Some made for TV events work better than others. One of the best, from both a spectator and a betting perspective, is ESPN’s BracketBuster. The annual college basketball event which comes around late in February every year creates some real drama, and some real value.
Some background if you aren’t familiar with the event:
Before the college basketball season starts several participating mid-major conferences – 15 conferences and an independent – designate teams to be eligible for the event. Last year there were a total of 114 teams that were made eligible. Early in February ESPN in conjunction with those conferences look at the basketball teams that are eligible and crafts the best possible non-conference games to be played in the third week of February. The 11 best games are played over three days on ESPN, and the remaining teams play a game – typically on the Saturday of the event. It’s a great chance for top mid-majors to play another non-conference game on a big stage close to selection time to get noticed and add another big notch to their record. The games typically feature a ranked college team or two and many others that get votes in the polls and are well positioned to make the tournament field. Top teams from competing conferences like Gonzaga and Butler no longer participate, so there is more room for other teams to shine. It’s a very good chance for bettors to see teams that they might not get to see, and to see how they hold up in a tough game against another strong opponent.
Here are four keys to keep in mind when you are getting ready to handicap this event:
Look at the past schedule – Just like when you are handicapping the tournament the records can be very deceptive here. Winning 10 games in a very tough conference could be far more impressive than going undefeated in a very weak one. What’s far more important than the records as far as winning college basketball handicapping is concerned is looking back at the teams they have played. What other strong teams are in the conference and how have they done against them? Did they play tough teams in non-conference games? Do they play well on the road? Do they perform their best against top teams, or do they get intimidated? Looking for clues in what they have done in the past is far more valuable than just sticking to the records and the hype around the teams.
Consider tempo – One of the best ways there is to evaluate two college basketball teams from different conferences who are playing each other is by looking at tempo. Tempo is essentially a measure of how fast or how slow a team prefers to play. Some teams like to move very quickly – they run down the court with the ball and take the first good shot that is available to them. Other basketball teams prefer to slow the game down and use most of the shot clock before taking the shot. When teams have two significantly different tempos in a game then obviously both teams will not be able to play the type of game that they prefer. It’s likely that the team that is able to exert control over the game and play like they want to is going to have an edge in the game. It’s important in these games – or in any non-conference games – to get a sense of the tempo of both hoop teams that will push the ball up the hardwood, how consistent the team’s tempo is – do they play the same style of game virtually every time they play, or do they vary their tempo based on what their opponent wants – and which team is likely to control the pace. When there is a big upset in college basketball the chances are very good that it happened because the underdog was able to set the tempo and keep the favorite off balance.
Look at what’s at stake – Motivation is always a big factor, and that’s certainly the case here. Some college basketball teams playing in this event are absolutely desperate for a win. They could be relying on an at-large bid for a tournament berth, so they need another defining win to get over the top. Other teams could be very well positioned in their conference to earn a berth, so they are more interested in staying healthy than killing themselves to come out on top here.
Look beyond the TV games – The TV games get the bulk of the attention in the event – both from the media and from the betting public. Much of the betting public will only barely be aware that there are more than 10-12 games on offer on the day. As a result, it could be much easier for savvy college basketball handicappers to find nice value in the non-TV games by applying strong non-conference analysis than it could be in the televised ones.