You’re a fool if you don’t know that April 1st is when the Final Four contests commence, with the NCAA National Championship being determined on April 3rd.
It is a crazy time of year all-around and college basketball embraces this insanity whole-heartedly. If you’re planning on wagering on March Madness-the biggest sporting event of the month and one of the most heavily bet events each year-you may want to consider a few important facts when choosing your brackets or making a team-on-team wager.
March Madness features 65 teams from some of the best known and also from some of the lesser-known college hoop conferences. Certainly you’ll see teams from the prestigious Atlantic Coast, Big East, PAC-10, SEC, Big 12 and Big 10, and you’ll also find various other conferences represented, such as the Metro Atlantic, Big Sky, Big South and America East. Most fans will have heard of and know something about the teams from the more competitive conferences, however the schools from conferences that are not closely followed during the year are often difficult for even experts to analyze.
In the first round, bottom seeds contend against top seeds with the results usually being predictable-the top seeds more often than not win. However, as far as covering goes, that’s a different story. When you look at underdog teams from lower ranked conferences they rarely win, but about half of the time they beat the spread, which spells “upset” for the bettor.
Whether you’re considering the first round or focused on the Sweet Sixteen, which is when making your picks gets extremely difficult, here are a few guidelines to help you make productive wagers.
Ranked Number 1? Big Deal:
In the last 20 years, the team nationally ranked number one going into the tournament has won it only three times. Since 1966 the top three NCAA teams have all battled it out in the Final Four only once. Let’s face it, most teams competing in March Madness are pretty good and when you come down to it, what’s the difference between the seventh and first ranked team? Not a whole lot. This is especially true in a sport where during the regular season there have been virtually no head-to-head match-ups between initial tournament participants. An additional fly in this year’s ointment are the numerous conference changes that various teams have initiated, with more than a half-dozen perennial March Madness contenders switching leagues.
The bottom line is-do your homework. Read up on the teams and find one or two experts who have crunched the numbers for you and really analyzed each club according to how they’ve performed in various situations.
Some Things Won’t Change (Probably):
Teams that play well on the road tend to do well in the March Madness frenzy, where almost every team, except for the top seeds, play away from comfortable, familiar surroundings. So, if a team has been a road warrior all season, they will probably continue to be that same animal in March and possibly into April.
During March Madness teams usually step it up, performing at an extremely high level. If throughout the regular season a team has played and consistently beat good teams, chances are they will continue to do so from March 14th to April 3rd. It is a tough, grueling tournament, and you want to back teams that can step up to the challenge every time. Who are they? They tend to be the clubs that have been stepping up all season.
More experience and less talent will more often than not beat more talent and less experience. Why? It’s the nature of March Madness. Teams are under a lot of pressure, playing in unknown arenas and in the national spotlight against teams they’ve never seen. There’s a lot of travel and little rest between games, which translates into an advantage for a team that’s been there before with a coach who has experience in the March Madness pressure cooker.
Numbers That Don’t Lie (Well, Usually They Don’t):
There are no guarantees when it comes to any sporting contest. With that in mind, here are a few basic statistical observations to consider. When it comes to championships and March Madness, 13 of the last 15 teams have either been a number one or two seed. In the past 26 years (since 1979), the final two teams vying for the championship have been there before. (Limits the field a little bit, doesn’t it?) Finally, in the last 24 years there has always been a number one seed in the Final Four. Do long shots win it all? In this contest, hardly ever and certainly not in the last quarter century.
Conferences are important. If a team plays in an elite conference, has faced the type of competition that a tough conference offers, and has done well in their conference, they are definitely a contender. If they play consistently well, that means more than the occasional blowout victory amongst various games they’ve blown in the final minute. Look for teams that play well under pressure.
With those tips in mind, you’ll want to consider that in the past seven NCAA Tournaments, two teams in the Final Four came from the same conference and in the last five of six tournaments three teams in the Elite Eight came from the same conference. In eight of the last 11 Sweet Sixteen rounds, one conference has contributed four teams and last year nine of the sixteen came from three conferences-the Big East, Big Ten, and ACC.
You’ll want to look closely at top seeded teams from powerful conferences. Although it’s called “March Madness,” remember that wagering on teams that are presently strong and have been strong contenders in the past may be conservative but it makes sense. Look for a conference that has at least four teams in the tournament and stick with them. Odds are that you’ll have someone in the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four.
Also, consider a well-conditioned 10 or 12 seed for one of your picks. Why? Since 1997 each Sweet Sixteen round has had at least one 10 seed and in five of the last seven Sweet Sixteen’s a 12 seed has been there. How do seven, eight, and nine seeds do? They don’t even come close to performing the way 10’s and 12’s do. However, more often than not a three to eight seed makes it to the final four. Do your homework and pick one from this group to become a member of that heralded quartet.
Team and Tournament Specifics:
If you’re serious about wagering, you’ll want to read at least one or more of the many in-depth reports available through various media-magazines, newspapers, and the Web. A good report will include an analysis of the team, especially the point guard and the interior players, road and home record, recent performance, playing style, turnover ratio, penchant for committing fouls, injuries, tournament history, bench, and coaching.
As an example, consider these few key elements as they relate to the tournament.
Point Guard and Interior Players:
Point guards are often the playmakers on the court-controlling the tempo, keeping the team on the same page; and leading by example. A sound, dynamic point guard can be the difference between long-term survival and immediate elimination. As the stakes get higher, the position becomes even more important.
Strong, solid interior players who can bang inside and control the boards are essential. Teams in the top conferences work hard to secure guys who will wear down and dominate other teams inside. The Big East, ACC, Big 12, Big 10 and PAC-10 are noted for tough, interior play. In this brutal tournament these types of players can be the difference in the second half of any and every game.
A team with key players who get into foul trouble can be in big trouble in the tournament. The best of the best referees will be officiating and they won’t hesitate to make a call no matter how close the game is or how little time is left. During crunch time, when mistakes tend to happen, is also when cool-headed experience can pay off for a team.
It’s a long road from the March 14th tip-off to the April 3rd final game showdown. A deep, mature bench offers a huge advantage to any team. There’s no way around it, every player is important during this three-week period.
If teams are making mistakes during the regular season, they will continue to do so in the post season. Turnovers will kill any team’s chances of advancing to the next round. Again, think-point guard and the bench.
How do you evaluate toughness? First look at the coach and his staff. Consider how disciplined the team is. Find a time when the team lost a tough one or got blown out and look at how they responded. Don’t just consider the next game but the next series of contests. Did they meet that opponent again?
How durable are the starters and how driven are they to play? Is this a team that has players sitting all the time due to injury?
Is there one guy, a true team leader, who may not be the most talented player on the court but is savvy, dedicated, and focused on one thing-winning? Does he push the other players to excel through example, team play, and determined grit?
Another part of toughness relates to a team’s legs or ability to play up-tempo ball. If a team can control the tempo and run with the best of them, they’re not going to give up, and they will usually not be intimidated. If pushed, they’ll push back. They’ll counter the energy of the other team every time.
These are just a few ways to assess a team’s toughness, which translates into durability and resiliency. Both are needed to go deep into the NCAA Tournament.
A Final Thought on the Final Four:
Often people make gut choices rather than analyzing a team’s performance, reading some expert analysis, and considering match-ups and trends. If you really want to go deep into the tournament, then do your homework. It can payoff, taking you to the National Championship by insuring that you make sane picks without bending to the pressures of March Madness.