'Need to find the home run game' 

January, 16, 2010

If you're interested in more from Chad Millman on the psychology and trends of betting college ball, the editors of his blog request you read this, also from him. Another thing you could read, while we have your attention, is this feature on Jordan Crawford from the Magazine where Chad is also an editor.

Today's College Hoops Handicapping Lesson with Alan Boston: Betting conference games.

College basketball season starts in November, but does anyone really pay attention until January? Didn't think so. You could argue that the same goes for the players -- because while games obviously count between Thanksgiving and Christmas, no one gets to the NCAA tournament by winning games in mid-December.

Teams make the NCAA tournament, ultimately, by passing muster in their conference. In the eyes of the selection committee, those wins are worth twice as much as any pre-January victory. Players play harder, coaches focus more, practices have the intensity of made-for-the-paparazzi love affairs cooked up by two publicists desperate to keep their clients relevant.

Wiseguys know this. In fact, they count on it to make their living.

"Pre-conference there is travel, local rivals, tournaments, teams who have never seen each other before. It's a different mindset," says college hoops betting guru Alan Boston. (Read a previous blog entry I've done with him by going here.) "When it comes to conference time it is just teams that are familiar with each other who will play all-out, because conference means everything."

In years past, Boston used to be able to tell when a team was going to give its best nonconference effort and when it was going to mail in a game. Old-school smarts call these "flat spots." But in the past several years, with the advent of more and more early-season tournaments and the dominance of AAU summer programs, finding dead spots is hard and no longer a winning thought.

"In today's modern basketball -- with big money in the fray -- these kids have become more like robots in their approach," Boston says. "They work a lot more and practice a lot more on their own; they have less balance in their lives. It's not a bad thing but more of a reflection of the need to make the NCAA tourney and for schools to make all that money. Where normally some teams would be flat for games, they are driven all the time to play at the highest level. Flat spots are few and far between.

"But the AAU training has changed how you look at in-conference games, too. These kids are used to playing three games in a day for seven straight days. They don't get as tired and they don't get as rattled. Look at the Tennessee Volunteers. They threw four players off a team that likes to use depth to press full-court and they blow out Charlotte and then beat the No. 1 team in America, the Kansas Jayhawks. And then, against the Auburn Tigers, they are in a perfect spot to level off and they end up blowing them out. They were flat at the start and it did not matter. In the old days that wouldn't have happened. When they pour their heart and soul into three straight games and you think a team isn't going to show up, they show up anyway.

"Nowadays, one of the biggest keys for betting in conference games isn't finding a team that won't show up. Blowouts don't happen that often. You need to find a team that will have its home run game.