How Handicappers Identify Slumping Tournament Teams
In a perfect world every college basketball team would quietly but steadily improve throughout the season, and would be ready to perform at their peak by the middle of March. Of course, things rarely work out that smoothly. Quite often a team will start to slide just when they could be firing things up. A slump in March is not a disaster, but it certainly could be if it extends into the tournament when a loss is fatal. It's important for bettors to be able to identify slumping teams that should be able to get back on track and separate them from the teams that are doomed to keep losing. Here are six questions you can ask to help determine which kind of team a slumping squad is:
Why are they slumping? – This is an impossibly broad question, but it still needs to be asked. Sometimes the reason a team is losing are many and complicated, so it can be hard to really figure out what is going on. Those obviously aren't the situations we like. Often, though, a reason for a slump is quite obvious. It could be that a key player is injured or suspended. Or that the schedule has gotten particularly tough or unfavorable for a stretch of time. Or that a team that has typically been fundamentally sound is not sticking to game plans like they should be. There are many reasons for a slump, but if you can identify what the main problem is, and it is one that can at least theoretically be overcome relatively easily, then you have a potentially positive betting situation. If the factors that caused the slump don't still exist then it's quite possible that the slump will end – a return from injury, an end to the lousy schedule, and so on. If the cause does still exist then you have to evaluate whether it is likely to still be a factor in the tournament.
Who have they been playing? – I believe that matchups are more significant than any other thing when it comes to handicapping the tournament and trying to pick winners when teams are very unfamiliar with each other. It's quite possible, and we said before, that a team could be losing because they have faced several teams in a row that they don't matchup well against – they can't minimize the opponent's strengths, and the opponent can exploit their weaknesses. If that's the case – and it's quite possible that it is in conference play because teams are so familiar with each other – then it's crucial to look at the tournament matchups to see if the same problems exist. For example, a team might have trouble playing teams that are more athletic than they are. That could be a big problem in conference play, but might not be as much of a problem in the first round of the tournament.
How old are they? – An older team is more likely to be able to shake off a slump when they need to because they have likely been through it before. They also may have been in the tournament before, so the will know what it takes to get prepared and be ready for the unique challenges of the tournament. The age of players on a slumping team – and especially the starters and key leaders – is an important factor for evaluation.
Are they playing badly or getting unlucky? – Sometimes teams lose just because they are playing bad basketball. Often times, though, they lose because they just aren't getting any breaks. Their shots aren't falling, they aren't getting the calls, the opponents are sinking miracle shots, and so on. Luck is an inevitable part of the game, but a streak of bad luck for a team can make it look as if they are playing worse than they really are. A team that is losing while being clearly unlucky is one that doesn't need to be worried about because their slump isn't a sign of a bigger issue.
How strong is their coaching? – If a team is led by a respected, successful coach who has had tournament success and is very stable in his job then I'm often not going to worry too much about a slump – it's just an inevitable part of the game, and the coach knows how to cope with them and move past them. If the coach is inexperienced, not likely to stick with the team for a long time, or not generally well liked by his players then the impacts of the slump have the real potential to compound and gain momentum.
Is the team any good? – This is really the big question to ask when any team is slumping. Sometimes a team isn't actually slumping at all – they are just playing t their potential after playing over their heads early on. Bad teams, or at least underwhelming ones, can get hot early and can be made to look better than they are by non-conference play. Before you worry about a slump too much, then you need to make sure that a team really is playing below expectations.
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