The biggest mistake when betting college basketball

As (a version) of the old saying goes, “the best predictor of future events is past events.”

This is why it is especially important to know the recent trends not only related to the teams themselves in college basketball, but the point spreads as well.

Our analytic systems took a dive into the 340 D1 college basketball games played so far in February coming into today (2/12/21), and broke them down into seven categories via point spreads in 2.5 point increments as follows:

-1 to -3.5, -4 to -6.5, -7 to -9.5, -10 to -12.5, -13 to -15.5, -16 to 18.5, -19+

Biggest takeaway

One of the most popular bets for a lot of people is taking the favorite to cover a small spread, somewhere in the -1 to -3.5 range. The school of thought on this is that if the team is favored, they’re likely to win. And if they win, even if it is tight, late fouling and desperation free throws give them a great shot at still covering.

The theory makes sense, but this is actually one of the worst bets you can make according to the data and other reasons we’ll talk about below. Out of the 340 games, games with this spread range accounted for over 100 of the games and the favorites only covered an abysmal 41.5% (49-69-5).

So why is this? One thing people always need to keep in mind is that lines are set so the house makes the most money as possible, not necessarily based off what they think will happen.

It’s advantageous for a book to make a team they think will win an underdog by a few points, because typically much more money comes in on the other side on the favorite, setting up the house to make a nice profit if the “underdog” wins as they expect.

The best spread to bet favorites – The full numbers

Where we have the largest amount of data, it appears -1 to -3.5 is the worst line to take the favorite, down at almost 40% as mentioned above. When we raise it to -4 to -6.5, we get a bump up to 47.1% (41-46-1).

While still not great, the best area to bet the favorite is up one more at -7 to -9.5, hitting 50.9% so far this month (27-26-4).

Once we hit double digits spreads, it starts to spiral downwards with the limited date we have as of now, but -10 to -12.5 is at 45.2% (14-17-1), -13 to -15.5 is at 25% (5-15-1), -16 to -18.5 is at 41.6% (5-7), and -19+ is at 57.1% (4-3).

If you add everything up, so far this month the favorite has only covered 44.2% (145-183-12).

While the numbers suggest your best bet this season is seeking out the underdogs you like, make sure you do your research before betting a small favorite, as the odds don’t start to turn in your favor until the -4 to -9.5 range.

At the end of the day, make sure you know the trends so you can make a well informed play. Losing sucks, but it stings a lot less when you’ve done your proper research.


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