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by Al McMordie - 03/15/2006
If you didn't get enough madness this weekend, or were out of town, don't sweat it. You get to go mad all over again! This is a unique week as teams play for the NCAA title while those that missed the Big Dance have to settle for an NIT title. One of the great parts 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.
With the games meaning so much in the Big Dance, this is a great time to mention how important defense is. Strong defense requires all out effort from players, and we are now reaching that point in the year where the meaning of games is far more intense. Simply put, you either win, or go home. That's different than the regular season and even far different from the conference tournament play that we just witnessed. Many teams that lost, such as UConn and North Carolina, still knew they'd be playing again this week. But now, it's win or your season -- no matter how great it might have been -- is over.
Don't be surprised to see a lot more fierce defensive games with so much on the line now. A good example of what to expect just took place in the SEC and Conference USA title games. Memphis and UAB, two strong offensive teams, played lights-out defense in a 57-46 Memphis win. That went under the total by 41 points! And Florida beat South Carolina for the SEC title, 49-47, in a game going under the total of 130. It's more common to see close games and intense defensive battles.
Two years 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 the rest of March. Wisconsin, too, turned on the defense that season, going 2-1 under the total in the tourney, knocking off Illinois 70-58 as a one-point dog in the title game. This is the time of the year for defense!
In fact, you can find a whole bunch of teams that just got invited to the Big Dance that can really turn up the defense when they want to -- teams like Wisconsin, NC Wilmington, Southern Illinois, Texas A&M, UCLA, Memphis, Pitt, Indiana, Kentucky, Utah State, Air Force, George Mason, Georgetown and Pacific.
And many have already been great 'under' plays against the spread: UCLA is 18-11 under the total, Southern Illinois is 19-13 under (23-8 under last season), and LSU is 17-10 under the total. Over the next month you will see upsets, fantastic finishes and plenty of rugged defense. Because March is money time! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.