Familiarize Yourself with Outsiders

We have a very unique situation in college basketball this season where several relatively small schools that don't belong to major conferences are likely to earn bids to the NCAA Tournament even if they don't win their conference events.

Now, I'm not talking about Gonzaga. That's a strong program with a great history. They will deservedly be a #1 seed. You should already be familiar with the head coach, their veteran stars, and hopefully you watched them beat Duke in Maui early in the season. That was a great, well-executed game.

Wofford? Do you know anything about Wofford? You might remember that Buffalo upset Arizona last season in the Big Dance...covering by almost 30 points! Have you been following them this season?

If you're going to try to pick winners in this season's NCAA's, you'll need to know more about all of these "outsiders" from mainstream coverage. If you start doing your research NOW, and pay attention to their late season results, you'll be ready to go.

Here's a quick look at a "sweet 16" listing of teams not in the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, SEC, or Pac 12, and how they rank as today's class begins in the computer rankings of Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com) and Jeff Sagarin of USA Today.

Gonzaga: 2 with Pomeroy, 1 with Sagarin
Houston: 14 with Pomeroy, 15 with Sagarin
Buffalo: 19 with Pomeroy, 28 with Sagarin
Nevada: 22 with Pomeroy, 19 with Sagarin
Wofford: 24 with Pomeroy, 38 with Sagarin
Cincinnati: 30 with Pomeroy, 26 with Sagarin
St. Mary': 34 with Pomeroy, 41 with Sagarin
Utah State 38 with Pomeroy, 50 with Sagarin
VCU: 41 Pomeroy, 45 with Sagarin
C. Florida: 42 with Pomeroy, 36 with Sagarin
Lipscomb: 48 with Pomeroy, 69 with Sagarin
Belmont: 50 with Pomeroy, 55 with Sagarin
San Francisco: 52 with Pomeroy, 66 with Sagarin
Murray State: 53 with Pomeroy, 61 with Sagarin
New Mexico State: 54 with Pomeroy, 58 with Sagarin
Furman: 55 with Pomeroy, 76 with Sagarin

Many of those teams are already assured invitations to the 68-team field. Usually, if you're around #45 to #50, you get in...and then a lot of the remaining spots go to distant "auto-bids" from smaller tournaments. You know...the teams that will out seeds #13 to #16 in the brackets.

What's interesting this year is that a lot of those types of teams are better than usual, while we have a well-publicized "soft bubble" featuring major conference teams who haven't established they deserve to be in.

At the very least, you'd better start researching all the teams down to Belmont on that list. Any could be Cinderella stories in a few weeks. It wouldn't hurt to learn about the rest because they'll be playing in the NIT or other tournaments even if they don't go Dancing.

Your homework this weekend is to start researching the strengths and weaknesses of those teams. If you already know Gonzaga and Houston, skip them. If not, get up to speed! Houston almost knocked out eventual national runner-up Michigan last year, and might be seeded to reach the second weekend this time around.

Look at:
*Offensive style (inside or outside?)
*Defense (protecting the rim and overall efficiency)
*Guard play (assist tendencies of guards, and avoiding turnovers)
*Rebounding (this is a HUGE stat in the postseason)
*Market performance (more to evaluate oddsmakers and sharps)

As you're doing that, make a short list of PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS featuring the top 1-2 stars on each team. This will help you analyze matchups in the tournament, applying defensive strengths and weaknesses of opponents to what you've learned about "outsider" stars.

I normally remind you to include THE MOTIVATION FACTOR in your analysis. Here, all of these teams will be super-motivated to make headlines in the NCAA's, so you won't have to worry about that. Lipscomb ain't going to be flat if it's in the Dance!

Some of you may not be interested in this particular assignment. You want to stay focused on your local conferences of interest, or the big TV games. That's fine by me. But, don't then try to pick games involving these teams in the tournament! Just pass those. Either become an expert on Wofford et al between now and mid-month, or pass their appearances in the NCAA's.

If you'd like some help finding daily basketball edges throughout the most important betting month of the calendar year, KELSO STURGEON'S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered by calling my office at 1-800-755-2255 during normal business hours. I have great packages that take you through the rest of March Madness or the NBA Playoffs. Don't forget to ask about Major League Baseball when you call.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates the passion and energy you bring to my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping every week. I know many of you will take the bull by the horns this weekend and get caught up on my list of "outsiders."

Best of luck to you do-it-yourselfers this weekend. Our next class get-together will be Monday, when I'll talk about how to handicap mid-major conference tournaments. Several of those get started next week, beginning with the Horizon Conference Tuesday night. Gonzaga will be in my neck of the woods here in Las Vegas for the West Coast Conference tournament. March is always a huge month here, though it's a shame the Pac 12 is so awful this year. That tournament won't have the buzz in normally does, particularly from Arizona and UCLA fans.

Thanks for your attendance today. See you Monday.