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NCAA tutorial: How to earn a better return than offer by futures bets

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

Roll over bet heaven! How to combine money line bets to earn a better return than offered by futures prices. Plus, Opening Day weather in Major League baseball and our “Holy Trinity” preview for the NIT Championship right now in VSiN City.

NCAA Tournament: Why rolling over money line bets offers a better return than futures
If you’ve been watching VSiN since its inception, you’ve likely heard our hosts and guests talk about how it’s better to “roll over” individual bets on a money line than it is to bet futures prices. Greg Peterson, Amal Shah, and Sam Panayotovich were discussing it this week on “March to Madness.” Dave Tuley has mentioned it often in Point Spread Weekly articles and on twitter. Gill Alexander will point this out on “A Numbers Game” when futures discussions come up. 

We have a great example in the NCAA Final Four right now that will help drive the point home using the futures prices and money line prices posted Wednesday afternoon at the South Point, and a handy Parlay Calculator

Here are the futures prices from the South Point for the remaining four Dance teams to cut down the net this coming Monday night… 

Villanova -140 (or 5/7)
Kansas plus 300 (or 3/1)
Michigan plus 350 (or 7/2)
Loyola-Chicago plus 800 (or 8/1)

Let’s say you want to take a shot on Loyola because you love rooting for Cinderella stories, and that seems like a nice payoff for such a longshot. A $10 bet would win you $80. A $100 bet would win you $800. Sounds great.

But if you bet Loyola's Ramblers on the Saturday money line, and then re-invested in them on the Monday night money line if they happened to make the finals, the payoff at the South Point would likely be much higher than plus 800. 

The best way to see that is with the parlay calculator. You’d basically be doing a two-team parlay with Loyola on Saturday paired with Loyola on Monday. We know that Loyola is plus 200 on the money line vs. Michigan. They would likely be up around plus 500 against Villanova were the Wildcats able to get past Kansas. (Quick example…in a smaller tournament game Wednesday evening, Northern Colorado was -10.5 vs. San Houston State, with a money line split of -650 on the favorite at plus 475 on the dog. Loyola would likely be at least plus 10.5 points against Villanova were the two to meet).

Parlaying plus 200 with plus 500 yields a return of $1,700 on a $100 bet. That’s not 8/1, that’s the same as a futures price of 17/1.

Of course, it’s not a sure thing that Villanova will beat Kansas. Let’s say Kansas wins that game instead. It’s Loyola vs. Kansas in Monday’s finals. Current market chatter is that Kansas would be a slightly higher favorite over Loyola than Michigan is. Let’s call it plus 200 and plus 220 for Loyola facing Michigan and then Kansas. 

Parlaying plus 200 with plus 220 yields a return of $860 on a $100 bet. That’s 8.6 to 1, which is slightly better than the futures price no matter who Loyola plays. It’s as if the South Point is pricing Loyola to have no shot at facing Villanova, when Villanova’s priced to win that game around 70% of the time.

Put simply:
“Roll it Over” with Loyola over Michigan and Villanova would pay around 17/1
“Roll it Over” with Loyola over Michigan and Kansas would pay around 8.6/1

Better than 8/1 however you slice it. 

Understanding human nature, and that more of you are looking for ways to bet the favorite rather than the dog, let’s do the same thing with Villanova. The South Point futures price currently has Villanova at -140 to win the championship.

Villanova is -250 vs. Kansas. Looks like they’d be about -280 if they faced Michigan on Monday. Parlaying those two prices on a $100 bet would win $90. Remember, you’re not swinging for the fences with a dog here in a way that would yield a jackpot payout. You’d be risking $100 to win $90 that the best team in the country would go 2-0. That 100/90 ratio is the same as -111 on a money line. So, you turned -140 into -111 by rolling it over.

Again, that’s assuming Michigan beats Loyola. If Villanova were to face Loyola, we’re talking -250 and around -700. The parlay calculator shows that winning $60 off a $100 bet, which is the same as -167. That wouldn’t be as appealing. You’d have to think about how likely it was that Loyola will knock off Michigan before making your final decision. 

