How to calculate true odds to win conference tourney

With conference tournaments all over the college basketball card this week, you’re going to be tempted to bet “futures” prices to win events you’ll be watching on TV.

Unfortunately, casual bettors typically have a very poor sense of pricing. Fans do often have good instincts for how teams should rank generally on the ladder. And many also have a keen eye for “late-surgers” who should probably be getting more respect. But what makes a smart bet?

The instincts just aren’t there yet. 

This issue is exacerbated for bettors who grew up following horse racing. That sport pays nowhere near true odds because of large track edges. Combine that with a general sense of how sports books price futures (also with a big house edge), clearly BAD numbers have been “normalized” into consumer consciousness. Anyone making their own estimates when pricing a conference tournament is probably going to be way off.

Here’s a quick example of the wrong way to do it. You like watching the ACC. Your “horse racing” thought process put Duke at even money, Virginia at 2/1, North Carolina at 4/1…STOP! That’s more than 100% already and you haven’t looked at other quality teams. 

Duke’s even money means 50%, Virginia’s 2/1 is the same as 33% (1 divided by 3), and North Carolina’s 4/1 is 20% (1 divided by 5). That trio alone adds up to 103%.

Florida State and Virginia Tech are ranked in the top 20, they’ve surely got a shot. Louisville’s chances are greater than zero. Couldn’t Syracuse, NC State, or Clemson get on a lucky run? Even if it’s just 1% each…that’s part of the 100% total universe. 

Here’s an easy way to get around that. Don’t think initially about odds like 3/1, 9/2, 7/1, 20/1, or 50/1. Focus instead on percentages. There’s a 100% certainty that somebody’s going to win the tournament. No greater, no less. 

Mentally assign percentage chances to each team that add up to exactly 100% for that league. THEN, convert those percentages to what the corresponding odds would be. THEN compare your odds to market prices. You’ll likely see that very few futures bets are worth making. 

A team with a 60% chance to win should be 2/3, 50% is even money, 40% is 3/2, 33% is 2/1, 25% is 3/1, 20% is 4/1, 10% is 9/1, 5% is 19/1, 2% is 49/1, and 1% is 99/1. 

If you don’t make a good faith effort to capture true odds on that 100% scale, you’ll be attracted to prices that seem good but actually aren’t, or to longshots that still aren’t paying what they should. 

Spend some time playing around with your favorite conferences this week before you see any prices. That’s a good exercise, and will help break years of conditioning created by bad odds scales. 

If you dig deep, you may also find some sleepers that are good bets to cover a spread or two before running out of gas. Those don’t make sense on futures prices but could still make you some money on a game-by-game basis. 


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