The Big Dance gets all the headlines; all the media attention. And it makes sense why that happens.
College basketball is way too big for the average fan. More than 350 teams in more than 30 conferences are simply too much for non-hardcore hoops aficionados to handle.
And then there’s the bracket factor. The entire country fills out brackets. They’re easy to fill out, the seedings make sense to Joe Public, and after the first round, most of the “obscure” teams are gone. Those “obscure” teams that survive are now public darlings, Cinderella stories that casual fans can understand and follow.
Forget fans – I’m no “casual fan,” and if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t either. We’re sports bettors. And for serious college basketball bettors, there’s absolutely no comparison between this week and next week. This week, we’ve got dozens of “Little Dances,” the conference tournaments that are a sports bettors dream.
Next week, for the Big Dance, it’s still a betting bonanza, but not quite as good. Here are my Top 6 reasons why.
The Big Dance, start to finish, consists of 67 games. Once the opening weekend is done and we’ve got a three day break before the Sweet 16, only 15 NCAA Tournament games still remain. Serious bettors always want more betting options, not fewer.
This week, with all of the Little Dances, on Wednesday and Thursday alone there will be 84 games to bet on from the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Conference USA, PAC-12, Mountain West, MAC, Big East, Atlantic-10, American, SEC, Big 12, Southland, MEAC, Patriot League, SWAC, Sun Belt, Big Sky and Big West Conferences.
More games to bet on equals more chances for good betting opportunities, plain and simple.
Coaches who don’t care
Roy Williams is the poster child for a head coach who simply doesn’t care about winning (or even advancing) in the ACC Tournament. The running joke in Chapel Hill is that Williams sets a tee time on the golf course for Saturday every year, when the ACC semi-finals are played.
Williams’ quote from 2009 still resonates today: “It’s what it is. I said it’s for money, said it’s the biggest cocktail party. It’s still a party, I don’t care what anybody says. It’s a party to make money...I loved it as a fan, I don’t love it as much as a coach with the attention the other tournament gets and the emphasis we try and put on it.”
My numbers show Williams with a 4-16-2 ATS mark in the ACC tourney since he returned to Chapel Hill. And he’s certainly not alone in that regard – his ACC counterpart Coach K hasn’t covered a spread in the ACC tourney since 2011! And, quite frankly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but hey, I’m not going to give my entire list of “fade only” head coaches in this article. A little bit of homework goes a long way toward turning profits!
You rarely, if ever, see weak lines in the NCAA Tournament. The oddsmakers have plenty of time to post their numbers. Every team can be expected to bring their “A” game. And the enormous amounts wagered in the Big Dance ensure that the betting markets will pay full attention on each and every game.
In the Little Dances, none of the above rings true. There are numerous matchups that seem to fall through the cracks. The oddsmakers have limited time to go through the box scores from the previous day’s games.
Unlike the Thursday/Saturday or Friday/Sunday Big Dance schedule, the conference tourney’s don’t get days off. Teams often tip off less than 24 hours after their previous game ended. Everything is rushed, and that means you can and will find weaker numbers to bet into.
And, as I mentioned above, there are more than a handful of quality teams that cannot be expected to bring their “A” game to the conference tournaments. In addition, conference tournaments also have their fair share of “dead” teams you can fade in the first round.
Bottom tier squads that run out of gas down the stretch have been “bet againsts” for weeks, even if their power rating numbers haven’t bottomed out, still reflecting some early season successes. That gives bettors one more chance to fade these sorry squads before their long, miserable season is finally over.
Momentum is Real
It happens every year, in multiple conferences. Some mid-level (or worse) team wins their first tourney game and suddenly goes on a run. Look at Loyola-Marymount last year. The Lions went 1-15 in WCC regular season play, then won three straight in the conference tournament before losing in the Finals to Gonzaga; going 4-0 ATS in a four day span.
In the Big Dance, most Cinderella squads get bounced after a single upset win. That’s not always the case in the conference tourneys, where you can make a LOT of money riding a squad that has suddenly found their mojo over a three or four game span, especially if you’re making money line bets as well as standard point spread wagers.
Fatigue plus depth Issues
In the Big Dance, teams play two games (at most, assuming they survive and advance) in a week. In the Little Dances, teams can play as many as five games in five days. Obviously, this helps bettors who put the work in. A nine man rotation trumps a seven man rotation on the third night of back-to-backs. But many bettors have no idea about depth concerns – they don’t know the teams well enough. Plain and simple, that factor alone offers a huge edge for savvy ‘cappers.
It’s not just overall depth either. Teams with balanced attacks seem to be able to handle major minutes better than teams that rely on one or two stars. Teams that rely on jump shots are likely to struggle more with fatigue issues (tired legs equals jumpers falling short) than do teams that pound the ball into the paint, getting high percentage hooks or free throw attempts.
Again, this helps savvy bettors who actually know these teams. Meanwhile, the point spreads are still beings set largely based on long term aggregate numbers using mathematical algorithms. These fatigue and depth issues are very real, something Little Dance bettors can take advantage of, while Big Dance bettors cannot.
When a team from the ACC matches up against a team from the Big 12 (or the Mountain West or any other conference), we can guesstimate which conferences are going to be “bet on” or “bet against,” but that’s all it is – an educated guess. But in conference tournaments, we know how these teams match up against one another because they’ve played each other before, often twice.
If you’re a game watcher, you’ve probably seen many of these matchups already at least once this year. Even if you haven’t seen them, you’ve got box score and play-by-play data to help you understand what happened in previous meetings, and there’s no guessing game in regards to relative conference strength.
Taking out those “X factors” is a benefit for bettors – the more we actually know about the matchups, the more likely we’ll be able to predict winners and margins of victory.
Again, I’m not saying for a moment that the NCAA Tournament won’t offer numerous solid wagering opportunities. But I firmly believe there’s more moneymaking potential this week compared to next week, even though the workload between now and Selection Sunday is positively brutal, with games tipping off every day by 9 a.m. here in Vegas; often lasting until midnight. Now that’s “wall-to-wall” action!
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]