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Sweet 16 and Elite 8 Tips

   by Scott Spreitzer - 03/19/2007

The second weekend of the NCAA Tournament annually offers up some of the most interesting handicapping challenges of the entire college basketball season.

It's the closest you get in this sport to having a football feel to your handicapping. You've got several days to focus on just a few key matchups. This allows you to really break down the strengths and weaknesses of every team and mentally play out all the games. And, since you do so much work preparing for the Sweet-16 games on Thursday and Friday, the Elite Eight games two days later basically handicap themselves.

Here are some handicapping tips I hope you'll consider when making your selections in these next two rounds of the Big Dance.

*Most championship caliber teams will have one game in the first three rounds where they play below par. They either suffer an upset or barely survive. If you're handicapping a game involving a team that just survived one of those games in the second round, you should expect a bounce back in the Sweet-16. If you're handicapping a game involving a power that just won two blowouts, you should realize that the "sweat-it-out" game may be imminent.

This is the opposite of how the general public usually handicaps the powers. If a team looked shaky in their last game, the public gives up on them and bets the other way. If a team looked dominant, they lay the points and assume the blowouts are going to continue. History shows that the public loses badly with that approach. The long preparation time between the second and third rounds allow the powers to fix problems that showed up in a poor outing, but gives them time to get overconfident after a blowout. Look for possible reversals!

*The key to winning games RIGHT NOW in college basketball involve the following: stellar defense, strong rebounding, and the ability to attack the basket in the paint on offense. Of course, those have always been the keys. But, RIGHT NOW, several of the top teams have shown strengths in those areas. I think that's why there were so few upsets in the first round this year. The superior seeds were strong across the board in those categories, and the possible Cinderella's couldn't do anything to counteract it. Basically, the only way to beat all of that is to hit a lot of three pointers. Nobody could do it.

Still, there are a few teams in the Sweet-16 that aren't as good on defense, rebounding, or attacking the basket as the others. You need to know who they are. And you need to make sure that you're not asking too much of them in this rarefied air. Handicapping college basketball means focusing on those areas.

*We're at a point in the tournament where decision-making becomes huge. Games can and often do swing on a poor decision or a smart decision at a critical moment. This means you need to spend some time thinking about the head coaches, and the maturity of the players.

Regarding the coaches, you should look over their career won-lost and ATS marks in the tournament, particularly in the later rounds. Coaches who make mistakes don't win the big games. Coaches who make the right choices do. You don't even have to be smart enough to know yourself what the right decisions were. You just have to study the report card that the actual results provide. (Of course, sharp handicappers DO know what the right decisions were!).

Regarding the players, you should study the turnover category in their recent games, and the full regular season. Smart teams avoid turnovers. Erratic teams are constantly trying to overcome their turnovers. It's easier to do that in the opening rounds against lesser teams. It's much more difficult when you step up in class. And, if the opposing coach is a good chess player, than the erratic players are going to make even more mistakes as they run into surprises on the court.

You've probably heard that the NBA is a player's game, but college hoops is a coach's game. That's a simplification. But, it's most true from the Sweet-16 on in the NCAA tournament. Decision and strategies matter. Be sure you factor in this element when handicapping.

The tips I've outlined today will help you properly analyze all eight Sweet-16 games Thursday and Friday night, and the four Elite Eight games over the weekend. You've really got to focus on the things that work, and don't work in a playoff atmosphere. It's not about power ratings any more. It's not about who looked the most impressive against lesser competition last week. The REAL BASKETBALL is about to begin!

It looks like we may be set up for one of the most exciting final stretches in recent tournament history. Best of luck navigating handicapping rapids.

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