The NCAA Division I Tournament is over, and anyone who bet on the Duke Blue Devils is rolling in the dough while people who wagered their hard-earned cash on this year’s sure thing, the Kentucky Wildcats, are pulling extra shifts to make up for their loss after the team failed to even make it through the Final Four.
Of course, there were some who foresaw Kentucky’s loss to Wisconsin prior to the semifinals. As much as we had tried to root for Kentucky, even we had said on a couple of different occasions that the Badgers might be able to take the Wildcats out of the tournament if they exemplified their strengths as a team.
If you followed those links up there, you can see what we’re talking about. Even when we were talking up the Wildcats, there were moments at which we had to put aside any personal feelings toward Wisconsin’s star player Frank Kaminsky and admit that the Badgers had a solid chance. This wasn’t done simply out of fairness to the team, but because we had looked at certain variables that led us to the conclusion that Wisconsin had an edge over Kentucky that previous teams they’d faced just couldn’t offer. To those of you who are new to the world of sports betting, the variables of which we speak are a major part of handicapping. And with the NBA postseason coming up, now is the time to start thinking about it.
The following article will walk you through the basics of betting on basketball, including basic information regarding how odds are displayed as well as some helpful tips for those who wish to learn how to handicap a game on their own. This is a guide for complete beginners, so if you already know the basics of betting in general and all that interests you is handicapping, you may wish to scroll down a bit. It is always recommended to those who are able that they employ the services of a knowledgeable team of handicappers, but it also never hurts for a novice bettor to learn the basic guidelines of handicapping and how it is done. Whether betting/handicapping basketball at the NBA or NCAA level, the principles are generally the same.
Numbers to Look At
If you are completely new to sports betting and have read our beginner’s guide to betting on baseball, you may think that betting on money lines in basketball is more or less the same animal as it is in baseball, and that betting on the spread is similar to betting on run lines. However, run lines in baseball are fairly different when compared to how the spread is factored in when betting on other sports such as basketball and football.
The spread is everything in basketball, so we will examine that first. It also makes sense to discuss the spread first because not every venue will have money lines for basketball games (although many of them will). Betting on the spread is pretty easy to understand, especially since just about every venue will give around -110 odds on the spread. This means that a winning bet will receive close to dollar for dollar, with a slight loss from every dollar the bettor wins.
Imagine that the upcoming April 9 game between the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers has Golden State favored, with a line stated as -9 (the numbers for each team are direct opposites, so the line for Portland would be +9). This means that there is a spread of nine points for the game. If you bet on Golden State, then the team must win by at least ten points in order for you to collect anything. If you bet on the Trail Blazers, then they must either win the game or lose by less either three points or less. However, if Golden State wins by exactly nine points, then the game will become was is known as a “push.” This will often result in a refund, as neither team can be said to have covered the spread. Pushes are not exceedingly common, but they do happen.
It is important to note that point spreads are not set numbers. They are subject to change over time, and it is important to know whether the venue at which you are placing your wager will allow you to maintain the numbers that were in place at the time of betting. Some will not.
The other important number that you will see when making your wager is the total, or the over/under (O/U) number. Let’s say that the aforementioned game has an O/U of 209.5 at the time of betting. Note that, much like the point spread, this number is subject to change over time. In any case, an over/under of 209.5 indicates that Portland and Golden State are expected to have a high-scoring game against one another.
When you are looking at the over/under number, the spread does not really matter. An over/under bet is a completely different animal, as it depends solely on whether or not the total score of the game is more or less than is listed. As we noted above with the spread, many sportsbooks will offer a payout based on offs of -110 for both over and under bets. This is relatively different from baseball, a sport in which these numbers have the potential to change drastically from one game to another.
Now, let’s talk about money lines. You will not see these at all venues, but many do offer them. When betting on a favored team, money lines are nowhere near as beneficial as betting on the spread or making an over/under bet. However, when betting on an underdog, betting on money lines can result in some of the most lucrative wagers you will ever make in your life.
