LAS VEGAS — In case you missed it, Rick Pitino has returned to college basketball. In exile since a forced exit from Louisville in October 2017, Pitino is coaching the Iona Gaels and he’s eager to become a leading spokesman for promoting what’s good for the game.
Paying players and hiring escorts to entertain players at parties are not part of his plan.
College basketball, stained by federal and NCAA investigations of cheating coaches in recent years, has a much bigger problem in 2020-21. It’s not breaking news that the coronavirus pandemic, which wiped out March Madness, is creating a headache for bookmakers and threatening to ruin another season. A season that normally would have tipped off in early November has been pushed back to Wednesday, when a different sort of madness will begin.
William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said what most are wondering: “How many games are going to be canceled? Is there going to be a tournament?”
The NCAA Tournament will happen in 2021. Bet on it. But the details are up in the air.
Since the world now revolves around social media, Pitino went to Twitter to announce his ideas: “Save the season. Move the start back. Play a league schedule and have May Madness. Spiking and protocols make it impossible to play right now.”
It’s impossible for some teams — count out the Ivy League — but many are ready to play. NCAA officials recently announced the entire 2021 tournament will be staged in one location, likely Indianapolis, and will be played in March. Of course, everything could change.
“It’s going to be a complete clusterf–k,” Westgate SuperBook oddsmaker Ed Salmons said. “You might as well just try to play now and see what happens.”
What happened recently is two elite coaches — Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim — tested positive for COVID-19. Using college football as the guinea pig, it’s obvious the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences accomplished nothing by pushing back the start of their seasons by about two months. Random coaches and players will test positive and the basketball season will be a mess whether it starts now or in January. A Thanksgiving week tipoff allows the opportunity to squeeze in more games before March.
What does it all mean for bettors and bookmakers? It’s a fast break we’ll figure out on the fly. Before the first 3-pointer is launched, here are three points of emphasis from a betting perspective:
l It makes little sense to bet favorites on the futures board. The team you bet on in November or December could look completely different by March (or May). Only look for long shots.
— There will be late-breaking info that could create some great betting angles. Star players will be ruled out on game day, teams will be forced to play short-handed or on short rest or in difficult travel situations, etc. Hopefully, the info pays off more often than not. As we have seen during the football season, those angles sometimes backfire.
l— Minimize home-court advantages unless we see otherwise. College basketball is a home-court sport in which fans influence refs and the outcomes of games, but that’s changing this season.
Bogdanovich, a former college hoops player, said the action has been light on William Hill’s futures board.
“People don’t want to tie up their money because of all the uncertainty,” he said.
Gonzaga tops the Westgate board at 10/1 odds, followed by Baylor and Villanova each at 14/1, and Kentucky and Texas Tech each at 16/1. The Westgate futures rules stipulate the NCAA Tournament must conclude by Aug. 1, 2021. Most preseason polls and publications tout the Zags as No. 1. Salmons is not buying it.
“Everyone wants to shove Gonzaga down your throat,” Salmons said. “There’s no dominant team.”
I recently made power ratings on about 70 teams and honestly don’t trust my ratings as much at this point as in past years. Who can remember less hype preceding a college hoops season? It certainly appears there are fewer elite teams and big-time players.
One of my favorite players is Villanova senior point guard Collin Gillespie. The order of my top five teams — Villanova, Virginia, Gonzaga, Kansas and Illinois — is subject to change in the first few weeks and the ratings on most teams could be volatile.
— Fire major wagers only when completely confident you are getting a good number on a game and oddsmakers have made an apparent mistake. With unprecedented uncertainty, there will be bad numbers that get posted. But there also will be bad bets. If uncertain, be conservative.
Bookmakers will be quick to pivot by moving numbers or taking down games. Amid a cacophony of chaos, this is a year of constant adjustments.
Another oddity of 2020: this week’s Maui Invitational will be played in Asheville, N.C.