Break out of the bubble

February 19, 2019 12:24 AM

Beware of the bubble!

In all sports, bettors have a tendency to make bad bets on “must-win” teams. They figure motivation is something that transcends points or price, and will inspire players to peak performance. And, this is especially true when a “must-win” scenario is lined up against an opponent “with nothing to play for.” 

Mid-February is when “bubble” talk moves front and center in mainstream media coverage of college basketball. Everyone’s looking forward to the NCAA Tournament. Many teams are already locks. Dozens more have no chance to get in unless they win their conference tournaments. A small subset is neither safely in nor yet in need of a miracle. 

Put those two factors together, and you have potential potholes all over the betting card from now through the end of conference tournaments. 

You’re going to be tempted to bet all the “must-win” Dance hopefuls you’re hearing about on TV coverage. And, if you’re a typical bettor, REALLY tempted to lay points with them at home against visitors lacking motivation. Those are going to seem like gifts to the uninitiated. They’re not.

Think about it this way. For a team to still be on the bubble THIS deep into the season, it must be unable to control its own destiny against most opponents. Bubble teams can get hot and spring upsets, but they’re upset fodder themselves against lesser opponents. They probably possess a strength that opponents must guard against, but also a glaring weakness that’s easily exploited. 

And it’s not like it’s a big secret who the bubble teams are. You’re not catching the market napping by betting them. In some cases you’re paying a premium because oddsmakers know the public wants to bet high-profile bubble teams, and shades the line against that tendency. 

Why lay an extra half-point or point with a mediocrity that has a glaring weakness? You might get away with it once or twice. Over the large batch of possible betting options the next few weeks, asking inconsistent performers to lift their game is probably going to be a money losing strategy. 

It IS worth considering trying to find one or two tweeners who are just now playing their best basketball of the season. Maybe a team that was dealing with injuries before, but is now healthy. Maybe a very young team that learned from its early-season mistakes and improved its skill set. Maybe there’s a case of “addition by subtraction” and a negative on-court influence is no longer in the rotation. 

Some teams do peak late. And, there are occasional super-surgers motivated by a sense of urgency about reaching the Dance. The key is finding situations where motivation is a nice ingredient in a cocktail, rather than the only reason for betting.

You’re about to be inundated with “bracketology” coverage that focuses on bubble teams. Oddsmakers watch TV too! Dodge the hype and focus on betting for value. 

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