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Vegas Vice Returns

Due to popular demand, Barry Lieberman is back, this time on college hoops.

Last week, I pushed (tied) on my

Super Bowl

bet on the


and ended the season with a 41-36 record.

With football season over, the focus of this column will obviously shift. It's hoop season now, and due to popular demand, the Vegas Vice column will continue through the end of March Madness. I will project spreads and look at which teams are "coming on" or "cooling off," as well as find teams that are underrated or overrated.

This week, I am posting the top 25 teams in my power ratings. You will note that the following teams, which are rated in the top 25


poll, do not appear in my top 25 power ratings:

Auburn (10)


Utah (19)


Iowa State (20)


Oregon (23)

TheStreet Recommends


Maryland (25)

. In their place are



St. John's






Southern California

. These ratings are, of course, subjective, and as you get down to spots 20 through 25 there will be a lot of rotation from week to week depending on injuries to key players and teams that get hot.

Gonzaga is a team that is consistently underrated by the polls because it virtually never plays on national TV. While


is still undefeated, I will be looking to bet against it when it's on the road because I believe that it is slightly overrated. Here is Lieberman's Top 25:

As I've done in football, I'll teach some about handicapping. This week: how point spreads are made in college hoops.

The method is similar to college football, except the home-court values are larger in basketball. The point spread on a neutral court is simply the differential between the two teams' power ratings. To that neutral-court point spread, you add the home-court value to the home team's power rating. Home court is worth anywhere between 4 and 7 points. For example,


usually has a huge home-court advantage because of the travel its opponents must go through to play the Rainbows. I add 7 points to Hawaii's power rating when it plays at home.

Other teams which have 7-point home-court values are any team located at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet (e.g.,





Colorado St



) when they are playing a team that plays at an elevation of less than 2,000 feet. Teams like



Fresno State







are also strong home teams. Other spread factors include scheduling dynamics, travel and other things that I will discuss as the season unfolds.

This weekend there are two matchups between top 25 teams -- Saturday afternoon's contest between



Michigan State

and Saturday evening's contest between




. In the first game, Connecticut's power rating is 89, and Michigan State's power rating is 92. Michigan State has a 5-point home-court advantage. My projected point spread is Michigan State -8. Stanford's power rating is 93. Southern Cal's power rating is 86. I give USC a 5-point home-court value. Thus, I predict the point spread will be Stanford -2.

If the actual point spread differs by more than 3 points from my projected point spread, I will make a bet. That is to say, if Michigan State is favored by 11 points or more, I will bet on Connecticut. If Michigan State is favored by 5 points or less, I will bet on Michigan State. In the evening game, if Stanford is favored by 5 or more, I will bet on USC. If USC is a favorite by a point or more, I will bet on Stanford. When an experienced bettor is asked, "Who do you like?" in a particular game, the correct answer is almost always, "What is the point spread?" The same discipline that is involved in football betting is also necessary in basketball betting.

Let's look at this weekend's televised games and my projected power ratings.

Let's see how my projections compare with the actual lines posted on Saturday and Sunday. See you next Friday.

Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years, and welcomes your feedback at