One of my pet peeves as a professional gambler is when sportscasters give a score and call a game an “upset” when the favorite covers. Generally it is when an unranked team beats a ranked team.
The announcer, oblivious to home court and home field advantages assumes the ranked team was expected to win.
Similarly, I follow several sportsbook directors via Twitter. An every growing type of comment was uttered by well-respected former Vegas Sportsbook Director Todd Fuhrman (@ToddFuhrman), “I’m not a bracketologist but to hear the talk of Georgetown as a potential #1 seed is laughable. They’d be dogs to at least 15 teams.”
The financial markets disclaimer of, “Past performance may not be indicative of future results” certainly explains the differences between seeding/rankings and point spreads.
Harangues about pet peeves aside, there are gambling lessons to be learned. One of our Golden Rules we’ve stated on our sports betting podcast is to use the oddsmakers knowledge against them.
When an oddsmaker is making an emphatic statement—the kind that squares may think are counterintuitive—gravy train what they are saying.
A good example would be the better looking sisters of the “Bet on unranked favorites to ranked teams” age-old adage. Much like the NBA zig-zag, blindly betting it is not wise. But there is a modified version.
All of our angles are weighted. The “louder” or the more seemingly contrary the statement is, the stronger we assess it. For example, an unranked team that is a one-point favorite to the No. 23 squad is barely a blip on our radar.
But if such team is laying three-points to a Top 10 squad, that is an example of where we use an oddsmakers knowledge against them and bet the unranked team to win and cover against the highly ranked squad.
Probably unprecedented, in a four-day period in 2013, four times a Top 12 team was an underdog to an unranked team: Jan. 30 No. 12 Oregon to Stanford, Jan. 31 No. 10 Butler to St. Louis, and Feb. 2 No. 6 Syracuse to Pittsburgh and the same day No. 12 Oregon to Stanford. All four times the unranked favorites covered.
When teams have elongated winning streaks and are posted as underdogs, again we almost always bet the favorite. Two of our biggest bowl picks in 2012-13 were Florida State over Northern Illinois and Alabama over Notre Dame (our Game of the Year). Why? NIU and Notre Dame entered the postseason with the longest winning streaks in the country. Both were substantial underdogs.
In both cases, the winning streaks were snapped in blowout routs in which the favorite covered.
In summation: put a checkmark in the column of betting on unranked favorites to ranked teams, but most importantly weighing much more heavily the larger the point spread and/or the higher ranked the underdog is.
Other examples are betting on favorites in long losing streaks or betting against underdogs that are in large winning streaks. How large is “large?” Again, the bigger the favorite and/or the longer the winning streak, the more heavily we consider.
The next time the sports radio update guy calls a game an “upset” when it’s not, laugh at him—all the way to the bank.