Bettors' plates are pretty full at sportsbooks right now with the NFL, NCAA football, NBA and NHL seasons all going strong. It's about to get fuller with the NCAA basketball season starting Nov. 14. Here are early-season trends to keep an eye on.
Take Advantage of Sportsbooks
It's widely accepted that most online sportsbooks don't pay a ton of attention -- i.e. do much homework -- on early-season college basketball games because they are obviously mostly focused on the NFL and college football and to a lesser extent the NBA and, much lesser, NHL. In addition, the betting action on early NCAA basketball games is pretty low so it's smart strategy for oddsmakers to spend little time there. Action starts picking up when the conference schedules open around Jan. 1.
Thus there can be great value on NCAA basketball odds to be found out there in the first few months of college basketball season on those softer lines. Of course the more action on a game, the more risk the sportsbooks take on and the more they might focus on said game. So perhaps avoid those big matchups between ranked teams and look elsewhere to find the best value. The one negative of early action is less coverage to do your own homework. However, you can always find game notes on the schools' respective sites.
The sportsbooks won't have teams' track records to base odds on -- just on what the teams were like in the previous season. Bettors won't have those trends, either, so that's probably a wash.
What's the Motivation?
College football games are scheduled years in advance for obvious reasons. It's a bit tougher to travel with 100 football players than 15 or so basketball players and there are sometimes 100,000 paying customers to consider in NCAA football. The powerhouse programs like Alabama or Ohio State go shopping around for cupcakes to hand $1 million checks to so they can play as many home non-conference games as possible. Coaches have no say over their schedules.
That's not true in college basketball. You don't think Mike Krzyzewski,Bill Self or Tom Izzo has input on his teams' non-conference slates? Thus it's important when betting NCAA basketball odds to determine what a coach's motivation is. Some just want their teams to learn how to win, regardless of the opponent. Others want to toughen up their teams by playing several top opponents before conference play. Izzo is definitely in the latter group as Michigan State often plays one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the land.
Expect plenty of blowouts when placing your NCAA basketball picks in the early going because many of the power teams will invite weak schools to their gyms. Duke, for example, has won 101 straight non-conference games at Cameron Indoor Stadium and they are usually blowouts. The Blue Devils hosted the likes of Davidson, Florida Atlantic, UNC Asheville, East Carolina, Gardner-Webb and Eastern Michigan a season ago. This year it's teams like Presbyterian, Fairfield, Furman, Army, Elon, Toledo and Wofford.
It's rather easy to find returning starters in college football -- Phil Steele, for example, puts out a great list of every FBS team in early January. It takes a bit of work to find it for college basketball. There are more than 330 Division I programs after all.
I would certainly argue that returning starters means much more in NCAA basketball when betting at sportsbooks because obviously there are only five guys on the court at once. You have 22 starters in NCAA football and that doesn't even include kickers or other guys who might be returning special teams players. Senior-laden basketball squads who have been together for four years are tremendous betting value. Wichita State was a great version of that a year ago. The Shockers ran the table in the regular season and also finished with the best ATS record at sportsbooks in all of NCAA basketball.
On the flip side, freshmen also are much more vital in NCAA basketball than football. Those recruiting rankings are nice in college football but most freshmen are redshirted. That's not the case in NCAA hoops so the recruit rankings actually have some meaning. So a team like Arizona that has some very good experience back plus a top recruiting class has a great mix and would seem a good early bet on NCAA basketball odds. Ditto Kentucky. Duke, on the other hand, lost its two best players and will heavily rely on three or four freshmen. Izzo's Spartans lost four starters and didn't have a great recruiting class. Sparty might struggle early. So might Florida after losing four senior starters as Billy Donovan's team will be very young.