There is nothing I love more than the NCAA Tournament. It’s perfect in almost every way. One of the many ways it shines is in the opportunities it provides for college basketball handicappers. Because of the huge amount of public attention on the tournament there is a massive amount of value available on prop bets and especially on individual games. Finding it requires discipline and research, though. It also requires bettors to make adjustments from round to round because each round of the tournament is unique. The biggest adjustment that has to be made – and in a short time – is between the round of 64 and the round of 32. Those two rounds fill four glorious days to open the tournament (I refuse to consider anything played in Dayton an actual part of the tournament), and typically provide the most and best opportunities of the whole tournament for sports bettors. Here are four key differences between the first and second round for March Madness bettors:
Mismatches less striking in second round – In the first round of the NCAA Tournament there are a lot of teams that are good enough to make the tournament, but not really good enough to play in the tournament once they get there. For example, a team could have an underwhelming season in a weak conference but then get hot at the right time to win heir conference tournament and take the automatic seed. Every few years there is a team that makes the field in this way despite having a record below .500. There are also a lot of college teams that are stronger than that, but which just don’t ave the talent or athleticism to compete with the best teams in the country. As a result, mismatches in the first round of the tournament are frequent and often striking. Those mismatches can be an opportunity for bettors – especially if the mismatch is more significant than it appears to the general public. In the second round, though, mismatches are far less significant or common. Teams are good enough to win a tournament game, so they are at least somewhat competent, and they clearly belong in the field. The betting public loves the idea of mismatches, though, so they are often likely to spot a mismatch somewhere where one doesn’t exist, or to to think that one is much bigger than it really is. That, of course, presents a great opportunity.
Teams are in good form in the second round – College hoop teams are so young and often inexperienced that assessing their recent form is as important as any other single factor when it comes to picking a winner. That can be tough heading int the first round as some teams are coming off of long breaks after their conference tournament, and teams often didn’t put full effort into their conference tournament games and even the tail end of their regular season because the focus was on being ready for the tournament and those games didn’t really matter. By the second round, though, teams that aren’t in strong current form are likely at home watching on TV, so you can more confidently expect teams to be ready and capable of playing at their best. Sports bettors need to be aware that basketball teams have also had any rust that they may have had knocked off, so inactivity leading up to the tournament can be neither an excuse or something to be afraid of in the second round.
Public less focused on upsets – In the first round of the tournament the betting public will look absolutely anywhere even remotely viable for a potential upset. Upsets are what makes the tournament so exciting, and what gets all the headlines, so teams that are potentially capable of pulling off an upset get far more attention than they would if the same two teams were playing in December. By the second round the public isn’t nearly as interested in upsets – in part because most years they have lost their shirts looking for those upsets in the first round, and in part because the quality of remaining college teams is more even and upsets are less striking. Because the public isn’t as interested in upsets in the second round they will be paying more attention to the things they normally pay attention to – favorites, flashy stars, and so on and they will be betting on them.
Teams familiar with setting – In the first round the setting of games can be an issue. Teams likely haven’t played in the building before, and that could be something to adjust to if the building is particularly large or unique. College teams can also face some really ugly travel to get to their first round games. By the time the second round starts, though, teams have already played in the arena, so they know what to expect. They have also settled into the city, so they are comfortable and focused on the game. Setting can be a big first round factor, but as a college basketball handicapper I don’t even bother to consider it in the second round unless one team has a clear geographical edge.