Thursday, November 25, 2010

College Betting Notes From Las Vegas

By Micah Roberts

College Football Notes

After what seemed to be sort of a week off in College Football, we get back to BCS business with the top two ranked teams getting stiff tests. No. 1 Oregon welcomes No. 22 Arizona where the Ducks are 17 ½-point favorites while No. 2 Auburn travels to No. 11 Alabama for the Iron Bowl as four-point underdogs. Their BCS rankings are so close that even if Oregon were to win by a lofty score, should Auburn win in Tuscaloosa, they would surely pass Oregon in the rankings.

Much further down the BCS rating average we have No. 3 TCU and No. 4 Boise State, both of whom are hoping for Oregon and Auburn to be upset. The distance between the two outcasts -- who are without automatic bids -- in the ratings average is a mere .0135. That difference can be made up easily by Boise State with a win at No. 19 Nevada regardless of how large of a pounding TCU puts on New Mexico. The Horned Frogs are favored by 43-points. Because it is TCU’s last chance to impress, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see a score run up in this one like we haven’t seen since the Big-8 conference existed, and they would be justified in doing so because of the current system in place.

Those games are just the icing on the cake for the weekend. Elsewhere, we have classic rivalries that garner attention whatever their records are. For the last time, we get to see Colorado and Nebraska play as both depart from the Big-12 after this year. Michigan and Ohio State meet up in the Horseshoe for another chapter in that great saga. Other rivalries include Florida-Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson, Texas-Texas A&M, Kansas-Missouri, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, BYU-Utah and Notre Dame-USC. It is, perhaps, the greatest week in college football.

Week 12 Action
As great as this week sounds, college football conversely had probably the least exciting week of the season with the top three ranked teams having the week off and no major upsets. The were two mild upsets with East Carolina losing 62-38 as a 7 ½-point favorite to Rice and Buffalo losing 21-17 as a 7-point favorite to Eastern Michigan. Of the five other favorites that were upset, none were larger than 4-point favorites.

Not only was the live action on TV mild, but action over the counter was brisk as well. Generally we see six to eight games move by at least 1 ½-points through Thursday before Saturday’s games, but last week there were only two, Duke and Michigan. The Sharp plays did eventually come Friday and Saturday with eight other games. For the week, the house held the edge on all games that moved 1 ½-point or higher, going 6-4. The largest move got there with Duke who went from +13 to +10 by kicking against Georgia Tech. Tech won the game by 10 points, 30-20.

Sports Books Get Beat Saturday
The combination of not a lot of upsets and key games down the stretch not going the sports books way caused Saturday’s games to be one of the worst of the college season. Most bettors pushed on the marquee game of Ohio State-Iowa leaving all those bets live carried into the remaining games. The combination of Arkansas covering in overtime at Mississippi State and Utah storming back to win and cover at San Diego State were the worst just because they kept everyone alive, or made them a winner. For anyone who lost on the day, their get-back game got them back with Hawaii rolling easily as a 29 ½-point favorite.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley will be out against Notre Dame this week opening the door for Mitch Mustain, a senior, who transferred from Arkansas following the 2006 season with big hopes of being the next big man on campus, but it never happened. Miami QB Jacory Harris has missed the last two games, but is expected to start against South Florida. Iowa RB Adam Robinson is doubtful, again, this week against Minnesota. Wisconsin RB John Clay is expected to return in their game against Northwestern. UCLA QB Richard Brehaut is likely to be out with a concussion forcing the Bruins to use either Clayton Tunney or Darius Bell, listed third and fourth on the Bruins depth chart, at Arizona State.

College Basketball Notes
I was talking with a bettor in a sports book last week who plays limits on college basketball totals and he was going on a rant on how chicken the Vegas books were in regards to posting their totals, while also stating how good he is. He said most books in the city wait until much later to post the totals after the line has already been out and some books only post totals on the TV games, all of which may be true to a degree, although I know the Hilton and M books consistently offer totals on most games very early.

I had to rationalize with him and take it from a point of view of the sports book while stroking his ego, asking him first of all why the limits are the lowest of any betting proposition, to which he replied, “Because the books are afraid of my action.” I then told him he was right and that with so many teams in college basketball, it is impossible for a book to put up proper ratings on every game without having themselves exposed to huge middle opportunities, sometimes as high as 10-points, where the book loses both sides.

The TV games are higher profile teams where the ratings figure to be closer to be true as opposed to a James Madison-Citadel game where the opinions of paid services from the book may not be as strong. It appeases the masses that want to bet their TV games and the books feel comfortable with the number.

Remember, this is a business where the books analyze every statistical category for all sports and when there is a negative consistently in one area, that proposition is either going to be eliminated or offered with such vanilla flavor that it will hopefully get that category back to an edge for the house.

For some books, they don’t want that type of action where they are at the mercy of players they know are better in a small segment of their posted numbers. If it were a bunch of small bettors crying foul on the totals, the book might take notice, but not the Sharp who brags about being so good about winning on them and proves it at the counter. That’s a bad proposition for the house where the goal is to be profitable at the end of the day, while also offering fair lines.

If the total action wasn’t so weighted by large straight bets and had a higher percentage of parlays involved, there might be some re-tooling of the strategy some books use, but as of now, 90% of the cash taken on college totals are from Sharps with limit plays on straight bets, and the books usually are at the short end. You may call it chicken, but in reality, it’s just smart business. Just like a bettor, if you can’t win consistently at a sport or an angle, you eliminate it and move on to another strategy, unless it’s pro football, of course.

College Basketball Player Of the Week
A case can be made for several players beginning with U-Conn’s Kenba Walker who put 42 points on the board against Vermont last Wednesday, but he loses votes just because it was Vermont. It came down to two players, Billy White of San Diego State and Donald Simms of Appalachian State. Simms scored 40 points in a 76-74 loss at Mississippi State as an 8 ½-point underdog. He hit 7-of-13 three-point shots with 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. Starkville is a tough place to play, but the nod had to go to former Green Valley High School star Billy White for leading San Diego State to a 79-76 win at then No. 12 Gonzaga as 6 ½-point underdogs. White scored 30 points on an efficient 14-of-18 shooting effort and pulled down 9 boards. Perhaps the votes may have been swayed with a little hometown cooking.

Hit the Tobacco Road
Just when we thought the genius of Roy Williams would have his Tar Heels back in contention after an embarrassing 2009 season, No. 8 North Carolina laid two consecutive eggs against unranked Minnesota and Vanderbilt. Granted, it’s early, and both games lost were on neutral sites, but it‘s still alarming. This week Carolina heads back home to supposedly beat up on UNC-Asheville and the College of Charleston. If you remember, it was last season that the then ranked No. 9 Tar Heels were exposed -- for what we would realize later on -- when they lost at Charleston.

Mountain West Off to Good Start
I know it’s early, but when invitations start coming out in March for the Big Dance, these early November and December non-conference games will be the ones referred to that decide the fate of some teams because of their conference affiliation. San Diego State taking down Gonzaga on the road is a huge feather in the conference’s cap to go along with UNLV’s 68-65 win at home against then No. 25 Wisconsin. True, the Rebels didn’t cover, but fortunately, that’s not part of the equation.

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