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Tee time: Last-minute Masters counsel

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Does Jon Rahm have the game for Augusta?
© USA Today Sports Images

Last-minute handicapping guidance for the Masters…plus, Toronto beats Boston in the NBA to tighten its grip on the #1 seed in the East, and a rough start for three members of MLB’s “Magnificent Seven.” Time to tee off in VSiN City!

Masters Tutorial: Strategies for analyzing individual matchups this weekend
If you’ve been reading our preliminary Masters coverage this week, you’ve noticed that we’ve spent a lot of time comparing futures prices to win the event from various shops in Las Vegas and around the globe. It’s clear from that survey that futures prices just don’t offer much real-world value for bettors. They’re generally out of line with true odds, often dramatically so.

Golf “sharps” prefer handicapping head-to-head matchups because they’re more rewarding of accurate analysis. We hooked up with golf bettor and VSiN City resource Coast2Coast, who goes by @C2CHoops on twitter, for additional insights to help you plan your betting approach through the weekend. 

VSiN City: What are your thoughts on betting futures prices to win the Masters? Is there no value at all on those? Or, are there possibly plays on long shots that offer betting value? 

Coast2Coast: Golf futures generally have minimal value. They are fun and build rooting interest. But most people who buy futures on a long shot to win a football or basketball championship know their smartest bets are the daily point spread or money line bets. The same is true in golf. There may be a few futures bets that might have EV depending on how one measures it, but not many.

VSiN City: What’s your approach to handicapping golf matchups? 

Coast2Coast: I make a power rating for every player in a tourney based on recent form and course form. I may tweak that model from week to week. For example, I give a player’s course form at Augusta this week a higher percentage importance than I do for most tourneys. There are a few skills Augusta demands and how a player has done there in previous years is more important than it was last week in Houston.

VSiN City: Do you adjust for weather? Looks like we’ll have a variety of conditions the next few days. Cool and clear Thursday. Warmer and breezier Friday. Rainy and windy Saturday. 

Coast2Coast: I generally do not unless there are high winds. I might give some guys a nudge for that. 

VSiN City: For readers new to the math part of handicapping. How do you turn a Power Rating into a price? It's easier in football or basketball because the Power Ratings are point differentials. Do you use stroke differentials? Do you estimate the percentage of time Player A should beat Player B? If you don't want to give away specifics of your formula, can you give some general guidance?

Coast2Coast: It’s taken me years of tweaking. I use a 400-point scale, running from a high of 100 to a low of -300. And I’ve scaled it to a money line equivalent. Just easier for me that way. The best golfer today, Justin Thomas, for example, is a 96. I have Tiger at an 84. I make Justin 12 cents higher in a matchup...for a 30-cent line, that would be Thomas -121, Tiger -109. The current line is Thomas -135, Tiger 105. I see 14 cents of value in that one.

VSiN City: Great explanation and example. Is it true that you generally get a lot of gradings to underdogs with your ratings?

Coast2Coast: I do get more dogs than favorites, but that’s generally where the value is, anyway. It works for me.

VSiN City: Are there any individual players you’re targeting because you believe the market has them overrated or underrated? 

Coast2Coast: Does Jon Rahm have the game for Augusta? He does not rank highly with his short game, and his only appearance in the Masters last year…and in other majors for that matter…was unimpressive. I have him rated 15 points lower for this tourney than when he has played an easy PGA course. So, power ratings do fluctuate more in golf handicapping than in other sports.  I looked to fade him…and am taking Paul Casey and Bubba Watson (solid recent and course form for both) in matchups against Rahm. Casey is a favorite and Bubba a dog. But I think the market has rated Rahm on his overall world ranking more than his recent or course form.

VSiN City: This is all great advice. We appreciate you taking the time to outline your approach to readers of VSiN City. Any final suggestion for Masters bettors this weekend?

Coast2Coast: Focus most of your golf betting on individual matchups. The sport has 100 or more matchup betting opportunities every week. The books can’t get the prices right on all of them!

We greatly appreciate Coast2Coast talking us through his Masters mindset. Best of luck to C2C and all of you with your golf bets this weekend. 

NBA: Toronto turnaround! Raptors beat Boston 96-78 to take 3-game lead for top seed in the East
With only four games left in the regular season, the Toronto Raptors are now virtually assured of earning the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference brackets. Their magic number is ONE, meaning one win or one more Boston loss would seal the deal. 

Wednesday’s win over Boston was definitely slow, physical, playoff-style basketball…exacerbated by the fact that both teams were playing on night two of a back-to-back. Nobody had energy to run. Boston didn’t even have enough energy to make jump shots. 

Toronto (-7) 96, Boston 78
Two-point Pct: Boston 42%, Toronto 51%
Three Pointers: Boston 3/22, Toronto 10/33 
Free Throws: Boston 25/28, Toronto 6/8
Rebounds: Boston 43, Toronto 48
Turnovers: Boston 16, Toronto 10
Pace: 92.7 (very slow)

Not great entertainment by any means. That’s what you get when two teams with excellent defenses are playing tired in a game with a lot at stake. You can see Toronto shut down Boston from the floor while also forcing 16 turnovers in a slow game (high total for so few possessions). Toronto’s physicality did put Boston on the free throw line often. But, not enough to counteract all the other failed possessions. A virtual stranglehold for the hosts from the second quarter on (13-20-25 points allowed the last three quarters). 

The mainstream media still spends too much time talking about star power when it comes to projecting the playoffs. Be sure you’re including defensive skill sets in your analysis. Even in a recent mini-slump, Toronto is still a championship threat because it can defend like this in big games. 

