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College Tourney Handicapping

   by Scott Spreitzer - 03/02/2009

Man, the college basketball season is just flying by!

We’ve got the first postseason tournaments ready to tip off this week:

*Horizon League First Round: Tuesday

*Ohio Valley Conference First Round: Tuesday

*Sun Belt Conference First Round: Wednesday

*Missouri Valley Conference First Round: Thursday

*Colonial Athletic Association First Round: Friday

*West Coast Conference First Round: Friday

*Southern Conference First Round: Friday

*Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference First Round: Friday

Longtime fans know that these mid-major conferences have their tournaments a week early, while the big boys from the best conferences are still finishing their regular seasons. So, we’ll have all of these lower profile tourneys this week, then the ACC, Big East, and everyone else will have their tournaments next week.

I’m going to spend the next two articles talking about the differing approaches you have to take when handicapping conference tournaments. There really is a big difference between the mid-majors and the majors in terms of what the best teams have to do in their events.

*Some of these leagues will only see their tournament champion earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. So, the best teams have to win. It’s not like the ACC or Big East where anyone with a winning conference record can probably relax.

*Few of these mid major conferences will have more than two teams even under consideration. Those two teams better reach the finals, or the selection committee will find some reason to stick the 7th place team from a major conference in the Big Dance instead. The pressure is on ALL good teams to really produce.

*The host site can play a big role in the dynamics of these events, as some teams will have large rooting contingents while others might as well be playing in a mausoleum. It’s vital that you factor in varying degrees of potential “home courtâ€쳌 advantage even for teams who aren’t playing on a true home court. The major conferences usually draw decent crowds no matter where they’re being played.

I’ll outline some tips for the major conferences next week. Today, here are some keys for handicapping the mid-major tournaments you’ll be attacking in the immediate future:

*Respect the tournament favorites. You don’t want to ask them to cover huge prices because they’re pacing themselves for a busy weekend. Lay small or medium spreads with the top seeds, but don’t lay double digits.

*Respect the “localâ€쳌 teams, meaning anyone making a short trip to the site. Add in at least 1-2 points for “home courtâ€쳌 just because the crowd is likely to make a difference in a close game.

*Respect the teams that play the best defense. It’s very important that you study defensive stats from the regular season to get a sense of who defends the paint well, and who defends poorly. In halfcourt, playoff style basketball…this is typically the tie-breaker that will win the game for somebody. When the top seeds are also the best defensive teams in the league (looking at field goal percentage allowed rather than overall scoring), they have a very good shot at running the table.

*Respect teams with good guard play. This is a hallmark of tournament handicapping. You have to treasure every possession. Teams with good guards will have more successful possessions. Teams with erratic guards will have more “lostâ€쳌 possessions where they turn the ball over or force up a bad shot. Sometimes a team with shaky guards will survive a first round game because they shot well. Don’t bet on their good fortune continuing.

*Go against any team that just shot lights out from three-point range the prior game. It’s very difficult to string together hot shooting performances. Defense remains consistent, but shooting blows hot and cold. Go against anybody who just blew hot! Inconsistency is much more common in these lesser leagues, so you really have to pay attention.

*Go against any team that advanced while giving most of their minutes to the starters. You have to have depth to win a tournament. Any team playing on back-to-back days with a six-man rotation or almost all of the minutes going to the five starters will be in trouble. Some mid majors are quality teams with five fresh guys and one star…but become very mortal with five tired guys and a star who doesn’t have his legs any more.

*Remember that “parityâ€쳌 means taking the underdogs…but “superiorityâ€쳌 means it’s okay to lay small spreads! That’s probably become the most important aspect of college basketball tournament handicapping the past few seasons. When is a game truly a toss up? When does a team have a legitimate edge they can exploit to get the win? In toss ups, any points you get from the oddsmaker are a gift. If there’s a legitimate edge in play, the spread isn’t going to matter because the superior team will pull away and coast to a cover. Do the work so you know how to tell the difference between scenarios!

Don’t make the mistake of waiting for the “bigâ€쳌 tournaments to start before you really focus on handicapping the postseason. Some of the biggest edges every March come in these smaller events that have limited TV coverage and limited betting action from the general public. They’re low priority for the oddsmakers, but high priority for professional wagerers.

Do your research, make intelligent decisions, and you’ll start building a bankroll you can keep adding to all the way through March Madness.

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