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UCLA, USC to open Pac-12 play

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

The UCLA and USC basketball teams begin Pac-12 play Thursday night on the road in the Evergreen State. UCLA visits Washington at 7 p.m. USC is at Washington State at 7:30 p.m. The L.A. schools flip opponents this weekend. UCLA visits Wazzu at 4 p.m. Saturday. USC is at Washington at 7 p.m. Sunday.

College basketball betting increases dramatically at the beginning of any calendar year. Football is winding down, and gamblers need action. Many of you may take occasional excursions to Nevada to bet the Pac-12, other conferences with a heavy local presence or your favorite leagues from other parts of the country. Let’s review some handicapping fundamentals. 

The first thing to remember is that all the teams play very similar league schedules. Everyone starts over, within confined parameters. Handicappers and bettors can throw out possibly polluted perceptions from pre-conference schedules that were too easy (cupcakes on parade) or too difficult (made-for-TV testers).

Some leagues play full double round-robin rotations. Others are too big for that but still play so many games that strength of schedule within the league is extremely similar. That makes scoring margins, team stats and player stats great indicators for quality. 

Believe it or not, schedule-strength ratings usually settle within four or five games of league action. That doesn’t seem like a huge sample size. And nobody should bet irresponsibly large amounts because of what he sees in a handful of games. But observers will see the general picture come into focus that quickly, even if they have ignored the season to that point. 

Longtime visitors know we emphasize these team stat categories in college hoops: offensive and defensive efficiency (scoring adjusted for pace), turnover percentage on both sides of the floor, and rebound percentage. If you have a favorite conference, it would behoove you to log these stats on a game-by-game basis. That’s a manageable task for one or two leagues because teams typically play just two games a week. 

If you’re uncomfortable with advanced analytic stats, simply using standard old-school box scores to log two-point shooting, three-point shooting, rebound differential and turnover differential will get you there. You’ll recognize team strengths and weaknesses quickly.  

Should you study individual players? This is generally overrated in game broadcasts, in which announcers want to focus on star power to generate narratives. Certain teams no doubt rely on one main guy. Nothing wrong with looking for that workhorse, then fading his team when he’s hurt or worn down later in the season. You’ll also learn to fade coaches who overemphasize a workhorse at the expense of building a complete team.

Many of you are probably wondering about the value of home-court advantage in conference play. The market typically uses about three points. Some sharps use 2.5 points in geographically compact leagues. Others emphasize road-court disadvantage more for very young travelers lacking experience. 

TV broadcasts that focus on crowd size are prone to exaggerate the impact of home court. Boisterous students don’t push the number much higher than three. Empty arenas may not knock it down. Much of the advantage for hosts involves visitors’ travel fatigue and unfamiliarity with shooting backdrops. 

UCLA and USC enter league play as losing bets. Each is 6-7 against the spread. Bettors pay a 10% surcharge on losing bets, meaning those records represent 7.7 losses in real money terms (minus 1.7 units). 

Over/Under bettors are keeping an eye on the low-scoring tendency of USC games compared with market expectations. Nine of the Trojans’ 13 games have gone Under the posted total. 


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