If the numbers are getting kind of jumbled in your head right now, spend some time playing around with the parlay calculator. Put in your own money line estimates. Tinker with different stakes that better match your bankroll. It will become intuitive soon. Remember that most sharps don’t bet futures prices because it’s obvious how much better rolling over your winnings will work out in the long run.

How do YOU do this in a real-world sports book? Let’s say you’re willing to risk $100 on a particular team to go 2-0 this weekend. You would walk up to the counter and place a $100 bet on that team to win its first game straight up at the money line price. If it does win, you cash out (meaning you receive back both your initial $100 stake and the profit from that first bet), then you bet the whole pile on that same team to win its next game at its posted money line price. Yes, you’re giving a larger wad of cash to the clerk this time. But you’re still only risking that original $100 “out of pocket.” That’s what you would have paid to take a shot at the futures price. 

If you’re wrong, you don’t lose anything extra. It’s still $100 out of pocket. If your team does sweep, you likely to win more this way than on a futures price…particularly with a big dog like Loyola. 

Have some fun playing around with the numbers. And, use what you learn when making betting choices down the road in your favorite betting sports. Don’t forget that South Point is offering very special -105 vigorish on team side bets again this weekend in the NCAA Final Four and Championship game.

MLB: Opening Day weather issues, plus some pitching stats
The grand plans for a 15-game salute on Opening Day got washed out EARLY! A postponement for Washington at Cincinnati was already announced Wednesday afternoon. That matchup has been pushed back to Friday. Here’s a quick look at a few other Thursday spots that might see some rain or cool baseball temperatures. 

St. Louis at NY Mets: Low 50’s, chance of light rain
Philadelphia at Atlanta: Low 70’s, chance of moderate rain
Minnesota at Baltimore: Low 60’s, chance of light rain
Chicago White Sox at Kansas City: Low 50’s, chance of light rain
Cleveland at Seattle: Low 50’s, chance of light rain
Pittsburgh at Detroit: Low 40’s, strong chance of rain

Seattle has a retractable roof if needed, but it’s more of an “umbrella” that still lets in cool air rather than a feature that creates “indoor” baseball. 

If you were with us last baseball season, you know the main indicator stat we used for pitchers was xFIP. That’s derived from “fielding independent pitching” (the FIP part). If you’re going to make smart picks in this sport, you want to focus as much as possible on “skill sets” rather than stats that are prone to pollution. This stat was designed to do that, while riding along the same scale as traditional ERA. That way you don’t have to learn a new scale. You instinctively know that a pitcher with an xFIP around 2.90 is fantastic, one around 5.00 is vulnerable. 

We’ll talk more about this and other indicator stats as we get deeper into the season. April, May, and much of June will be a mix of NHL and NBA Playoffs along with baseball when the writing schedule permits. 

For now, here’s a quick peek at last year’s xFIP marks for Thursday’s projected starting pitchers…

Chicago (Lester 3.85 xFIP) at Miami (Urena 5.29 xFIP)
St. Louis (Martinez 3.63) at NY Mets (Syndergaard 2.48 in 7 starts)
Philadelphia (Nola 3.38) at Atlanta (Teheran 4.96)
Milwaukee (Anderson 4.33) at San Diego (Richard 3.76)
San Francisco (Blach 5.01) at LA Dodgers (Kershaw 2.84)
Colorado (Gray 3.76) at Arizona (Corbin 3.89)
Minnesota (Odorizzi 5.10) at Baltimore (Bundy 4.77)
Houston (Verlander 4.17) at Texas (Hamels 4.83)
NY Yankees (Severino 3.04) at Toronto (Happ 3.94)
Boston (Sale 2.65) at Tampa Bay (Archer 3.35)
LA Angels (Richards 3.32 in 6 starts) at Oakland (Graveman 4.54)
Chicago White Sox (Shields 5.19) at Kansas City (Duffy 4.39)
Cleveland (Kluber 2.52) at Seattle (Hernandez 4.03)
Pittsburgh (Nova 4.19) at Detroit (Zimmerman 5.41)

No surprises that Kershaw, Sale, and Kluber show up as Cy Young caliber. You can see that some teams are in deep trouble already because they have to start a guy at 4.80 or higher on Opening Day. If you want to do additional stat research, fangraphs.com is always the place to go for that. Baseball-reference.com is also a handy website. 

