Mistakes Made In Hoops

DIRECT FROM NEVADA
WITH NICK BOGDANOVICH

MISTAKES ODDSMAKERS AND SHARPS MAKE
IN COLLEGE HOOPS

I've heard today's topic discussed a few times in recent days, both from oddsmakers and sharps. I have to say I disagree with the conventional approach here. I think it's one of the biggest edges I have as a handicapper in the second half of the college season.

There's a rule of thumb amongst many that says you don't change your power ratings once everyone has played a lot of games. You've had enough time to evaluate the teams. You know who can play and who can't. You know which teams are heading to the tournaments and who's just playing out the string. If a team is a '58' in your numbers, keep them at '58.' If they're a '73,' keep them at '73.' What you see is what you get once you've reached mid February.

In the big picture, this is probably sound advice. Squares tend to overreact to what happened in the most recent game. They throw out everything that happened the prior 20 games and bet based on what they just saw on television. Villanova lost to Georgetown, they'll probably lose to West Virginia (oops). Georgetown beat Duke, they'll crush South Florida (oops). Handicappers who kept their power ratings stable had more realistic expectations right after a peak or valley performance.

That being said, a lot of teams DO change their stripes late in the season. You can make a lot of money recognizing when that's happened and betting accordingly. Oddsmakers WON'T be making line adjustments because they believe you're not supposed to make late season adjustments to power ratings. Sharps WON'T make adjustments because they're almost as conservative in this regard. That means the opening lines (which are wrong for these stripe-changers) will be off, and they won't be bet to the right place because the sharps are standing pat.

You find the teams who are making moves in one direction or the other, and you can ride those discoveries for as many as three of four winners. Maybe more.

What causes changes in direction? Here are some of the usual suspects?

GETTING BETTER:

*Young teams who are starting to get on the same page about how to run the offense and rotate on defense. Teams who have freshmen playing key roles often play much better over the last month than they did in non-conference action and the first time through league play.

*Injured teams who finally get healthy. It's very easy in the colleges to lose track of this because there are so many teams. If the 6th place team in the Mountain West, or the 9th place team in the Atlantic 10 gets healthy, who's going to notice? Hopefully YOU!

*Deep teams can create the illusion of getting better just because they're not getting tired! Many college teams start to wear down at this stage of the season. Teams with deep rotations have less fatigue, and are capable of maintaining excellent play.

*Teams finding confidence. There are usually a few teams each season who suddenly start to believe in themselves. They win a big game or two, and suddenly you've got a 500-pound gorilla on your hands. Everyone's asking 'What got into those guys?' Confidence got into them! This is easier to see if you're watching a lot of games on TV. Sometimes it's a body language thing. Swagger. You'll really see this in the conference tournaments…where suddenly the 5th seed is just as good as the teams at the top.

GETTING WORSE:

*Teams with short benches are VERY prone to lose a few steps late in the season. They get tired. And, they know they have to save some energy for the March tournaments. I've been known to dock shorthanded teams 2-3 points in the Power Ratings late in the season (especially on the road). I'm always amazed at how few handicappers pay attention to fatigue in this sport. Teams who give most of their minutes to the starting five are prone to pointspread slumps just about right now on the calendar.

*Teams who tune out their head coach will just fall off the map in late February. This is another phenomenon that's easier to catch with your own eyes. Though, sometimes the final scores are so bad it's impossible to miss. Players stop drinking the kool-aid and start playing selfishly on offense. That never works at this level. Defenses are more intense now than ever before. Try beating good defenses with selfish play! Free money if you can find these squads.

*Nagging injuries start to take their toll at this point in the season. I mentioned earlier that injured teams getting healthy are great investments. Conversely, teams who had been healthy all year who start dealing with injury time will get a few points worse. Everyone (including oddsmakers) will keep waiting for the 'bounce back' instead of properly adjusting for a new lower level of achievement. Read those injury reports!

*Teams high up in the rankings often lose a step in late February just because they're looking ahead to March Madness. It's amazing to see, but it happens ever year. Even without injuries, or fatigue, or disagreements with the head coach, superpowers will suddenly play down to the level of their competition about two times in three. Powerhouses favored by 15-20 points will coast to 10-point wins. Medium home favorites will be battling just to win straight up. Stick them on the road as shorter favorites, and they're ripe for an upset. I don't want to start listing recent upsets because it would take all day. You're going to see a lot more of that. Some of the best teams in your power ratings will get about 2-3 points worse before the tournaments, then go back to normal once it's time to get serious.

I don't want you to think that we're on the verge of BEDLAM in college basketball. We're talking about well over 200 board teams. Most will stay within a point or so of their normal level of play. Nevada pointspreads will be very solid when these consistent teams square off. You won't find any value betting those games. The value comes when you can find these teams changing directions. The lines won't adjust as quickly as they need to. You'll be finding a few gift games every night with the busy schedules. And, you'll be able to ride the same teams (or fade the slumpers) for a few games in a row. Gift games that keep on giving!

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