How to Handicap the NCAAs
I have to say that I was fairly impressed with the job done by the selection committee this season. Sure, there are a few head scratchers in the brackets. Villanova won the Big East regular season and tournament, but is seeded at #6 while Marquette is a #4 seed. That doesn't make any sense. But, compared to the gross errors of past seasons, big improvement!
Of course the style of handicapping I've been teaching for years here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping doesn't concern itself much with seeds. You focus on the skills of key players and overall teams, then you make any adjustments needed for intangibles. That's true if it's two #11 seeds playing each other in Dayton, an 8-9 game Thursday, a 4-13 game Friday, or any meeting beyond.
Let's talk about applying the fundamentals to the 2019 Big Dance.
*PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS: history has made it very clear that one great star can carry a team to victory, even for an underdog (particularly for an underdog in the first round!). Sometimes, that player can carry a team all the way to the title. Review your regular season notes so you know who the PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS are on every team in your area of focus. Do the best you can to get caught up on other parts of the country (if you only handicapped the ACC and the Big East during the regular season, start researching the Big 10 and Big 10, etc...).
If you don't have time to evaluate the lesser known auto bids, just pass those games. You can't assume they'll all get squashed! There are certainly some talented players even on those teams who are capable of carrying their team to a point spread cover against a disinterested big favorite.
I will admit that the growing influence of three-point shooting has diminished this area just a bit. Could Danny Manning have taken Kansas all the way in the modern era? Maybe not. But, most teams still have a focal point on offense that determines how things are going to play out. Be sure you're focusing on multi-dimensional point guards (the "quarterbacks" of college basketball), and big men who can get to the rim and draw fouls. Even in the three-point era, Zion Williamson is the ultimate GAMEBREAKER.
*THE MOTIVATION FACTOR: You relatively new students are probably thinking "how could THIS matter, isn't everyone fired up for the NCAA Tournament?!" While all the kids are excited about playing, some top teams fall into the trap of assuming their first game is going to be easy. There is a "lack of motivation" factor for many big favorites who may not be particularly inspired to play Colgate, Abilene Christian, or Georgia State.
Your homework between now and Thursday for this factor...rate the "gets the juices flowing" angle on a scale of 1-10 for all of the top 16 seeds (#1 through #4 in each regional). Maybe you give Virginia a full "10" because the Cavaliers are so embarrassed about losing a 1-16 game last season, and they have extra rest after losing in the ACC semifinals to Florida State. Maybe you only give Michigan State a "3" against Bradley because Sparty just won the Big 10 tournament and is thinking ahead to a possible Elite Eight meeting with Duke.
By itself, this won't trigger any bets for you. But, when combining it with your PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS study, you'll find some great spots where underdogs led by a scoring star will be getting a big number from a relatively disinterested favorite.
We've talked in much more depth about team skill sets in recent coursework. I trust you'll apply what you learned there regarding defense, rebounding, avoiding turnovers on offense, and smart coaching (particularly late in close games) to this week's matchups. You saw how important that latter note on head coaches in last week's tournaments. There were games where NEITHER offense could get off a good shot in the final three minutes (great for Unders). There were others where a versatile offense scored at will. Sometimes being a winning handicapper is all about predicting crunch time performances in virtual pick-ems.
I'm looking forward to watching the lines move through the week before posting my game day selections for paying customers. I already have my eyes on a few spots that are ideal for major releases. I can't get specific here in the coursework because that wouldn't be fair to clients. Rest assured that great bets ARE out there if you're willing to do the work that uncovers all the buried treasure.
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What a great time of year to be a sports bettor! I'm glad so many new states have joined the fun, with more on the way. This is the first "legal" March Madness betting experience for all of you in New Jersey and Mississippi.
I'll be back Friday for our next class get-together. We'll probably talk about how to handicap the round of 32 that will be played Saturday and Sunday. Though, I'm always willing to go off the syllabus to read and react to anything happening in the betting world. If there are dramatic developments on that huge Thursday schedule, we'll talk about what it might mean for handicapping the rest of this great event.
The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates your attendance and hard work. Good luck in all the games between now and Friday, including the NIT if you're going to dip your toe in that basketball classic. Great field this year! See you Friday.