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March Madness

   by Al McMordie - 03/13/2011

Well, the Conference Tourneys are over. Now college basketball steps into its most exciting season, the race for the overall championship game. Many times during the season, and even in some conference tournament games, you can find college teams that are less likely interested in wanting to play hard. That is, they know they're going to get hammered, or they've slumped so badly down the stretch that they realize they have no shot at going anywhere in tourney play. In short, they've given up on the season or on a particular game where they are a big underdog and know their season is over.
I'm not just talking about the Big Dance, but smaller tournaments also taking place this week, such as the NIT and the Insider Tournament. Some teams are happy to get an invite, and some are disappointed. That brings into play a whole new set of handicapping dynamics. How to analyze a team from the MAC against one from the SEC? Or a team that has played hard the last month to get here, versus a team that just lost its conference tourney as a favorite and might be disappointed? Here's how to examine college basketball teams and situations during the final phase of tourney time.
Road Play: Some teams have a noticeable weakness on the road, such as poor road defense, or they consistently fail to cover when away from home. Some college tournament games are on neutral courts, but it can be helpful to check both teams' road play when analyzing individual matchups to get a sense of how they play away from home. Penn State, for instance, despite making the Big 10 title game was just 3-8 away from home.
Non-conference competition: Some helpful sports wagering web sites have this broken down in easy-to-read columns. One season North Carolina, for instance, was 15-0 SU, 11-1 ATS against non-conference foes, dominating outside their conference. On the other hand, you must take this a step further, too: Examine next who those non-conference games were against.
If they were against all small-school teams with poor records, then it's not as helpful as if they played against top-notch non-conference opponents. The Tar Heels, in that example, won and covered against BYU, Ohio State and at Kentucky, and whipped two by double digits, so they didn't go easy on teams they were supposed to beat. The Butler Bulldogs made the title game against Duke a year ago, but they didn’t play as well this regular season when stepping up against non-conference foes, losing to Louisville (88-73), Xavier (51-49) and a rematch with Duke (82-70). A year ago at this time they had wins over UCLA and then-No.15 Ohio State on their resume.
Location: Sometimes teams luck out by getting placed in a tourney game that is very close to home, while some tournament games start with the team with the better record gaining home court. Many times as the tourney moves along, however, it can be played at a neutral site.
This week's NCAA tournament play will be in Denver, Tampa, Tucson, Washington DC, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland and Tulsa, with next week’s tournament regionals in Anaheim, New Orleans, Newark and San Antonio. Some teams will have a short distance to travel, while others could be at a long traveling disadvantage.
Also, examine school web sites and find out how many tickets have been sold. Some schools have a great fan base that an away or neutral site game could seem like a home game with such a big edge in the stands with fired up fans.
Their Role as a Dog? Check how some teams fared as an underdog during the season. Cal Santa Barbara advanced to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. They had a win over No. 22 UNLV, 68-62, as a +15 dog, then the next game got blown out by San Diego State, 90-64, a mixed bag. Memphis is back in, but in their only two step-up games got blown out by Kansas and Georgetown (0-2 ATS), not exactly stepping up against the biggest and the best.
A bigger name school like Kentucky is 2-0 SU/ATS as a dog, while mighty Duke was a dog once and got beat at North Carolina. A year ago Duke was not a dog all season while a team like Maryland was 4-3 SU, 5-2 ATS in 7 games as a dog, very impressive numbers. Last year, Ohio State may have won the Big 10 tourney, but notice they were 1-6 SU/ATS that season as an underdog, then got bounced by Tennessee in the Sweet 16, 76-73. The Buckeyes were a dog against Florida back in November and blew out the veteran Gators, 93-75.
History: Has this team been here before? Some teams are new to tournament play. Check their recent history. Is this a surprise team that came out of nowhere to get this far? Does their starting five have any experience at all in March tournament play? Butler, for example, just earned its fifth straight NCAA tournament berth and 11th overall in school history, so they've been here before, something to jot down whenever they play. By contrast, the Indiana State Sycamores earned their first NCAA tournament bid since 2001. Digging into various details can help turn a profit during the season called "March Madness." Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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