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College Hoops: Not Ready For Prime Time

   by Bryan Leonard - 03/19/2010

I'm not a big "trends" guy when it comes to handicapping games, unless there is clear evidence that can be justified to explain a particular angle. The college basketball tournament is in full force this month with dozens of teams competing for the NCAA Final Four and the NIT tournament championship.
Examining trends can offer some insight. Kansas State, for instance, has been undervalued all season, finishing up the regular season on a sizzling 15-6-1 ATS run. I recall a year ago Creighton of the Missouri Valley Conference was 9-2 straight up and 10-1 against the spread as an underdog, while the UCLA Bruins were 12-3 ATS as a dog.
Now that's a trend that piques my interest. Is it a coincidence? Or are these teams undervalued by oddsmakers and the public, or simply ignored all-together. They certainly have been able to rise up and bark loudly as dogs. With something like that, I would look into their schedules and check carefully if they are just barely covering their games, getting a few breaks here and there, or are they blowing teams away as a dog? Then I'll check the individual team -- is this a veteran group, or a young team that has exceeded expectations? Or, perhaps, the schedule-maker has been kind and they have been a home dog too often.
I recall last season teams that made it into the NCAA tourney: Iowa State allowed just 64 ppg and was 15-9 "under" the total. Duke had the No. 1 defense in the ACC and went 17-11 "under" the total. Duke has been a terrific team under the total this season because their reputation is run-and-gun and bombs away from long range (which they do), but they are an underrated defensive team.
Another way to gauge this is by examining non-conference play during the season. I recall one year I saw Southern Illinois play in November during a tournament in Las Vegas and was impressed with their quickness and defensive hustle. I was not surprised they were in the Big Dance again, and not surprised they were 23-8 "under" the total that season with that terrific 'D'. In short, the trend that Southern Illinois has been a money-maker under the total has reasons behind it, which I saw in person.
All of which can lead you to ask questions: Is this team undervalued as a dog? Is this team overrated as a favorite? Asking questions and finding answers can help you cash winning tickets at the betting window!

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