The tournament is still more than two weeks away, but it is an incredibly overwhelming event as a sports bettor. There are so many games, and so many ‘experts’ with opinions and insights to offer, that at a bettor can make bade decisions if they haven’t done their work to get ready well in advance. If you wait until the Wednesday before the first games are played you won’t have the time to do the handicapping required, and you won’t do as well as you should. Like the teams that are heading to the tournament, you need to go into tournament training if you want to be at your best for the big event. Here are eight things you can do to get ready to cash in on March Madness:
1. Study the top twenty teams in the country. Most, if not all, of the teams that will earn the top four seeds when the bracket comes out are currently in the top 20. Most of the Elite Eight will come from the top four seeds. That means that you are likely to handicap the top four seeds more often than any other teams over the course of the tournament. That’s a huge advantage. You have two weeks to get to know everything there is to know about the teams. that’s a unique situation in sports handicapping. By the time the games tip off for the first time, you should know these 20 teams as if they are your children. Know the type of offense and defense they run, the kinds of teams they have excelled against and those they have struggled to beat, the top players and their strengths and weaknesses, the vulnerabilities of the team, and the current trend they are on at the end of the season. If you have particular trends and statistics that you favor in your handicapping, then take the time to apply them to these teams in advance. the more you know about these teams in advance, the more ready you will be when the tournament starts.
2. Ignore the hype. The worst thing to happen to sports bettors is the success of teams like George Mason. Now the media and the public are constantly on the search for the next Cinderella story, and they will point at every mid-major team as a possibility. You have to block all of this out. Don’t get sucked into what a team may accomplish unless you can find enough on paper to make you feel that it is possible.
3. Don’t watch the conference tournaments. This may seem odd given the need to know as much about teams as you possibly can, but I firmly believe that the tournaments can create more confusion than clarity. The conference tournaments are unique and prove little. Teams play more games in a short period of time than they are used to, they play against teams that they already know well, and they come in with varying motivations, so it is hard to judge the teams involved in many ways. Unless a team suffers a serious injury during the tournaments, it is far more likely that you will learn nothing helpful from the tournaments, or at least find yourself more confused, than if you just pretend they don’t exist.
4. Study conference winners as they clinch their spot. Over the next week and a half conference will start to pick their representatives for their automatic bids. As each team is named, take the time to get to know them. You want to secure the same basic knowledge that you did for the top 25. Since a large number of the automatic bids are going to be low seeds and likely underdogs in the first round, you will want to pay particular attention to how the teams have fared against top competition. Beyond that, I find it useful to quickly sort these teams into groups – pretenders, contenders for a first round upset, and teams that could be dangerous.
5. Go back to campus. You obviously can’t travel to all of the schools in the tournament, but school newspapers are the next best thing. Schools are thrilled that their teams made the tournament, so it will be a major focus of the campus news rag. Most of those papers are available online, and they can provide first hand knowledge and insight into teams from smaller schools that is far more insightful than what the major media will provide.
6. Get to know the at-large teams. You won’t know for sure which teams are in until Selection Sunday, but any of the major sports media sites will give you a good sense of most of the teams that will find a place, and the approximate seed that they will end up with. Again, you need to study them like you would the other teams on this list. You want to pay special attention to why they are an at-large bid. They weren’t good enough to get an automatic bid, so what was the problem, and will that problem impact their performance in the tournament? In other words, you need to determine whether they are a legitimate contender who is an at-large because they come from a deep conference, or if they are too flawed to go deep and are destined just to fill a spot in the first round bracket.
7. Study historical trends. At the very least you need to know the basics – a 16 seed won’t beat a one, and nines beat eights more than half the time. Beyond that, the more time you spend understanding what has happened in the past, the better chance you have of avoiding costly traps. History often repeats itself in the tournament.
8. Set your own lines. As soon as the bracket comes out, spend the time to set your own lines on the games before you look at what has been posted. If you have done your homework you will get a good sense of what you expect the approximate lines to be, and you can spot any big differences between your expectations and the actual lines. The public often causes bizarre lines in the first round of the tournament, but you can only take advantage if you have a sense of what the lines should be in your opinion.