Take, for example, the April 8 game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Minnesota Timberwolves. When at least one sportsbook first opened betting on that game, they had favored Portland with a money line of -3500. This is abysmal, and it would not be worth betting enough money to make a significant return. However, Minnesota was listed as an underdog with a money line of +2500 according to that same venue. If you were to bet as little as $10 on Minnesota and they were to win with that money line, then you would win $250.
Of course, those odds aren’t the most common in the world, and it’s important to remember that the venue in question had posted those odds quite some time before the game. Money lines are sometimes much lower closer to game time, but they still offer a much greater payout for the underdog while the payout for the favored team is rather low in comparison to the payout for spreads and over/under bets.
Ultimately, money lines will often depend on how close to the game you are betting and how likely one team is considered to beat the other. In a game between the Toronto Raptors and the Charlotte Hornets, Toronto was favored at -160 while Charlotte’s money line was +140. That same venue had set respective money lines of -350 and +290 in a game between the Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic. Meanwhile, in a game between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks, they had favored the Pacers with a money line of -1000 (which was even lower at some other sportsbooks) and had given the Knicks a money line of +750 (which was even higher at some other sportsbooks).
Novice bettors might want to stick to spreads and O/U bets, but money lines can be extremely profitable when one expects an underdog to win. Simply bear in mind that, much like over/under totals and point spreads, these numbers are subject to frequent change leading up to the game.
Types of Wagers
The above information covers most of the bets that you might be able to place by simply looking at the numbers and putting some money down, but there are other options that might be preferred by some bettors.
For instance, much like in other sports, some may wish to combine a number of games to make a parlay. While parlays in baseball take the money lines from each game and apply the winnings from one successful game to the next one, parlays in basketball are a bit more straightforward.
Every venue will treat parlays different, but parlays involving three teams are usually given 6-1 odds. However, since parlays generally require the team to cover the point spread, it should be noted that a push on one game would reduce this parlay to two teams, which many venues would give 13-5 odds. Four teams are usually around 11-1 odds, five teams are usually around 22-1 odds, and six teams are usually around 44-1 odds. It is much less likely to make a successful parlay as more teams are added, but the payout tends to get larger and larger. For instance, many venues offer 90-1 odds on a parlay of seven teams. In the rare event that someone makes a seven-team parlay that pays out, then they are likely going to win much more than if they had simply bet on the favored teams in seven separate games to win the point spread.
Some bettors may like to skew the odds in their favor, and this is where teasing comes in. Teasing is essentially buying points, paying extra money on a wager in order to adjust the point spread slightly and better the odds of winning. A person might tease a straight bet, or they might even buy points on a parlay if they are particularly keen on increasing their winnings.
Of course, buying points will generally affect the payout as well. For instance, it was noted above that a parlay of seven games is often given around 90-1 odds, but this is reduced to about 10-1 if the bettor has bought four points in their favor. Even so, the increased chances of a payout may be worth the reduced winnings if one lacks confidence in their bet. When teasing a point spread, it usually makes sense to go for a parlay due to the incredibly small takings offered by a straight bet. Anyone who decides to buy points might consider adopting a “go big or go home” type of mindset.
If you read our beginners’ article on betting baseball, then you have already been introduced to the concept of arbitrage. This is where you find two different sportsbooks with different underdogs and bet the underdog on each one. Basketball is not always the easiest sport for this, as many sportsbooks are likely to have similar favorites unless the game is particularly close.
However, those who bet on basketball might get a fair bit of bang for their buck if they decide to try their hand at middling. This is a strategy that is best implemented when the point spread on a game has been changing frequently.
For instance, there is one sportsbook that currently has an upcoming game between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat listed with Chicago as a one-point favorite. This means that Chicago would only need to win by two points to cover the spread, so the bettor would wager on the Bulls with that particular sportsbook.
Now, say that the same bettor finds another sportsbook in which the spread has either changed or was listed differently from the beginning. In this book, the spread is listed as three points, meaning that the heat must either win, or that they must lose by less than three points. Not only does the bettor have more chance of winning at least one bet, but they will win both if Chicago wins by at least two points. The greater the difference in the point spread, the better the odds are of this happening.
