Dealing With Big Point Spreads

College Basketball Betting: Dealing With Big Point-Spreads

By Loot, NCAA Basketball Handicapper,

One of the toughest propositions in college basketball is how to deal with games that have big point-spreads. We are forced to look at it with a discerning eye and ask certain questions. Whichever side we’re thinking of taking, we need to look closely at it to see if it’s in fact the right move. Easier said than done.

What is behind the point-spread? Sometimes, the bookie’s quote will indeed be a fair representation of the probabilities of what will happen. In other words, it’s a good line. Other times, there are issues at play that could make the point-spread a bit shaky. The public plays a big role in spreads. Often times, for a team to even be a big favorite means they are a team that generally has a lot of public action riding on it.

If you suspect the line is wrong, it will usually be inflated on behalf of the favorite. In other words, the favorite is considered a little better than they actually are. That is a tendency on the part of the general betting public. Things that are good tend to get overrated, while what is mediocre or poor gets underrated. It only has to happen slightly for us to find an edge.

Take a closer look at the teams. A team that is a heavy favorite might still be winning, but has actually taken a step back. Even the best teams, the squads that are still standing in the Final Four, have valleys in their season. They’re just not as bad as other teams’ swoons. But they don’t have to be. Even if a team like North Carolina is just a few ticks off their peak form, the lines might represent how the Tar Heels are at their best.

So we look to see if a team is perhaps not as good at this particular moment as the rest of the public thinks. Combine that with the public tendency to back favorites, which could further-inflate a spread and now we see some things starting to form. It could all point to a situation where a spread is ballooned up for the favorite, giving exceedingly good value to the underdog team.

Now if you can hone in on some promising details about the underdog, we have a picture that starts to paint itself. If we see an inflated line, a struggling favorite not at its peak, and an underdog team that is showing signs of getting its act together–we may have to make a move. It can be subtle. Perhaps a losing team is narrowing the gap in its losses. Or maybe the guys on a young team are starting to get something cooking, as they mature as the season grows older.

It can also be infuriating to bet on teams with gigantic point-spreads because they’re not really out to make that happen. A team is trying to win a game. Sure, a much higher-powered team is out to play well. And a byproduct of that could be a blowout against their outmanned opponent. And when a team is down by 30, how urgent are they going to be about cutting the deficit to 17 so you can win the bet?

It goes the other way, though. When betting on a team to not only win the game, but do so by a hefty number of points, you are betting on something that the team is not specifically trying to do. If the big favorite wins by 30, well, that happens all the time. They’re just so much better than their opponent that they couldn’t help but to do that. Other times, you will be in a situation where the favorite’s urgency is not there for you to cover a bet.


If you have a team and are giving 17 points and that team is up by like 12 with a few minutes left, you might be in a tough spot. There will be no real need for that team to start trying really hard in the final few minutes to extend what is already a virtually insurmountable lead. Betting on big favorites can be tough for that reason. You’d like to know a team is actually trying to do what you wagered to happen. But why should they?

At the end of the day, we need to be careful with games like this. There may be spots here and there, but big-spread bets can be the toughest to gauge, whether picking favorites or underdogs.