What do the college basketball rankings have to do with sports betting? The answer is everything and nothing. There are two national polls for college basketball which influences odds to a degree. Let’s consider both polls – the A.P. Top 25 and USA TODAY Coaches Poll.
A.P. Top 25
The Associated Press (A.P.) started compiling a ranking of the top 20 college men’s basketball teams during the 1948–1949 season. Since the 1950–1951 season, it has issued the poll continuously. It now offers the top 25 teams.
The A.P. basketball poll is comprised of the votes of 65 sportswriters and broadcasters from across the country. Each week during the college basketball season, they pick the top 25.
Each member lists his version for the best teams. All of the polls are compiled with the first team on someone’s list receiving 25 points, second getting 24 points, third place receiving 23 points, and so forth, with the 25th team getting one point. The team that gets the most points is first that week; the club with the second most is second, etc.
The poll is released every Monday and voter’s selections are made public.
The national college basketball rankings are also compiled by the U.S.A. TODAY Board of Coaches. The board is comprised of 31 head coaches at Division I colleges. Each coach is a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).
Originally, United Press International (U.P.I.) published the Coaches Poll; in 1993, U.S.A. TODAY and CNN started publishing the poll. In 2002, ESPN joined U.S.A. TODAY and the NABC as a co-sponsor of the poll.
The poll is developed in the same manner as the AP Poll. The Coaches Poll also offers a final top 25, which is posted at the conclusion of the National Championship.
How They Influence Odds
Although the polls are unofficial and primarily used to create interest and debate in college basketball, they do have influence on public perceptions and on sports betting.
First, the polls create interest in certain teams and games on the part of sports bettors. The general public reads these polls, looking for some insight into which team they should bet on in an upcoming game. They will often compare the A.P. and Coaches polls, as these will usually offer various discrepancies.
The other manner in which these polls have influence is in the creation and interpretation of odds. Bookmakers will crunch a lot of stats and numbers to come up with their spreads and totals; they will also look at the polls, as these will help them determine how big a point spread should be to attract the interest of the betting public.
As an example, let’s say that that Florida is ranked #1 and they are playing Mississippi State, which is unranked and last in the SEC. The SEC is a prestigious conference but Mississippi State is out of Florida’s league and everyone knows that. A lot is expected from Florida in this game.
The odds makers will try to create a spread that appears coverable by Florida, while at the same time getting enough people to wager on the underdog. This will even out the betting, allowing the bookmakers to profit no matter who wins, as they will make cash on the vig.
If, however, the bookies feel that they cannot even out the wagering, then the handicappers will make the spread excessive, hoping that the betting public will do what they normally do: wager on the favorite. If the public does that, and Florida does not cover, then the books rake in a lot of cash. It’s a risk, but handicappers tend to have a very good idea about what most sports bettors will do, and they can exploit that.
Looking for Smart Bets
It pays to review the college basketball polls and then the odds to see how they may be affected by the two top 25 listings. Consider why the odds makers have created the spread on a specific game. Is the spread excessive because they believe that the betting public will wager on the favorite no matter what? Or are they trying to even out the numbers?
If they are appealing to the perceptions of the general public and creating a big spread that is impossible to beat, then you want to consider wagering on the underdog. If the spread seems close, then the favorite may be the better choice, depending on various other factors.
Although the spreads in no way formally influence the next week’s voting by the A.P. and Coaches Polls, the odds do provide everyone a certain perception of a team and a game. That’s because the odds tend to offer a general public perception of what’s expected from each team in the game.
Let’s say Florida is at -25.5 before the game, and although they win, they only do so by 4 points. That may hurt their standings in next week’s poll. Whereas if they win by 22, the fact that they did not cover won’t really influence their ranking in a negative manner. It is more important that the perception and the reality matched.
The A.P. Top 25 and U.S.A. TODAY Coaches polls for college basketball are two tools that smart sports bettors utilize in their handicapping. One major way in which they can help a sports bettor is by putting spreads in perspective. Also, the polls tell you what is expected when no spread is in effect. They do not provide insight into whether or not a team will beat the spread or how many points a team will score.
One other note on odds makers and point spreads. You may start to see movement during the week with the spread being adjusted one way or the other. Be wary of this adjustment before deciding to bet. Bookmakers may be making an artificial move in order to push more cash towards one of the teams. Betting the new spread could put you at a disadvantage.
Utilize the polls carefully. Always take them into consideration each week, and remember that they have no bearing on conference standings or on which teams are invited to March Madness.