The closer the calendar gets to March the more intense the Bubble Watch can be in college basketball. As the regular NCAA basketball season nears the end there are several teams out there that are playing for their tournament lives. There are inevitably more teams that are worthy of playing in the NCAA Tournament than there are spaces for them. That means that some very solid teams are going to be left out. Being outside of the bubble is the worst nightmare of teams and players, so the pressure escalates exponentially as games disappear from the schedule. Some teams handle that pressure with grace and are able to channel their feelings into improved play. Others crumble under the pressure and can’t perform up to the caliber that they might otherwise be capable of.
In the final weeks of the regular season it is very important for handicappers to be able to judge how well teams are going to handle the pressure of the bubble watch. Here are six questions for college basketball handicappers to ask to judge a team’s preparedness for battle:
How experienced are they? – The older and more experienced a basketball team is, the more likely they will be able to hold up under pressure. Experience is best when a team has been through the intense battle to make the postseason before so the core of the team knows what to expect and what needs to be done. A team that has never been in this situation but is made up of junior and senior starters would likely have an edge over a younger team facing the situation for the first time.
How healthy are they? – The college basketball season is long and grueling. By the time the bubble battle is at full steam players have really been beaten and banged up. There isn’t a team in the country that will be completely healthy, but some will be much healthier than others. It goes without saying that if two teams have similar talent levels the one that is healthier is likely to have an edge.
What were the expectations? – If a team was expected to be a serious national contender and instead they are just fighting for a spot in the tournament then they are going to be frustrated and downtrodden, and they aren’t likely to be playing up to their full capability. On the other hand, a team that wasn’t expecting to accomplish anything during the season that suddenly finds themselves in the hunt for a postseason berth could be playing like they have nothing to lose – because they don’t.
Who is the coach? – Some college basketball coaches are built for pressure and others aren’t. If the coach has proven in the past that he is able to have his teams peak later in the season when the games matter most, and that his teams are prepared for their biggest games, then he is one you might want to have on your side. On the other hand, if the coach has not had a lot of experience fighting it out on the bubble, or if his past experience has been consistently underwhelming, then you might want to look elsewhere for a team on which to bet.
What’s the schedule? – When it comes to the NCAA schedule you need to look both forwards and backwards. A team that has faced a whole lot of pressure already this season – a tough non-conference schedule and difficult conference games – could be well prepared for the intensity and pressure of the bubble because they have already faced something like it. If, on the other hand, the basketball team has faced a fairly weak schedule or has lost to the best teams they have played then they might not be up to the challenge. Looking forward, you should be concerned about who the teams have left to play. All college basketball schedules are not created equally, so if two roughly equal teams face very different schedules then the one with the easier schedule will be much more likely to get off the bubble, and will likely face less pressure than the team that has a tough schedule.
What kind of market do they play in? Some markets are absolutely rabid about college basketball and react to every single detail of the team. Others care more about football, or maybe don’t care about college basketball at all. The impact of the type of market can depend upon the type of team. An experienced, well coached basketball team could thrive in a high pressure market because it adds to the adrenaline and they can feed on the support. Conversely, an inexperienced team might do better in a quiet market where their every move isn’t judged and second guessed. Consider the market when placing your college basketball bets.