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Handicapping College Basketball

College basketball is often considered to be the ultimate betting sport for a number of reasons.   There’s hundreds of teams on the betting board, a long regular season with postseason tournaments and a myriad of statistical information available for handicapping purposes.  Sometimes, however, it is important to go beyond the numbers and that’s what we’re going to do in this article outlining some proven handicapping strategies for neutral court and tournament college basketball games.

First, a disclaimer:  there’s no such thing as a one size fits all approach to sports handicapping.  That’s definitely the case with the strategies featured below.  They won’t necessarily apply to every neutral court/tournament situation.  Part of the challenge of being a successful sports bettor is keeping your eyes open for strong betting situations when they occur.  Our goal is to give you some strong situations to be looking for.


Most sports fans are aware that college basketball teams typically play better at home than on the road. Many are not aware that neutral court venues come with their own unique challenges and characteristics.  The factors that give a team a ‘home court advantage’ are well known.  They’re playing on a familiar floor and they’re intimately knowledgeable of its individual characteristics.  They’re comfortable with the sight lines in the venue and are playing in front of their home fans.  They’re also not having to face the rigors of travel which may or may not be the case for the road team. 

Road games provide obvious challenges to any college basketball team but not everything about them is a negative for the visiting team.  If a team is playing a longstanding rival or conference foe they’ll likely have some familiarity with the individual characteristics of the venue including the floor and sight lines.  The excitement and enthusiasm of a rival crowd can also result in a higher intensity level for the road team.  The desire to ‘send opposing fans home unhappy’ can provide a strong motivation for teams with strong coaching and leadership.

Neutral site venues in many ways offer the downsides of playing on the road for both teams without the upsides.  Neutral court games are often played in larger venues than the teams are used to which can produce a less intense fan environment for a game.  This can be especially pronounced in early rounds of conference tournaments when teams are playing in the early afternoon in a spacious neutral court arena with only a smattering of fans in attendance.  There are definitely exceptions to this rule and it is definitely less applicable for marquee games and tournament finals.

There’s a bigger issue with neutral court venues that many casual fans might not recognize.  The unfamiliar sight lines in a neutral venue can serve to hamper both team’s outside shooting.  This is particularly true when a team used to playing in a small auditorium in front of a couple thousand fans plays tournament games in a 20,000 seat NBA sized arena.  In a situation like this you’ll frequently see both teams struggle with the sight lines.  The more a team relies on a perimeter game or three point shooting the more of an impact it can have.  Fewer points scored not only produces a situation conducive to ‘Under’ totals plays but also one that can facilitate upsets or at the very least underdog covers.


Not all college hoop tournaments are created equally.  Teams seldom have trouble getting up for the ‘Big Dance’ of the NCAA tournament but what about lower profile postseason tournaments such as the CBI or NIT?  For any tournament it is essential to understand a team’s mindset heading into play.  If you’re handicapping an early round NCAA tournament game it is important to determine if a mid-major underdog playing a top team from an elite conference really believes they can compete and win.  Teams that are ‘just happy to be there’ are often the teams that get run off the floor by the upper crust of college hoops in the early rounds.  Conversely, teams with focus and the mindset that they can play on the same level as an opponent and compete for the win are solid underdog plays.

The same concept applies to lower profile tournaments but in different ways.  Two common situations can produce good betting opportunities in the ‘other’ postseason tournaments. We’ll start by considering the mindset of a power conference team that was ‘on the bubble’ for the NCAA tournament but didn’t make it.  The way this team approaches the lower prestige tournament can go either way but at the extreme it can provide focus to ‘prove’ that they belong in the ‘Big Dance’.  It can just as easily result in the opposite extreme—a disappointed team that can’t refocus on a new and less impressive goal.  A team with this mindset is often a candidate for an early round upset no matter how much talent they might have.

Lower profile tournaments can also offer strong early round underdog plays.  One attractive situation is to back teams that haven’t experienced much historical success in college hoops.  They might be a longtime doormat that has finally ‘turned the corner’.  Alternately, a team might be from a school that has recently moved up to a higher NCAA division and is experiencing their first success at a tougher level of competition.  Every sports fan has heard the cliché that one team or the other ‘wants it more’.  As trite as it sounds, this concept is often a valid one.

There are frequently opportunities to play the two types of teams outlined above against one another.  Making this even more effective is the arbitrary way the ‘alternate’ postseason tournaments award home court advantage.  In many cases, they give home court advantage in the early rounds to the lower profile team based on the premise that their fans will bring more excitement and make for a better television product.  In situations where a ‘disappointed’ power conference team faces a team lacking in historical success the challenge is to determine if the emotional/subjective factors are sufficient to overcome one team’s talent advantage.  In some cases, the ‘power conference’ team might just have too much talent for even the most motivated opponent to overcome.

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