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Major Conference Tourney Wagering

   by Scott Spreitzer - 03/09/2009

I think most handicappers would consider the upcoming week of major tournament action to be the most exciting sequence of college hoops all season.

*There are day games and night games all week long.

*Every game means A LOT…and some games mean EVERYTHING!

*There are several handicapping elements which really only come into play during this week (back-to-backs; double revenge; superpowers having obvious reasons to be flat).

If you like really digging into the stats; the strategies; the matchups; the coaching approaches; it’s just a dream week for handicappers.

Last week I outlined many keys I use for handicapping the mid-major tournaments. Most of those will still apply this week. Defense and rebounding wins championships. Guard play is essential because you can’t succeed in playoff style basketball if you’re turning the ball over. Depth is important whenever games are being played in consecutive days. Check the archives if you missed that article because I’m not going to do a re-run here!

The main differences this week are:

*The best teams in the nation have reasons to be a little flat. They’ll talk the talk, but they’re still much more excited about next week’s NCAA Tournament than they are this week’s conference tournament. We see it almost every year. The top seeds get taken out earlier than expected. The second seeds often do too. Some analysts believe coaches purposely only go at three-quarter speed to save themselves for the Dance. What’s the point of killing yourself with three wins in three days against teams that hate your guts when it’s better to be fresh for your Dance openers?

Most mid-major contenders last week didn’t have that luxury. If they didn’t have a bid locked up, they HAD to win their conference tournaments. None of the top seeds in major conferences are in the same boat. Some already have #1 seeds locked up even if a miracle happens and they lose their first conference tourney game.

*There’s a large number of “bubbleâ€쳌 teams who know they have to win at least one game, and maybe two to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Just listen to ESPN all week, and they’ll CONSTANTLY tell you who the bubble teams are! There were very few of these in last week’s mid majors.

Recent history has shown that teams on the bubble typically underachieve pointspread expectations. The public bets them because they “haveâ€쳌 to win. But, if you’re on the bubble in the first place, you probably don’t have an extra gear to use in crunch time (or you would have used it already!). The Vegas lines go up, but the team doesn’t get any better. Some fold under the pressure and play below past standards. A few will rise to the occasion and play well. Most won’t, and your betting value comes from that knowledge. You won’t win them all, but you’ll win more than you lose.

That’s what’s new this week. Overpriced powers and bubble teams! This makes the tournaments very interesting. Teams who are too good to be on the bubble, but not in position to coast to a great seed, often play the best through their events and beat the Las Vegas spreads. There will also be some “off the radarâ€쳌 teams who start making some three-pointers and string together some wins. It’s not that hard to do if you keep running into panicky bubble teams and powerhouses who are saving themselves for next week!

Picking winners during the major conference tournaments involves merging the fundamentals I outlined last week with the intangibles I’ve discussed so far today.

*Imagine the power of taking a quality live dog that plays good defense against an overpriced top seed that’s thinking about next week. You’ve got a great chance to win this game outright, let alone cover the spread. Defense is big already. Defense against complacency? Money!

*Think of the value when a nervous bubble team with shaky guard play is laying points because the public is betting “need.â€쳌 The turnovers will be even worse than normal, and the favored side will lose outright. It’s the COMBINATION of poor guard play AND nerves that really makes this a great betting scenario.

*What about a respected up-tempo seed that’s been winning all season in spite of mediocre defensive play (there are a few of these actually)? Having to play in back-to-backs makes them tired, which hurts the defense even more. If this kind of team starts thinking about next week too soon, they’re going to allow 80+ points and get spanked. We may see this at least once in EVERY conference this week!

That’s what we should thinking about during this very exciting week of college basketball tournament action. In the day games - in the night games - from Tuesday morning until Sunday afternoon. Mix the tangibles with the intangibles and stir up some winners!

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