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Revenge + Defense = Tourney Winners

   by Scott Spreitzer - 03/03/2005

One of the great aspects of March tournament play is the amount of sidebars that can pop up with respect to handicapping. That is, tournament play offers bettors many different factors to analyze and digest. For instance, many conference tournaments play three games in three days. Handicappers need to look at this carefully: Does this team have the depth and bench strength to play three games in three days? How have they done in back to back spots during the season? Do they tire out in that second game? If so, what were the reasons?

Depth was certainly a great asset for No. 1 UConn a year ago. They have a very good team now, but remember last season they had Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafur - talk about a team with depth! Speaking of UConn, the Huskies are a good example of another factor to keep up on in March - defense. Strong defense requires all out effort from players, which is not always easy to do. Sometimes during the regular season teams will give a strong defensive effort in the second half after coasting in the first half, or if the game is a blowout at the half, they won't play all-out 'D' down the stretch.

This is less likely in tournament play, however, as the games have far more importance. It's more common to see close games and fierce defensive battles. A year ago, UConn went 2-1 "under" the total in the Big East tournament, holding Notre Dame to 58, Villanova to 67 and Pitt to 58, one that started a 5-1 "under" the total run in March. The Huskies had the talent to play tough 'D' all the time, and really picked things up in the tournament.

Teams can also be meeting in the tourney for the second and even third times. This can bring in poten! tial revenge matchups, which handicappers must keep up with. Note that UConn only lost back-to-back games once all of last season. Those two losses were road games at Notre Dame (as a 9-point favorite) and at Pitt. As scheduling fate would have it, UConn then played them again in the Big East tournament. And the Huskies went 3-0 SU/ATS in the tourney, shutting down the Irish and Panthers to 58 points each game, after allowing 75 and 80 in those earlier losses. In fact, UConn went 14-1 SU on the way to winning the title AFTER those back-to-back Big East losses.

Wisconsin, too, turned on the defense a year ago on the way to winning the Big 10 title, going 2-1 "under" the total in the tourney. They thumped Illinois 70-58 as a one-point dog in the title game - think Illinois will remember that one if they meet again soon? Another defensive team to keep an eye on is Southern Illinois. The Salukis play tough defense with a mark of 21-8 "under" the total this season! In the tournament a year ago, they kept it close against Alabama (65-64 loss) in a game that sailed under the total. Over the next month the big college basketball upsets will receive much of the national attention. But astute handicappers know that little things, such as revenge, back-to-back spots and defense, can help turn March plays into big winners.

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