It should be noted that professional sports bettors who attempt to middle a game do not just go by any difference in the point spread. They tend to care about specifics. For a beginner, however, figuring out the value based on half-point differences might be a little overwhelming. Those who are just starting out in the world of sports betting would do best to only use middling as a strategy when there is a significant difference in the point spread on two books or when it has changed by a relatively significant amount on one book.
Variables to Consider
Let’s face it, most betting strategies are somewhat gimmicky and do not always assure major payouts. The best way to assure a quality bet is to do the research. Basketball can be a difficult game to handicap, as there are a lot of specifics. It is not like football, where one might analyze one team’s offensive style versus another team’s defensive style. It is not like baseball, where the only player matchups generally analyzed are those between the batters and the pitchers. Instead, each player’s individual performance will factor in when handicapping a basketball game.
The first thing you are going to want to do is analyze each team independently of one another. Look at their five most recent games, and see how well they performed. How did they do in terms of shooting, rebounds, steals, etc.? Be sure to look at both offense and defense, and consider taking down the numbers for each player’s percentages.
Now, try to examine this data in the context of looking for trends. Take the averages of each team’s players in each category and average them together to see how they perform as a team in regard to rebounding and such. You want to see if one team might have an edge over the other in any aspects of their performance.
Once you have assessed each team individually, it is time to start looking at matchups between each team’s players. Identifying each team’s strengths in terms of playing style will give you an idea of which matchups might be the most important. If one team has multiple players who are known for guarding the perimeter, then you will want to know the shooting styles of the players on the other team to see who is most likely to deal with the defenders in question. This is really one of the most important parts of handicapping basketball, as many games are decided by just a few players whose performance is too much for the other team to handle. Knowing who those players are and what they have to offer will give you an advantage when placing your wager.
Next, you are going to want to expand your research to the past ten games instead of simply the last five. In this case, you are not assessing the players but rather the team as a whole. Look to see how well they performed. If they won, check to see if they had maintained a lead throughout the game or if they drove ahead the score in the last few minutes. If they lost, see how close it was. There are a number of questions to ask. Had the winning team been running out the shot clock? Did one of their better free throw shooters excel at drawing fouls? Looking at these games will see what type of strategy your team plays well against, as well as which strategies tend to get the better of them.
When looking at the past ten games, you are also going to want to look at certain outside circumstances that may have been a factor in the team’s performance. For instance, you will want to check and see if each win or loss was a home game. Many teams do not perform as well on the road. You also want to see if any of these ten games were played back to back, as the team might have been tired and their playing style might not have been indicative of their usual performance. After assessing this information, look to see if any of it applies to the game on which you are betting.
Injuries are another major factor that you should take into account when handicapping basketball. You want to know how is going to be filling in for each team’s starters in the event of an injury. Just because a player is kept on reserve does not mean they cannot hold their own on the court, so you might want to look at some of their stats and consider matchups between the reserves and the star players on the opposing team.
If your team suddenly starts to look like less of a safe bet when you start taking injuries into account, then you might not want to bet on them this time around. Injuries don’t occur in every game, but you don’t want to find yourself placing a large wager on a team that you think is a sure thing and then losing your money because their best forward sprained his ankle. If your team still looks alright without one of their star players, and the other team looks absolutely dreadful without one of theirs, then you might go ahead and place your wager.
There should be one final word of caution regarding handicapping as it applies to basketball games. Basketball teams tend to play frequently over the course of a season, often as many as two or three games per week. This differs from football, in which a team might play once during the week at most. There is not a night that goes by during the regular basketball season that there are not multiple games going on, so those who wish to bet frequently may not have a lot of time to handicap their games.
In addition, some teams may not have as much time between games as some other teams, so this needs to be factored in when you are assessing each team’s chances of winning and covering the spread. This is especially true if the team has a long way to travel between two games, as they will not be nearly as well-rest as the home team. Even a home team might be exhausted if they have just gotten back from a series of road games.
For situations such as these, it never hurts to find other times that each team has performed under similar circumstances. It will add a great deal to your consideration when forming your wager. With so many factors to be taken into account between the teams and the individual players, not to mention outside variables such as game time and location, it is difficult to handicap a game too carefully. The more time you spend reviewing the data, the better.