Handicapping Team Experience for NCAA Tourney

When it comes to handicapping the NCAA Tournament experience is a factor that gets discussed as much or more than any other. Whether it relates to tournament experience or overall college basketball experience – from the players or the coaches – it is a factor that gets much discussed, and which many bettors attach very significant importance to. The reality is, though, that experience is a factor that many people don’t think about correctly. There are times when it is indeed an extremely important factor for college basketball handicappers, but other times when it can easily be overstated and overvalued in the handicapping of a game. Here are five factors to consider when looking at experience in the NCAA Tournament to determine whether it is of defining importance or not:

Do they have leadership? – When people talk about experience what they really should be focusing on is leadership. It is the leadership, not the experience, that will give  a college basketball team the edge that bettors want to be able to identify. The problem, though, is that experience is easy to spot while leadership is far more difficult. To assess experience you just have to look at the roster to see how long people have played. Leadership is far less tangible, so you have to work harder to spot whether it exists or not. Leadership shows up in many ways – and the absence of it shows up in many ways as a result. Does the team perform particularly well on the court when facing their toughest opponents? Do they have a player or players that shines when the games get toughest and everything is on the line? Do they typically bounce back well from bad performances? Are they reasonably consistent, or can you never be sure form one game to the next what to expect? Young, inexperienced teams can have great leadership, and teams with all the experience in the world can struggle if they lack strong leadership.

What roles do young players fill? – There are some situations in which an inexperienced college basketball player will be much less of a concern than in others. For example, a young point guard on a team that runs a traditional, guard driven offense could be a real issue. A young forward with good size and solid mechanics might be much easier to trust.

Have the best young players advanced or declined during year? – You can tell a lot about a basketball team by how their young stars have done as the season has gone on. Have they gotten better with more experience and exposure, or have they faded as the pressure and intensity has grown? From that you can assess the leadership qualities of the team, their stamina and conditioning, the ability of the coach to work with young players, the chemistry on the team, and so on. Smart college basketball bettors know that if f the team works well on all of those fronts then the inexperience of a player is going to be far less of a factor than if the team struggles in one or more of the mentioned areas.

What adversity have they faced? – When we think of experience as a positive thing it’s because experienced teams have typically experienced adversity and learned to overcome it. They have played together in tough tournaments and when the pressure is the highest, so they know what to expect and how to act now. There are two factors to consider here, though. First, if a college hoop team has experience together but have not successfully faced adversity in the past then the experience would be easy to overvalue. Perhaps they have not been in a pressure filled situation in the past because they have struggled, or perhaps they have crumbled when they faced pressure. In those cases the experience isn’t a huge boost to the team. Second, it’s quite possible for a team that is inexperienced in terms of multiple years together to have grown a lot because of the adversity they have faced during the season. Before placing any best ask these questions. Have they had to play without their best players for extended periods of time? Did they survive a particularly tough battle for their tournament berth or their conference championship? Did they come through in the conference tournament? Battle-seasoning can be valuable even if it is recent.

Are they at an experience deficit compared to opponents? – When I read what a lot of people have to say about experience they treat it as if it is an absolute thing – teams either have it or don’t and it’s either a good thing or a bad thing as a result. The truth is, though, that it is really much more relative than that. A basketball team with players that have very little March Madness or even college experience could still have an edge on that front if their opponent has even less. If two teams have similarly young rosters, for example, then the one that plays in the bigger conference against better teams in bigger buildings would have an advantage edge even if they are still very young. On the other hand, a team with tons of experience – tournament success, veteran players in leadership roles, no freshman starters, and so on – could still be at an experience deficit compared to a team that has faced and overcome even more and is even better as a result. It’s essential that college basketball handicappers pay attention to these types of details and nuances

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