Tom Barton rattles off the numbers as if they’re a decades-old Swiss bank account or the DNA code to life itself — 13-1, 14-2, 12-1, 11-1, 12-2, 13-1, 13-0, 13-1, 12-0.
They represent Belmont’s home record over the past nine seasons, an overall tally of 113-9 that has served as a pillar of his wagering tactics.
“One of my cash cows,” says the 43-year-old Long Island native and upstate New York handicapper. A regular on the national SportsGarten radio network and, in Vegas, on late-night weekends on Fox 1340-AM, his business practices have been hailed in this publication.
Active in every sport, year-round, this specific college hoops angle has returned solid dividends to Barton, and his clients, as a money line play for Belmont to win outright in its cozy Curb Event Center.
At times, it can be difficult to obtain a Belmont line. Also, he eliminates Lipscomb, a Nashville city rival from the Atlantic Sun, from this equation. The typical outlay of between -200 and -400 mitigates the Bruins’ stellar 92.6-percent victory rate on their own floor over that span.
However, that single play provided an overall Return On Investment of better than 2,000 percent this decade. It alone has paid some bills.
“It gets better,” says Barton, who cites Belmont’s track record of scoring 80 points in most of those games, 90 in a third of them. “I’d make single bets on Belmont on the money line and on Over on the game total.”
His belief in Belmont inspired me to stretch its main tenet, to stalk its game at UCLA in mid-December a year ago, against a Bruins team with much more pedigree that just might discount this unknown entity from the Ohio Valley Conference.
Others were just as prescient, moving UCLA from a favorite of 8.5 points to 4.5; I nabbed five, with a money line better than +200. Belmont won, 74-72.
This season, Barton is bullish on Davidson when the Atlantic-10 slate starts. He suspects probable early defeats to Auburn (in Annapolis), Wake Forest (in Charlotte) and Marquette (in Orlando) to temper the Wildcats for league.
“Those losses will throw people off of them,” he said. “In conference, it’s going to be smooth sailing.”
He echoes the same sentiment about Vermont of the America East, which gets St. John’s, Virginia and Cincinnati early. Barton says Saint Mary’s will displace depleted Gonzaga atop the West Coast Conference. And he trumpets Harvard, worst case, to become the first Ivy League school to receive an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
Barton especially likes that the Crimson did not make the NCAAs last spring. He says tournament teams become too public, drawing attention that docks their spread value a point or two over the first month.
“People remember (tourney teams),‘I bet them in the NCAAs,’ or ‘I put them in my bracket,’” he said “Harvard wasn’t there. So I think you’ll be able to get a couple of notches (extra points) on Harvard early on.”
What about Belmont? After 33 seasons, which included eight NCAAs, legendary coach Rick Byrd retired. Casey Alexander played for Byrd and assisted him for 16 seasons, and he came home from Lipscomb to run his alma mater.
The nucleus of versatile sophomore center Nick Muszynski and two other returning starters will be joined by grad transfer Tyler Scanlon, who logged quality time at Boston. Barton will tread lightly, risking about a quarter of his usual wager on Belmont home games until he can gauge its mettle under Alexander.
“Wait and see,” Barton says. “I’ll still keep money on the system … I expect the same mentality will be used. I’m assuming the structure will be the same, [but] it isn’t the same Belmont team. So, early on, you have to be a little cautious.”
Here are this week’s selections. Projected numbers courtesy of veteran Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White
Texas Southern at Wichita State -22: The Tigers were ferocious early last season, winning outright as a dog (of 26.5 points, +1600 ML) at Baylor, at Texas A&M (16.5, +1225) and at Oregon (19.5, +1400). They might not shock the Shockers, but we’re comfortable with the points. TEXAS SOUTHERN
Drake at Cincinnati -14.5: Last season, the Bulldogs led the country by covering 75 percent of the time (24-8). The Bearcats and new coach John Brennan open at Ohio State, so this one could catch the home side sleepwalking. DRAKE
Winthrop at Saint Mary’s -16.5: Nine of the Gaels’ top 10 scorers return to a program that was one of only three (Duke, Harvard) to receive no less than an A rating in backcourt, frontcourt, bench/depth and intangibles by “Blue Ribbon,” the game’s bible. Winthrop, unfortunately, plays Sunday at Fresno State. SAINT MARY’S
Pepperdine -4 at Cal State Northridge: Forward Lamine Diane and guard Terrell Gomez are a dynamic 1-2 punch for Northridge, one of the nation’s top cover teams last season that beat the Waves by seven in Malibu. CSUN