Scouting Sparty

Normally I focus on "big picture" handicapping here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping. We talk about the fundamentals that matter most. We talk about on-field evolution of the various sports. We rarely focus an entire class session to one individual team.

Today, I want to do that with the Michigan State basketball team. The Spartans are on a fantastic run that's completely stumped oddsmakers and "due theory" bettors. The most recent example was Thursday night, when Michigan State (-5) won at Iowa 82-67. This seemed like an ideal spot for Iowa because it was a "TV home underdog" that was also in a "revenge" spot. And, it was a talented dog that's getting respect from all quarters. Yet, Sparty swatted them away like a gnat.

Heading into this weekend (MSU visits Purdue Sunday)...

*Michigan State is 80% against the spread for the season
*Michigan State is 100% against the spread in Big 10 play

And, this isn't one of those conferences where the teams have only played five or six games. Michigan State is 9-0 straight up and ATS in a respected conference. Sure, it hasn't run into Michigan yet. Everyone's waiting for that (February 4 and March 9)! But, it has run into several Dance-bound opponents and pounded them. Most importantly for bettors, Sparty is pounding expectations. A virtual printing press so far this season.

Here are the key reasons why in my view...

*Great defense: You can usually count on Coach Tom Izzo's teams to guard with energy. This year's team currently ranks #6 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency ( Defense wins championships...which means Michigan State will have a real shot to go the distance in March (though Michigan, Duke, and Virginia also rank in the top 10 in this very important stat).

*Great offense: This is much less common for MSU. Sometimes they're explosive. But, you tend to think of them as "smart" on offense rather than dynamic. This year's team is really something. It currently ranks #4 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. I think this is the single biggest reason the team is covering so many spreads. Oddsmakers and too many sharp bettors haven't realized that this team is full of weapons that can get the ball in the basket. This allows them to run away and hide when opponents run cold.

*Moderate pacing: Everyone thinks of the Big 10 as a very slow conference with a bunch of ugly basketball. Michigan State actually plays at a faster than average tempo. That sets up a lot of quick points when opportunities arise. And, again, it allows them to surpass expectations by scoring "faster" than the market anticipates. It's easier to win blowouts and cover spreads when you can score in bunches. Too many slow teams also allow opponents to hang within striking distance. Tougher to do that against Sparty.

*Coach Izzo: you longtime handicappers know that Coach Izzo teams generally get better through the course of a season. Not many coaches can say that, though you'd think it would be a fundamental truth of all good coaching. That's why this team is always dangerous in the Dance, even in off years. They may start like a bubble team (or worse), but they will hang tough in the brackets. This year's team started well...and THEN got better! That's why we have the current juggernaut. The standard surge has occurred off a much better starting point.

Now, this doesn't mean Michigan State is a lock to make money the rest of the way. The market eventually adjusts, no matter how stubborn it is early in a phenomenon. Plus, no teams are immune to injuries and fatigue. And, many great teams of the past have lost focus in February because they start looking ahead to the postseason. Nobody can be sure this WON'T happen to MSU.

But, until you see otherwise, smart bettors should think about betting Sparty at reasonable prices until their results at least get closer to the point spreads. Thursday's road blowout shows that there could still be a distance to go before the numbers match reality.

Your homework this weekend isn't to look at Michigan State. I just told you all about them! Go through all the major conferences and tabulate ATS records exclusively in conference play  (to emphasize recent form). If you only follow a few conferences because of time constraints, make sure you're up to speed in those conferences. Once you have the records, isolate teams who are currently 67% or better. For THOSE teams, go to and write down their current adjusted efficiency rankings on offense and defense.

Your goal is to find other teams that have caught Vegas napping, and have the team skill sets to keep doing that for awhile longer. It will also provide early preparation for conference tournaments and the NCAA/NIT challenges you'll be dealing with in short order.

If you'd like additional help finding winners, 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 by calling my office at 1-800-755-2255 during normal business hours. Sign up for any long term package, and my Super Bowl selections will be included in your program.

I'll be back with you again Monday to talk more college basketball (barring surprising news developments). Then, I'll talk about handicapping the Super Bowl a week from Friday. Most of you probably have your minds made up about that game already. I'll give you some last-second food for thought based on what's been happening out here in Las Vegas in the build-up to the most exciting one-day betting event on the sports calendar.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates your attendance and attention. See you next time.