There are few things I like more in sports than sitting down in the evening of the Sunday before the NCAA Tournament to see the bracket as it is introduced. Selection Sunday is all about seeing where your college basketball team winds up, which teams get a good draw, which teams are given a rough road, and which teams are left out entirely. It’s a perfect start to a perfect month of basketball action. When bettors look at the bracket right when it is first released, though, it is easy for them to make some costly mistakes because of easy but inaccurate assumptions that can be made or distractions that are too tempting to ignore. Here are five mistakes college basketball bettors make when they first look at the NCAA Tournament bracket:
Worrying about travel – Every year some experts will talk about how some college teams are handicapped by serious travel in their first and second round matchups. That’s an incredibly overrated factor. No team plays in their home building, so travel is an inevitable part of the tournament. Some teams will get short travel, while others will have to go much further. Since every teams is traveling, though, the impact is relatively insignificant. These teams are used to traveling by this point in the season since most have already criss-crossed the country many times. The basketball teams have the luxury of arriving when they want to because their schedule is open for the days leading up to their opening game. If they win their opener then they don’t have to travel for their next game, so they will be more rested than they would be in a normal situation with consecutive away games. The only situation in which travel can potentially be an issue is for a team that has to play in the play-in games on Tuesday or Wednesday and then travel to their game on Thursday or Friday.
Overvaluing crowd impact – Sometimes a college hoop team will get lucky and will play close to their home. Often times people will speculate that that means that the crowd will be friendly and vocal for that team. While it is easy for their fans to travel the fact is that the crowd impact will always be significantly less than in a true home game. Each basketball team playing in a pod is guaranteed tickets to their games, and many tickets are sold well before the bracket is set. That means that it can be difficult in a lot of situations for fans to find tickets to their games. If the basketball teams in the second game in a session are popular then the first game could be almost empty. All in all, the crowd impact is not something to worry about significantly in these games in almost all situations.
Ignoring potential upsets – When some bettors look at the bracket they assume that the higher ranked teams are largely the better teams, and they make their initial picks accordingly. That, of course, isn’t always the case. For example, quite often an at-large team from a major conference will be seeded well above a conference champion from a lesser conference. The conference champion is battle-tested and on a hot streak, though, and could easily pull off an upset win. If you base your opinions on which NCAA conferences the teams play in, how high their national profile is, or how much media attention they get then you could be missing some real opportunities for early value.
Seeing upsets everywhere – The opposite of the last point is true. I call this Seth Davis Syndrome. Whenever you hear the CBS and Sports Illustrated analyst talk about the bracket after it has been revealed you can be certain that he is going to have lots of upsets everywhere. He’ll routinely downgrade teams from major conferences and play up the hopes of minor conference champions or obscure at large teams. He’s right with some upsets, but not all the time – not even close. A lot of basketball bettors have this same issue. They get so seduced by the excitement of early round upsets, and the big payoffs that can come if you pick these upsets, that they think every lower seeded team will win and every high seed is doomed. The fact of the matter is, though, that solidly more higher seeds will win in the first round, and a lot of higher seeds won’t be challenged in doing so. By all means you should look for upsets. Just don’t look for them everywhere.
Looking too far ahead – When as a college basketball handicapper you are looking at the first round it is very important not to look beyond that game. It is very tempting for bettors to look ahead in the bracket at the potential pairings and the exciting games that could occur, That’s fine as a fan, but as a bettor that’s totally irrelevant. Those potential pairings mean nothing until they become reality unless you are making futures bets. For bettors the only games that matter when the bracket is set are the play-in games and the 32 first round games. Everything else is just a distraction.