Friday, November 14, 2014

Differences Between NBA and NCAA

Many, many versions of this blog ago, I started writing about basketball because I was betting on the NBA in college and wanted to keep track of my thought processes and what I was doing in one spot. Over the years, though, I've gradually bet less and less on the NBA and more on CBB, for a variety of reasons:

1) The talent gaps between teams are much wider

Pretty much anything can happen in an NBA game. Even the worst teams in the league have players who can take over the game on the offensive end of the floor. As a result, there's just a lot more factors that you have to keep track of when you are looking at the outcome of one regular-season game. Everyone who is out there is a professional who is one of the best players in the world. In contrast, even at the highest levels of CBB, there are a lot of guys who will be going pro in something other than sports. You know what you are going to get out of certain guys and you know what you aren't going to get out of them. 

2) There's a much wider gap between perception and reality in CBB

Everything in the NBA is rigorously analyzed and dissected by fans, media and coaching staff. The spotlight is just much, much brighter. Just to give an example from close to home, Mavs Moneyball has written thousands upon thousands upon thousands of words on Jae "The Beast" Crowder, a fringe rotation player who might get 10-15 minutes a night. There's nowhere to hide in the NBA and everyone is watching, at all times.

In college, though, even good teams can go under the national radar all season. There are way more teams and they are spread out across the entire country in much smaller markets and most of them are never on national TV. I've found the sweet spot to be high-major teams on the NCAA Tourney bubble - most people just don't know shit about teams like Utah or Kansas State or Georgia. As a result, it's easier to make money on them.

The flip side is also true - it's much easier for a high-profile college team to carry around a fatal flaw for months without people really noticing. The best example of that is the Kentucky team that missed the NCAA Tourney two seasons ago. They started out the year ranked in the Top 10 and even when they struggled, people assumed they would get better. If you were watching them closely, though, you started to realize that they flat out weren't very good and planned accordingly.

3) The importance of home court is magnified

This isn't the pros - college kids have a much easier time playing at home than on the road, especially in conference season. Stadiums are smaller, more intimate and they are full of belligerently drunk fans who are loud enough to make it difficult to think, much less play. The effect isn't limited to the road players - home players are buoyed by all the energy while refs find it very difficult to consistently make calls against the home team.

It almost doesn't matter how good the opposing team is - there are a number of high-major teams who are going to be very difficult to beat at home regardless. You also have to remember that very few teams are going to go 16-0 or 18-0 in conference play. That's a 2012 Kentucky mark and there aren't many college teams who are going to have Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and MKG in the same front-court. If a Top 5-10 team is going to lose, it's probably going to be on the road in conference play, so just go through their schedule and start looking for potential land-mines. Home underdogs are your friends.

4) Every game counts

That might be the biggest difference between CBB and the NBA. College teams don't cram 82 games into 6 months - they play 30-35 games over 4.5 months and they all matter. If you are betting a game that isn't against Directional State in non-conference, you are betting a game that the team absolutely wants to win. They only play 2-3x a week - there are no back-to-backs and there aren't situations where they are playing 4 games in 5 nights. There are no schedule losses.

From a national level, the only games that matter are in March, so most people assume that the college regular season isn't important. It's true that no one remembers what happens in January and February at the end of the season, but at the time those games are happening, people care a lot. Everyone is constantly freaking out about their standing in the polls and their seeding in March, so any type of losing streak becomes a huge story around the team.

5) Teams change a lot over the course of the season

In the NBA, once you get into January, you have a pretty good idea of how all 30 NBA teams shake out. At that point, the biggest hurdle is keeping everyone healthy and maintaining your pace over a marathon of a season. In college, things are always changing, so there's always new angles to bet on. Injuries are a much bigger deal, since there is less depth, teams get figured out and exposed as their schedules get tougher and young guys grow into bigger roles over the course of a season. A team with a number of freshman and sophomores, which is almost all of them these days, is going to look much different in March than they did in November.

On the whole, college basketball is interesting in a way that the NBA is not. The level of play isn't as high, obviously, but there are still plenty of talented players you can watch. There's a lot more going on and there's a lot more variety - you can see something new and different every night. It's really not as bad as a lot of NBA fans make it out to be.

On another note, I know at least some percentage of the readers of this blog are aspiring writers and I would really recommend that young guys, especially those in college, should be writing about CBB. If you join the student paper, you will get a ton of experience covering high-level basketball and you can quickly establish yourself as one of the leading voices about a particular team, particularly if you aren't at a Top 10-15 program.

Covering CBB will also give you a different perspective on the game, which is so important if you want to get on these days. I have done a lot of stuff in terms of editing younger writers at RealGM and SB Nation over the last few years and it's amazing the level of uniformity you see out there. Everyone watches League Pass and follows Basketball Twitter and cites SportsVU and has roughly the same opinion as everyone else.

If you want people to read your writing, you have to tell them something interesting that they haven't heard other places. And if you are watching the same games as everyone else and taking in all the same information, that's probably not going to happen.

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