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Using Match-ups to Handicap the Tourney

   by Scott Spreitzer - 03/20/2006

This is a great time of the sports betting season to examine individual team strengths and match-ups. This is because there are so many games taking place during the college basketball tournament, and because teams play so many varied styles. There are fast-breaks teams (Duke, Gonzaga, Washington), teams with mammoth inside strength (LSU, BC), or teams that try to compete by slowing the game down to a crawl (Texas A&M, Bucknell, Penn).

Coaches vary their styles depending on the talent at their disposal. A coach with a deep roster might use an up-tempo game to his advantage, while teams like Boston College or LSU have strong low post talents so their first mantra on offense is: Get the ball down low! In the world of handicapping, identifying and examining the various match-ups is one of the great challenges of the business.

Wichita State is a team I backed during the first two games of the tournament because of the match-up problems they presented Seton Hall and Tennessee. The Shockers are very team-oriented, possessing excellent balance, with such grinders as Missouri Valley Conference Player of the year Paul Miller under the boards and guard Matt Braeuer. I noticed coach Mark Turgeon made a change late in the season by putting Brauer at the point and the Shockers took off winning 6 in a row, including the Missouri Valley regular season title.

Braeuer was a key during that run, as he is a traditional point guard. His main job is to find the open man. You won't see Braeuer firing up outside jumpers early in the clock. He's disciplined, smart and cares only about T-E-A-M. That's as much a tribute to coach Turgeon as it is to Braeuer. Notice that against Seton Hall, Brauer took only 6 shots even though the game was a blowout. He had 6 assists, 6 rebounds and 9 points as Wichita State won 86-66. He could have taken more shots, but was more interested in his role, playing the team game and doing grunt work.

Then against No. 19 Tennessee, Brauer took only 4 shots (making 2) as he helped the Shockers shoot 50 percent (to Tennessee's 39 percent) as they topped the Vols as an underdog, 80-73. Notice that Wichita State had sensational balanced scoring, with 4 players scoring between 10-17 points. This shouldn't some as a shock (so to speak), either, as the Shockers have been balanced all season with four starters averaging between 10 & 14 points per game.

Another key trait is that Wichita State can play and win in a slow-down game or in an up-tempo affair. Teams that have that kind of flexibility this time of year are at a big advantage. Duke can do that, though they prefer up-tempo, as can Florida. We may think of the Gators as all-running, but don't forget they just won the SEC title game last week over South Carolina 49-47. The Gamecocks challenged the Gators to slow it down, and Florida had no trouble shifting tempo and still winning. In fact, in that SEC championship game, Florida didn't flinch shifting styles, shooting 49 percent while South Carolina shot 30 percent.

Two teams that utilized a distinctive match-up edge Saturday were LSU and Boston College. Both advanced by using their inside bulk. LSU road the broad shoulder of Glenn Davis (21 points, 8 boards), while BC clobbered Montana on the glass 43-24! How bout BC's offensive rebounding edge: 15-2! Good coaches know how to use any match-up edge, and good handicappers use a similar analysis to identify potential point spread covers.

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