by Jim Feist
March tournament play is one of the most exciting times of the sports betting calendar. A seemingly endless stream of games, at times running morning, noon and night, will test the nerves and cognitive powers of fans and bettors. It can be a time of highs and lows, with streaks, exciting finishes and surprising upsets.
There are all kinds of factors to carefully examine. While the big man is so important to winning championships in the NBA, college basketball tournaments find more of a premium on strong guard play. The sparkplug guard handles the ball, controls the tempo, and can go on a hot run from three-point land at any moment. Remember that the college three-point shot is closer to the basket than the NBA trey. In addition, poor guard play can result in too many turnovers, which can be a killer to a team’s momentum and hopes of advancing.
From a betting perspective, it’s important to remember that the general public leans toward the favorite and games over the total. What’s unusual during the March tournaments, especially in the early rounds, is the amount of big-name schools matched up against lesser known colleges. Betting lines on these matchups can be enormous.
This is where a good handicapper needs to understand teams, coaches, styles of play, matchup analysis, and even that the March tournament is a completely new season. All kinds of different things take place.
Teams win in all sports with defense, of course, and college basketball is no different, especially when the games mean so much in March. Many teams that are good enough to make the tournament have relied all year long on defense.
Another point that stands out is the underdog. Naturally, casual bettors are drawn to the big-name teams that are often favorites, like Arizona, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State. However, there are scores of examples of little known underdogs rising up and sometimes even slaying Goliath. One season in the first round, Wisconsin-Milwaukee upset Alabama 83-73, UConn squeaked by Central Florida 77-71 as a 19-point favorite, Bucknell stunned Kansas 64-63, and Vermont took Syracuse to overtime and won 60-57.
Plenty of live dogs hang in there and regularly pull of big surprises. Don’t be afraid to back underdogs during March tournament play. One way to identify live dogs is how they play down the stretch. If a team is hungry and turns on the jets to either win a conference title or shoot for a 20-win season, that can be reflected in their play, both straight up and against the number.
Another factor to keep in mind is experience. Many lower seeded teams seemingly come out of nowhere and then the school disappears to mediocrity for a few seasons. Of course, they don’t have a lot of experience year after year playing in the tournament, and experience can be an important asset. In March tournament play, the public may be caught off guard by surprises, but the astute handicapper anticipates them.