The wheel turns to college hoops 

January, 9, 2010

The betting cycle never ever stops. It is an exhausting, feed-the-beast machine whose maw is rivaled only by Internet machines, which information disseminators compulsively fill with billions of bytes of news every minute. I go to this dark place for a reason: Not fifteen hours after the college football season had ended, probably before Colt McCoy had dried his tears and Nick Saban had dispatched goons to take care of the kid who gave him that Gatorade shower, I was on the phone with Alan Boston, talking about college hoops lines. No rest for gamblers.

If you're not a bloggy blog regular, Boston is a long-time Vegas wiseguy whom I wrote a book about, called "The Odds." During the 1999-2000 college hoops season, a freaking decade ago, I showed up at his house 20 minutes from The Strip most Saturdays between November and March and tracked what games he bet on, why he did it and what happened. Most of the time he won. Sometimes he lost. But it was hard to tell either way. The only time I truly saw him celebrate a bet was in the moment he heard he had, miraculously, won five figures on the Music City Miracle.

Every weekend was like a crash grad course in the art of the power rating, the manipulation of lines, managing your bankroll. He was gracious with his time and his knowledge, even if his answers to my questions about how to middle a game often veered off into dissertations about the brilliance of Nick Cave, the tragedy that was the cancellation of "Freaks and Geeks" and how animals are better than people.

Boston is a hoops fan first, a bettor second. He came by his obsession as a student at Penn, wandering the Palestra and taking in Big Five games. The fact that college basketball is the easiest, smartest way to make money as a gambler, as I've written many times, made his career choice easy.

Last season, when I started writing the column, I called Boston once a week and asked him to break down a couple of interesting games for me from a bettor's perspective. With college football over and the NFL winding down, I figured it would be a good time to start that tradition up again. So every Friday or Saturday, you can expect to see Boston in this space, laying down some knowledge on the weekend games. It won't just be breakdowns, though; they will be lessons, much like the ones he taught me ten years ago.

Since point spreads for hoops don't go up until the night before the game, we'll be talking about the games based on his power rating and what it would take for him to bet them. College basketball isn't the NFL: Line movement isn't as dramatic, and the amounts bet on each game can't compare. The point of this weekly entry is to use a couple of games to examine a handicapping strategy. It will be a good exercise for all of you, casual bettors or hard-core degenerates, to get a sense of how a wiseguy decides to spend his money. And if you happen to pick up a tip and make a few bucks, good for you.

This week's lesson: Adjusting power ratings

Ready to focus on college basketball? We certainly are, and with big games starting today, what better time to be an ESPN Insider?