at Duke***

Wednesday
Rutgers at Miami
Syracuse at Ohio State ***
Virginia at Maryland
Purdue at Florida State
North Carolina at Michigan ***
Georgia Tech at Northwestern

I put asterisks by the four marquee matchups that all handicappers should watch. But, those of you who are serious about handicapping the major conferences should try to catch as much of all the games as you can. If you can't watch every one, be sure to read the box scores after they're completed.

In terms of handicapping, here are the keys you should be looking for when making picks.

*Current form straight up and ATS
*Performances vs. other major conference teams
*Performances in neutral court tourneys
*Returning experience
*Defense inside the arc
*Offensive turnover rate

You have time to track down that information for every team. Even if you're busy today...you can skip the two Monday night games and focus on the large Tuesday and Wednesday schedules. I've found that teams generally maintain their early November form in this event. Strugglers keep struggling. Hot starters keep piling up the points.

Though, do remember that putting up numbers vs. cupcakes doesn't necessarily mean that a team is playing well. That's why I made performance vs. major conferences and in neutral court tourneys a priority.

I'm not going to get any more specific in handicapping terms because I want to protect my opinions for my paying clients. Game day lines aren't up for the marquee matchups as I write this. Historically speaking, I am likely to have something big each night. Part of that will depend on the oddsmakers.

In terms of LEARNING from these events...I can't emphasize enough what a golden opportunity this is for you to get a sense of both conferences. This isn't like college football where so many teams coast through September against soft schedules. Even now, it's hard to know for sure how all the national football powers stack up against each other with the regular season virtually over! College basketball is its own tutorial in November and December.

When watching games and reading box scores, emphasize these phases of play...

*Offensive balance
*Offensive turnover avoidance
*Rebounding
*Defensive shooting percentage inside the arc
*Defensive ability to discourage three-point volume
*Finding the PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS on each team

It's one thing to read about college stars in a preseason magazine. It's another to see them on the floor being tested. You regulars know that an emphasis on PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS has always been my #1 handicapping factor. Even if you're coming in BLIND, the Big 10/ACC challenge is about to show you who these players are on each team...or show you which teams don't have any.

In terms of stat analysis, the randomness of three-point shooting is a monkey wrench that can make it tough to get a truly clean read on offense and defense within a short sample size. Luck plays a big factor on any given night. A team might shoot 10 of 20 one night, 4 of 20 the next. Same guys, same shooting ability...but random variation.

But, you can look at how often defenses allow open looks. And you can count up how many total three-pointers are attempted. This will put you ahead of the game long term because you'll know which teams have the best chance to overcome randomness down the road.

If you focus on the factors I've discussed today, you'll be VERY well-educated on the Big 10 and ACC by the end of the week. And, you'll have a template for evaluating the Big East, Big 12, SEC, and Pac 12 as those teams get more TV time. If you also want to handicap a lesser league in your area (we have a lot of Mountain West experts here in Las Vegas), same situation.

Over the years, I've encouraged you to pick a few conferences rather than trying to play the entire board in this sport. Watching games on TV virtually forces you to be an expert on the Big 10 and ACC because of network contracts. Unless you don't own a television, those are going to be part of your portfolio. Given the high quality play we've already seen from the likes of Duke, Michigan, and Michigan State, these two leagues are going to be heavily represented in March Madness too.

You've got your homework. Be ready when the games tip off!

If you need some help finding best bets, KELSO STURGEON'S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office by calling my office at 1-800-755-2255 during normal business hours. I have great rates that take you through the rest of football (college playoffs and the NFL Super Bowl) and basketball through March Madness or the NBA Playoffs.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates your attendance and hard work. I'll be back on Friday to talk about handicapping conference championship games in college football. Some interesting matchups coming this weekend. I'm particularly interested in Alabama/Georgia and Oklahoma/Texas in terms of the playoff picture. But, don't be surprised if my biggest college release comes in a lower profile game hardly anyone is talking about. See you Friday.