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Tourney Capping Part 2: 'Capping the Majors

   by Scott Spreitzer - 03/10/2008

Last year at this time I outlined some handicapping tips for picking games in major conference tournaments. By “major,â€쳌 I’m talking about the six BCS conferences from football…the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, and Pac 10 conferences.
I’m not going to repeat all of those strategies at length. College basketball has changed a lot this year. I may not be using some of those tips myself!

In short, last year’s tips were:

*Remember that the very best teams, those already slated for #1, #2, or #3 seeds in the Big Dance, will be prone to flat tournament performances because they’re looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament.

*Remember that there’s a lot of talent in these high end conferences. That means better shooting and more scoring. You may have watched some defensive-minded Unders in mid-major tourneys this past weekend. Scoring goes up in the better leagues. Save your Under plays for when two very strong defenses are on the court. There’s not much Under value otherwise.

*Beware of bubble teams. The media says they have to win. If they could win on command they wouldn’t be on the bubble in the first place!

*Focus your matchup analysis on edges in the paint rather than strength from long range. Three-point shooting blows hot and cold. Defense and rebounding are always there for you.

Why would I change from those fundamentals? It’s been a weird season. You may have heard media reports this week about the “soft bubble.â€쳌 By that, they mean that there are A LOT of teams on the bubble this year, and hardly any of them have resumes that would inspire anybody. The selection committee will have a hard choice because hardly any of the bubble teams really deserve invitations!
This mediocrity in the middle has me a bit concerned about the traditionally sound strategy of going against the big name powers in conference tournaments. You’ve seen many “publicâ€쳌 teams get knocked off surprisingly early in recent seasons. They play flat, and a motivated dog takes them out. Who’s going to take them out this year? It’s as if the report card lost all the “Bâ€쳌 teams that were capable of springing upsets. We just have “Aâ€쳌 and “Câ€쳌 teams or worse now. Do I want to take “Câ€쳌 teams plus the points when they’ve been so unimpressive all year?

I’m going to pay close attention to this in the early rounds. I will very likely be taking the Underdogs when two “Aâ€쳌 teams play each other in semifinal or championship games. I might reduce my dog exposure in other types of matchups. That’s the great thing about sports. Things are always changing. Sharp handicappers have to adjust on the fly if they want to stay ahead of the oddsmakers.

Other adjustments:

*As I mentioned a few weeks back, three-point shooting has become a bit less random over time. I still prefer defense and rebounding. But I’ll be more open-minded about three-point shooting teams in this particular season (the last before the line gets moved back about a foot). The key will be finding teams who can create open looks for themselves. I can tell you I’ll be parked in front of the TV broadcasts focusing on this important factor in the early rounds.

*I will definitely be looking more at Overs this year than in the past. You’ll find that most professional wagerers focus on underdogs and Unders in their legal sports betting. There are a lot of major conference teams this year that play at very fast paces, and have relatively soft defenses. Combine that with the now common “late free throw parade,â€쳌 and you’re going to have some very high scoring games in the coming week. I’ve been charting everyone’s tempos this season. Some explosive possibilities are lining up.

*I’m going to place a little more emphasis this year on the turnover category. It’s always been a key part of the mix. But, this year in particular, it’s become kind of a “tie breakerâ€쳌 in big games for me. If an offense still hasn’t figured out how to avoid turnovers this deep into a season, they’re going to have real troubles winning high pressure neutral site playoff games. An offense that’s good at protecting the ball can keep themselves in the game even if the shots aren’t falling for a few minutes. They’re not giving away anything easy. Execution matters in tournament games. Handicappers should be focused on evaluating how teams execute.

With the old reliable strategies that still work, plus these new adjustments I’m looking forward to using, I’m entering this particular week as confident as I’ve ever been. Oddsmakers really struggled last week with their numbers in mid major tournaments. It’s going to be even worse for them given the unique challenges in place for rating teams in the major conferences right now.
When the oddsmakers are in a position of weakness, we’re in a position of strength!

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