When NCAA Tournament time rolls around there is an overwhelming number of college basketball teams to analyze, and not much time to do it between when the bracket is set and when the games are played. In order to have the time to look closely at all of the good teams and the intriguing games you need to be able to quickly determine whether the more obscure teams need to be taken seriously, or if they can be discarded and basically ignored as a serious threat. There’s no simple formula for determining that, but there are a number of questions college basketball handicappers can ask to quickly get a sense:
Who they have played? – The NCAA Tournament is not the time to take a major step up in class. If the team hasn’t played an opponent that is even remotely close to a tournament caliber team at some point in the season then they likely aren’t going to be ready to face the challenge of playing the best team they will face all year under the intensity of the postseason. It’s important to note that the team doesn’t have to win those games, either – if they put up a strong effort against a good hoop team then it’s a sign that they are able to compete and smart sports bettors will take that into consideration.
How good is their best player? – Think about how often you have seen a college basketball team get a surprising win because a player that wasn’t well known had a huge game and led his squad to the promised land. It happens quite often. There are a lot of college players out there who are extremely good but are totally unnoticed because of how they play. The public may not notice these players, but you need to make sure that you do.
How deep are they? – If a basketball team relies on just one or two players to do the bulk of the heavy lifting for their team then it could be very easy for a stronger opponent to contain the threat they can offer – they just have to focus their defense on those players. If a team has a more broadly distributed system, though – six or seven players who produce relatively evenly – then it can be much harder to slow down the team, and they stand a much better chance of overachieving and pulling off the shocker.
Conventional system or unique? – If an obscure team plays a fairly standard type of offense or defense – one that is familiar to or similar to their opponent – then they are probably in trouble. If both teams are trying to do the same thing then the more talented and athletic one is likely to have an edge. If a team plays a unique system, though, then they can overcome their deficit of athleticism and experience to some extent by catching the opponent off guard and keeping them guessing.
Conference highlights – A college basketball team is, to a large extent, only as good as their conference is. Even if they don’t have any success against big teams during the season they would get some credit if any other teams in their conference have shone outside of the conference. The obscure team in the tournament made the field by winning their conference, so they presumably measure up reasonably well with the other teams in their conference.
Past history of the coach – It takes some strong leadership and excellent preparation for a team to pull off a big upset. The pressure and intensity of the tournament is unlike anything else, so if a coach has never had any success at it then they likely don’t know what is involved, and the team might not be as ready as they should be. Looking at the coach has done with this team in recent years, with other teams, and even as an assistant can give you insights into who could be ready to succeed.
RPI – The RPI is one of the most confounding and controversial things out there. It’s also an excellent shortcut for gauging if a team needs to be taken seriously. There is no guarantee that a team high up in the RPI ratings will beat one lower down, but if a college team is stuck in the lower reaches of the RPI – say 250 or lower – then that’s a pretty good indicator that they aren’t ready to play with the big boys. A team higher than 250 isn’t necessarily one to trust, but it’s worth looking closer at.
Other opinions – The easiest way for college basketball handicappers to get to know a team quickly is to look at what people who know the team are saying. Start with local papers that can be found online that cover the teams. They may provide a biased view, but they should give a decent indication if a team has a legitimate shot at all. National websites that focus on mid-majors can be helpful to NCAA Tournament bettors as well.