The Short Window of a Single Game

By Loot, NCAA Basketball Handicapper,

College Basketball Betting: The Short Window of a Single Game

When betting on NCAA basketball, we need to constantly remind ourselves that the game is short–40 minutes of play. Anything can happen. What we think might occur doesn’t always come to fruition over the course of 40 minutes of play. If the teams played a bunch of times, certain things would come to bear. But in 40 minutes? Weird stuff can stick.

What follows are strange examples, but they make the point. A decent poker player who plays home games could play with the best in the world and for an hour–he could make it look like he belongs. Over time, he’d get crushed, but the things that make the pros great might not surface over the course of just an hour. A local pro fighter could fight a world-class guy and hang in there for a few rounds, making it look like he belongs, before getting beaten badly.

The point is that when we handicap college basketball games, we can only be so certain that the things that make the better team a favorite will manifest in a 40-minute window. We can assume it will. It often does. But not always. Therefore, we can only be so disappointed when things don’t go according to plan when the window is so short.

For any number of reasons, a team can be off. These are young kids for crying out loud. It can be anything. A heavily-favored team can just be a little down in the dumps. A star player might be having problems with a relationship. When you’re 19, those things can really resonate in a bad way. These guys aren’t machines. They’re normal young men with all the things that go with that.

Sometimes, these teams simply don’t show up. They’re in the arena, they’re playing ball, but they seem rudderless–as if they’re somewhere else mentally. Their opponent perhaps isn’t very respected, leading to an air of complacency. The coach is having an off-day. The center has a bad cold. Their top threat off the bench is thinking about family problems back at home. It can be anything.

On the flip side of the coin, the underdog team might be on the other end of the pendulum. A few of their players is on head-rush. Remember those? When you were 19 and just had a little more “umph” for whatever reason. You normally can barely touch the rim and then you manage a couple semi-dunks. You feel like you’re ice-skating up and down the court. These are some of the swings in mood and form that come with being a man 18-22 years of age.

It happens a lot more than you’d think if you didn’t watch college hoops. There is a constant dynamic of teams under-performing, while their opponent is able to play over their head for a short time. And 40 minutes of game time is a short time–where things obviously don’t always go according to form. And when it happens–it’s not exactly an aberration. It’s a commonplace occurrence in college basketball.


As bettors, we need to embrace the fact that weird things can happen in a 40-minute window. And we shouldn’t be too incredulous when it in fact does occur. When we see a number-three ranked team lose to a team that isn’t in the top 100, we can only be so shocked. It’s not exactly a UFO landing in your backyard in terms of shock value. What really happened that is so crazy? A good team played badly. Big deal. Their shots didn’t go in. They were sluggish. The other team had a lot of wind in their sails and over a 40-minute window–that all added up to a big upset.

The point is that we handicap and make the best calculations that we possibly can. Then we hope to see it pan out over the course of one game. We just need to keep it in the forefront of our minds that we are not handicapping who is the better overall team or which squad has the better long-term prospects. When we are betting on one game, we’re merely predicting what will happen in a 40-minute window of game time. That’s a small sample pool and when we wager on a tiny slice of the total pie–we need to be prepared to accept the unexpected.

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College Basketball Betting

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