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Burke: Early-season conference game handicapping tips

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

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In looking at the betting board today, I noticed something that we haven’t seen much of to this point. Conference play begins in the Horizon League and the Big Sky Conference. The only other conference to truly start conference action is the Missouri Valley, where eight of the 10 teams have played a head-to-head meeting. There have been sporadic Pac-12 games and Iona played Marist in the MAAC.

Conference play handicapping is a lot different than non-conference analysis. These teams know each other well and know each other’s personnel, even in the era of the transfer portal. Sure, new head coaches may do things differently, but teams won’t be caught off-guard or ill-prepared like they can be facing different schemes and strategies in non-conference.

Perhaps the most important part to me is familiarity. A lot of the mid-majors and low-majors have been traveling all over the country early in the season to fill the athletic department coffers. They need those money games. Now, players are going to venues that they’ve played in before. They’re staying in hotels that they know. They’re accustomed to the travel and, in most cases, the travel is shorter.

Here are a few early-season tips for conference play:

Strength of Schedule

I talked about strength of schedule in my CBB article for Point Spread Weekly this week, but you can really apply it to these games. Some teams may dramatically be stepping up in class and others may be stepping down.

As a couple of examples, Robert Morris has played the ninth-hardest schedule per Ken Pomeroy to this point. Bobby Mo plays Green Bay today, the team ranked 305th in KenPom’s Adjusted Efficiency Margin. Bart Torvik rates the Phoenix 318th. Robert Morris has played UCF, Kentucky, Ohio, Mount St. Mary’s and Davidson. All five teams are rated higher than Green Bay.

I’m not saying Robert Morris wins, but I’m saying that Green Bay is on their level or below and you can’t just look at their stat profile and their record and discard them.

Consider Past Results

While teams change, players change and coaches change, you still want to consider what happened in the past. Are there revenge angles under consideration? Did one team knock out the other team in the conference tournament? If there is a pace war between teams that play at very different tempos, which team has dictated the pace of the game?

We don’t have any revenge spots from conference tournaments, but you’ll also want to think about rivalry games and things of that sort.

Make a Mental Note about the First Game

In most conferences, teams play each other twice, one at home and one on the road. File away the fact that the teams already played. See what the box score looked like. Did one team shoot really well from 3? Most of these teams have one star that they rely on. Was he in foul trouble? Did he have a bad game? Even if you don’t bet the first game, it can give you some context clues for betting the second game.

Conference play is a much different beast, so keep that in mind as teams shift to playing those types of games over the next few weeks.

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