Four Ways to Spot a WNBA Upset

by Chris Scheeren
on July 26, 2017

If television ratings are the sole barometer, statistically speaking, most of you probably aren’t following the WNBA diligently.  The average WNBA game loses to SpongeBob SquarePants reruns in the ratings, but during the dog days of summer, more than a few savvy and sharp bettors turn to WNBA action to find a winning edge or to round out some value in a nice parlay.

If you aren’t looking at some WNBA lines, you might be missing out on some pretty good opportunities as some powerful trends are emerging in the 2017 season.  Before we dive into some of the more obvious wagering trends, let’s take a quick look at the current WNBA Standings:

Aside from the Bell Curve outliers of Minnesota and San Antonio, parity is reigning supreme in the 2017 WNBA season.  It makes searching for hidden value in lines even more important than in some other sports.  It isn’t as simple as its NBA counterpart where the old “take the rested team if fully healthy versus the team on the road on the backend of a back-to-back.”  WNBA scheduling is less aggressive, and frankly, more sane than with their male basketball brethren.


#1. Points, Points, Points

After the 2015 season, the WNBA changed the rules to shorten the shot clock to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of the standard 24.  This subtle change helped speed pace of play and fueled an overall league scoring increase from 150.3 to 163.8.  It also led to a nice, fat 56% payout on the OVER in the 2016 season as the general public, and Vegas were a little slow on the uptake in realizing the true impact of the change.  This is in sharp contrast to the 46.5% and 45.5% marks in the two previous seasons.

So, has Vegas caught up and recalibrated for 2017?  So far, the over/under balance has been more even this season, at 53.6% but the sharp money is still on the OVER. Only a few teams have been discernably on the UNDER side of the totals; Los Angeles at 7-13 and Indiana at 9-12.  By contrast, many teams have been good OVER wagers, led by Dallas at 15-7 and Seattle at 13-7.

In general, the public hasn’t caught up to the trend of increased scoring across the WNBA, and sharp bettors are profiting at a pretty healthy margin.

#2. Watch the Rosters.  Closely.

A lot of the top WNBA players consider their stateside gig a “side job” especially from an income perspective as most play a full season overseas for greater wages.  Remember the kerfuffle over Diana Taurasi’s decision to head to Russia?  Well, they were paying her a whole lot of Rubles – nearly ten times her measly WNBA pittance.  Because of these other commitments, as well as international tournaments, EuroBasket and 2018 World Cup qualifiers, etc. there will be a lot of in and out for some key players.  The advent of Daily Fantasy should help with more transparent and readily available information, but if you are going to edge into the WNBA wagering waters, make sure you keep an eye on the rosters and availability of top players.

For example, Brittany Griner’s indefinite injury sustained last week dramatically changes the picture for the Phoenix Mercury. 

Elena Della Donne’s nagging ankle injury is reflected in today’s “probable” status.  Before she was upgraded, Washington looked like a far more dubious wager.

Thanks to Daily Fantasy, there are numerous outlets where you can get reliable day-to-day updated injury reports, and you can always go directly to each team’s own site for up-to-date information.

#3. Find a Favorite Favorite

The common trend the past two seasons in the WNBA was to simply straight bet the ‘dogs.  The lack of hardcore interest led to a lot of casual money drifting on the more recognizable teams, inflating the lines for favorites to the point of easy exploitation.  Last season, underdogs won 53.5% of the time.  This season has been a little different story.  Favorites have won a staggering 57.8% of the time.  Perhaps this is a bit of a simple over-correction to Vegas’s overcompensation, or perhaps there are some greater trends at work here.

If you are looking for a favorite team to back when they are the favorite, look no further than Washington.  The Mystics are a crazy 11-3 ATS as a favorite and a dreadful 0-8 as an underdog.  In fact, only 3 of 12 teams have a losing record ATS as a favorite, and only one is more than a single game under .500 (San Antonio is 0-2).  Conversely, only one team is more than two games over .500 as an underdog (Connecticut, 6-3 ATS) and only two others are over .500 overall.

This year, favorites have been the trend to bang hard and sharp bettors have been raking in the favorite profits.

#4. Home May Be Where the Heart Is, But it Isn’t Where the Profits Are:

Home teams are a surprisingly bad bet this season as well, cashing in just 43% of the time so far in 2017.  If you want a wager with some great statistical trends in your favor, find a road favorite in a regular season WNBA game with no other extraneous variables (i.e. a top player not in uniform, etc.)  Only three teams are more than two games over .500 ATS at home, and only one (Atlanta 6-3 ATS) has been genuinely excellent at home.  By contrast, five teams have been AMAZING road wagers.  They are:

  • Connecticut 10-3 ATS
  • Chicago 9-4 ATS
  • Minnesota 7-2 ATS
  • San Antonio 8-3 ATS

The last two are particularly interesting.  Minnesota is the runaway best team in the league.  They are 16-2 SU and are basically the Golden State Warriors of the WNBA.  They have yet to be an underdog in a single game this season.  San Antonio is basically the anti-Spurs of the WNBA, compiling a dreadful 3-19 record straight-up.  Yet both are among the best road ATS wagers in the WNBA.

Regardless of your rooting interest, betting on sports requires good analytics and diligent attention to unexpected variables; injuries, trades, player absences, etc.  Follow the same rules as you would when wagering on football or men’s’ basketball, and WNBA success can be yours.

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