Don’t Be A Square in the Conference Tournaments

MY 12-3 TOURNAMENT RECORD THE PAST FOUR DAYS

2-2 Tuesday With Tournament Plays
50 Units…Syracuse (-4) 73, Wake Forest 64 (WON)
15 Units…Charleston (-2.5) 83, Northeastern 76 (WON
15 Units…Cleveland State (+9) 57, Wright State 74 (Lost)
15 Units…BYU (+9.5) 54, Gonzaga 74 (Lost)

3-0 Monday With Tournament Plays
25 Units…Northeastern (-8) 79, NC-Wilmington 52 (WON)
15 Units…South Dakota State (-7) 78, North Dakota State 52 (WON)
15 Units…Wright State (-4) 59, Wisconsin-Milwaukee 53 (WON)

4-0 Sunday With Tournament Plays
25 Units…Michigan (+4) 75, Purdue 66 (WON)
15 Units…Radford (-2) 55, Liberty 52 (WON)
15 Units…Lipscomb (+6.5) 108, Florida Gulf Coast 96 (WON)
15 Units…Northeastern (-6.5) 74, Delaware 50 (WON)

3-1 Saturday With Tournament Plays
25 Units…Michigan (+5) 75, Michigan State 67 (WON)
25 Units…Loyola-Chicago (-6.5) 62. Bradley 54 (WON)
25 Units…East Tennessee State (-11) 77, Tenn-Chattanooga 59 (WON)
25 Units…Northern Kentucky (-13.5) 80, Cleveland State 89 (Lost)

Now that we have a major conference college basketball tournament underway, I’m starting to hear a phrase from bettors in sports books that’s prominent every year.

“Doesn’t that line seem low to you?”

Casual bettors lose money every March because they can’t shake the square tendency to want to bet favorites. That’s compounded by the fact that “neutral court” lines are closer to zero than those played on home courts. A guy will remember that a prominent team was laying -7 at home during the season in a game they won by double digits. Now, on a neutral court, the line is only -4 (home court is usually worth about 3 points in this sport), and they think they have a steal.

Sometimes they do. More often than not, they’ve trapped themselves (there are not “trap” games in Las Vegas except those built by the bettors themselves) into laying points when they should have passed or thought about the other side.

A few things for you to remember about major conference tournaments, whether it’s the Big 10 event going on right now in Madison Square Garden (where underdogs are off to a 5-1 start against the spread), or next week’s showcase attractions.

*The public wants to bet favorites. Sports book directors know this, and charge a premium to do so. Even when a line “seems low” to you, it’s often a half-point to a full point higher than it should be due to this “defense” that oddsmakers must play against public money. Sure, a lot of favorites cover anyway. But, you’re unlikely to be a winning gambler if you only focus on chalk during conference tournaments. Sharp bettors don’t pay premiums, they put those free points in their pocket.

*The nuances of tournament play often favor underdogs. Neutral crowds will pull for the underdog if a game is close. Favorites often get caught thinking about later rounds in the tournament, or the Big Dance if they’ve already earned at least an at-large bid. Underdogs are often playing to save their season, or at least improve their shot for an invite if they’re on the bubble. You’ll often see revenge off a recent meeting, or “double revenge” from the regular season in tournament play as well. That favors underdogs motivationally. If you’re looking to bet favorites, you’re often getting the worst of the price and the intangibles.

*What’s perceived as an advantage from a “bye” can turn out to be a disadvantage if the rested favorite comes out flat or rusty. Underdogs who won the day before are riding a wave of emotion, and have already gotten rid of first day jitters. They’re also very familiar with the new shooting backdrop and any other quirks of the site. Sharps will often bet the “tired” team in the first half because of these factors. Did you notice that both “Day One” winners at the Big 10 (Iowa and Rutgers) won their first halves the next time out (over Michigan and Indiana). Heck, neither dog lost in regulation, with Rutgers winning outright and Iowa finally running out of gas in overtime. Don’t get me wrong…overall, the superior team having a rest advantage can pay off over 40 full minutes. But, the assumption from squares that it’s a huge advantage is wrong. Ask the guys who laid -9 with Michigan and -7.5 with Indiana.

*Probably the biggest factor this year is that the public bets based on media hype they hear on television…and there just isn’t that big a difference this season between those slated for Sweet 16 seeds and everyone else. You’ve surely noticed that in recent days. Duke lost to Virginia Tech. North Carolina lost at home to Miami. Villanova lost at Creighton and almost lost at Seton Hall. Virginia needed a miracle (or two, or three) to win at Louisville. The media spent three months making squares think that “the elites” are head and shoulders above the pack when they’re not. They’re only a couple buckets better than bubble teams on neutral courts. Buckets can be tough to come by late in close, high pressure games.

So, if you find yourself thinking “that line seems a little low” this week and next, please double check to make sure you’re really on a favorite in a great spot. Those do happen. Just not as often as you’d expect. It won’t do you any good to be “really” right about five favorites that win blowouts if you’re also losing with eight others who couldn’t overcome the dynamics discussed today. Sharps are looking for ways to go 7-6 or 8-5 in those games.