Thursday afternoon baseball will lead us into Thursday night basketball, meaning the championship game of the NIT.

NIT Championship: “Holy Trinity” previews for Penn State vs. Utah
We ran the semifinal box scores for you yesterday. Utah impressed as an underdog vs. Western Kentucky. Penn State has been playing at a whole different level than the rest of the field lately…including a rout of Mississippi State Tuesday. That’s why “market” Power Ratings have adjusted to make the Nittany Lions a four-point favorite in the finals. 

Penn State (-4/134.5) vs. Utah (7 p.m. ET on ESPN2)
Utah #57 defense, #220 rebounding, #122 TO avoidance
Penn State: #19 defense, #72 rebounding, #116 TO avoidance

Those were the rankings entering the Final Four. Penn State is already superior across the board, and has been playing “better than that” lately. If “defense and rebounding wins championships,” it might be another squash. And, if Penn State keeps shooting like they did the other night, rebounds won’t matter anyway. Handicapping this game might come down to the basic “can Penn State keep this going or not?” 

Look at these performances vs. market expectations in its last three outings…

*Penn State (plus 5.5) won at Notre Dame 73-63 (covered by 15.5 points)
*Penn State (plus 1.5) won at Marquette 85-80 (covered by 6.5 points)
*Penn State (-2.5) beat Mississippi State 75-60 (covered by 12.5 points)

All with the season on the line. Two road games and one on a neutral court. After beating Ohio State as an underdog in the Big 10 tournament. And, all of those victims are equal to or better than Utah. 

Maybe the best way to say it is this. The point spread is consistent with the Holy Trinity rankings. Penn State has been playing better than those rankings would suggest in this event. 

Now, if the Nittany Lions do hit a wall, Utah will be able to take advantage…as the Utes did when Western Kentucky fell back to earth after a hot start Tuesday. The Utes aren’t a doormat. But, it appears Penn State is the team that has more control of its destiny. 

NBA Championship Odds: Golden State more vulnerable with injury to Steph Curry
We haven’t had a chance to check in on these in a while. With no truly super-relevant games on the Wednesday night card to recap, let’s look forward to the championship chase. 

Odds to Win NBA Title (at the South Point)
Golden State: -120 (55% win equivalent)
Houston: even money (50%)
Toronto: 8/1 (11%)
Cleveland: 12/1 (8%)
Boston: 20/1 (5%)
Oklahoma City: 25/1 (4%)
Philadelphia: 35/1 (3%)
Portland: 50/1 (2%)
San Antonio: 50/1 (2%)

Sports books create a universe larger than 100% to represent a house edge on futures prices. So, Golden State and Houston already gobble up more than the 100% certainty that “somebody” is going to win the title. Nobody besides Toronto and Cleveland is even better than 20/1 right now. That’s not likely to change unless there are key injuries to multiple teams. 

It might seem like a forgone conclusion that Golden State/Houston in the Western Finals will determine the league champ. But, there’s plenty of potential for things to get interesting for fans, and opportunities to be created for bettors.

*Will the market under-rate the potential for Western threats to take out GS or Houston early?

*Has the market already under-rated Houston’s “built to beat Golden State” approach to roster construction and tactics?

*Can Philadelphia continue its late season surge to throw the East into flux? 

*Is Toronto finally ready to rise to the challenge in the Eastern brackets? Long overdue!

As we’ve mentioned a few times recently, we’ll dive very aggressively into the NBA Playoffs once they get here. The NHL playoffs will start first, as the hockey regular season ends April 7. The NBA playoffs will begin on April 14.  

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