Last night we ran Holy Trinity numbers for Toronto and Cleveland. Time now to throw Boston into the mix. Plus, the Philadelphia 76ers won on the road at Detroit Wednesday (115-108 as a 2-point favorite), putting the franchise in great shape for a #3 or #4 finish and home court in the first round. (Hey, that was Philly’s twelfth straight win!). Let’s update the chart with the four teams likely to hose opening round matchups in the East. 

Holy Trinity (rankings out of 30 NBA teams)
Boston: #1 defense, #13 rebounding, #14 TO avoidance
Philadelphia: #4 defense, #1 rebounding, #30 TO avoidance
Toronto: #6 defense, #10 rebounding, #4 TO avoidance 
Cleveland: #28 defense, #22 rebounding, #12 TO avoidance

You’ve heard all about “the process” with Philadelphia. Time to start a focus on “defense and rebounding wins championships!” The franchise isn’t just stockpiling young stars. It’s teaching them how to protect the rim and grab the ball. Turnovers are going to be a big problem in the playoffs given the team’s youth and inexperience. We saw that eventually caught up with Loyola in the Dance, a team with a similar Holy Trinity profile. (If you missed last night’s report, those stats are defensive efficiency…meaning points allowed per possession…rebound rate, and turnovers as a percentage of overall possessions). 

Boston has been playing the best defense in the league on a per-possession basis. But, Boston does trail Toronto in the other two categories. A problem because Toronto would also have home court if these teams meet in the East finals. 

Cleveland’s soft defense really sticks out like a sore thumb. The Cavs will be better than that…but might not have everything it takes to win the East this time around. 

Let’s move to three-point shooting. We’ll rank them in order of makes-per-game. Luckily, that also correlates with emphasis. 

Holy Trey-nity: Three-Point Stats
Cleveland: 11.9 makes per game, 37% percentage, #4 emphasis
Toronto: 11.8 makes per game, 36.0% percentage, #5 emphasis
Boston: 11.6 makes per game, 37.9% percentage, #8 emphasis
Philadelphia: 10.8 makes per game, 36.6% percentage, #13 emphasis

Not surprising that emphasis (percentage of field goal attempts that come from behind the arc) tracks so closely with makes. The percentages are a bit messier to follow. Boston is actually #2 in the NBA with that mark near 38%. Cleveland isn’t far behind them at #6. Philadelphia doesn’t prioritize treys, but ranks #10 at making them. Toronto is #17 in trey shooting percentage. 

Man, Philadelphia could be something special very soon. You’ve probably heard that the team made great strides this season. Were you aware they had the best rebounding team in the league, the fourth best defense, and a top 10 three-point shooting percentage? They will at least enter the playoffs on fire. They won’t be exploiting any tankers in the brackets though. 

We’ll continue our playoff prep here in the newsletter as the regular season winds down. Really going to be fun to cover the playoffs in a few weeks. 

MLB: “Magnificent Seven” are DOWN money as a composite one week into the 2018 season
We’re now one week into the new baseball season. A great time to check in on the market performance of the teams that sports fans are most interested in following. Brent Musburger called the seven teams projected to reach at least 90 games in Regular Season Win totals “The Magnificent Seven” last week. Three of those seven have disappointed their fans with losing records in the opening week. And, when THOSE teams lose, they cost their backers big money. 

Magnificent Seven Records/Money
Houston: 6-1…plus around 4.5 units
Boston: 5-1…plus around 3.5 units
NY Yankees: 4-2…plus 2 units
Washington: 4-2…plus around half a unit
Chicago Cubs: 2-3…minus around 3.5 units
Cleveland: 2-4…minus around 3.5 units
LA Dodgers: 2-5…minus around 6.5 units

World Champion Houston is still Strong with a 6-1 start. Astros have picked up right where they left off. Neither Boston nor the Yankees is interested in having to win a Wildcard playoff game six months from now. Good starts there. The Cubs and Indians both started slowly last season…meaning MONTHS not days. But, both still reached the postseason in good form. The Dodgers have been victimized by a lack of hitting so far. Given how expensive that team is on a nightly basis, backers don’t have any margin for error. 

As a composite, that’s a 25-18 record, which is what you’d expect a 94-win team to do through 43 games. It’s still a Magnificent Seven thanks to the starts of the first four. But, it’s not a profitable group…showing a loss of around minus three units depending on the closing numbers you use. 

Keys to remember in this regard:

*Elite teams are EXPENSIVE to back, and have trouble earning money for backers over the course of a season. Sure, if you can figure out in advance who the best of the bunch is going to be…and the line never catches up…and the team never cools off…maybe you can make that work. 

*Elite teams are DANGEROUS to use in PARLAYS because they don’t win as often as the public imagines. Again, 25-18 is a nice record through 43 games…on pace for 94 wins. Not enough when you have to win every leg in your parlays. 

*Elite teams DON’T BOUNCE BACK as often as the public expects. Anyone thinking “there’s no way the Dodgers will keep losing” is already in a big hole. Or, “the Cubs learned their lesson last year, they won’t be slow out of the gate.” 

*Elite teams DON’T CRUSH OPPONENTS enough to lay -1.5 on the run line every day. There are occasional hot streaks. But, “The Magnificent Seven” is just 20-23 at -1.5 runs this season. (Houston is the best at 5-2, Cleveland the worst at 1-5.)

Generally speaking, it’s a hard to make money on MLB powers…and you don’t “game the system” by taking them in parlays, or on the run-line, or in what seem like obvious bounce-back spots. 

That said, we are in a unique time in the sport when more are more teams aren’t afraid to be terrible as they build for the future. As we trek further into the season, it could turn out that the sheer number of disinterested franchises might allow betting the elites to be profitable if the market is caught flat-footed. Something we want to keep an eye on. (Once the Dodgers start hitting!)

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