For a lot of people March is all about filling in a basketball bracket that is good enough to win your pool. The money is usually pretty good when you do that, but it’s nothing compared to the pride and bragging rights that come with a win. There is a lot of luck involved in winning a bracket, but there is at least as much skill involved as well. If you make bad decisions then you are making it much harder for yourself to come out on top. Bettors – good ones – should have a big edge over the general public when it comes to filling out brackets. Not only do they likely have more knowledge of the game and what’s going on that most people because they follow it all year, but they have an understanding of the mechanics of the game and tools to evaluate college basketball that most people don’t have. Here are seven things bettors can and should do to gain an edge in their NCAA Tournament pool:
Use point spreads – The point spreads are like a cheat sheet for the first round for bettors. They are a great way to get a sense of what oddsmakers are thinking about games and perhaps where they see upsets as being more or less likely. By looking at point spreads soon after they are set you will likely see some real surprises and some that make perfect sense to you. Those surprises are very useful in helping direct your attention towards games you need to pay more attention to, while the ones that make sense can act as an affirmation of your thoughts.
Use line movement in first round games – As a college basketball handicapper, I like to watch line movement very closely for the first round. Books hurry to get the lines out as quickly as they can once the bracket is announced on CBS. That means that they are sure to have some lines that are less accurate than others. Sharp bettors will be watching the lines like a hawk, and will jump fast and hard onto lines that seem susceptible. Significant early line movement will often point out upsets that can make a big different in brackets. Strong movement in the moneylines can also be useful.
Look at Championship futures – Future odds are a pretty good way to differentiate between teams you think are fairly similar. Bettors have been able to bet on futures for a long time, so the numbers are fairly refined by the time the tournament rolls around. If two teams are fairly even in your mind but are vastly different in the futures pool then you may need to re-evaluate your thinking.
Use props as a guide – Prop bets get less attention form the public than the point spreads do, so in a lot of cases there is a better chance that they are a true indicator of what books think – they don’t have to be as carefully aware of what the public is likely to do.
Once you get to the end, handicap backwards – Once you fill the bracket out and you think you are happy with what you have ended up with you need to work backwards. Starting with the final game, go back a make sure that you are happy with the outcome of every game you have picked. If you find a problem working backwards then you will want to revisit the decisions you made that led to that point.
Set lines for every game – Once I have filled out my NCAA Tournament bracket I like to take the time to set a line for every game before I submit the bracket. That does two things. First, it can help you spot games in which you have picked the wrong winner. Second, it gives you a way of evaluating whether your later round pairings make sense. At least theoretically, games in the last three rounds should be reasonably close because teams that make it that far are playing very well. If the lines you set for one of those games is very one-sided then there is a good chance that you are giving a team too much credit, and you may want to look over your bracket again to make sure you are comfortable with it.
Think like the public thinks – If you have been betting for a while then you probably have a pretty good sense of how the public bets and what their tendencies are (if you don’t then you may bet like the public does, and that could be why you don’t win as much as you would like). When I look at the tournament bracket I like to consider what is going to jump out to the public – the obvious hot teams, the popular upsets, and so on. Once you have a sense of that you can look to see which of those spots you disagree with. Brackets are won not in the spots you agree with everyone, but in the places where you disagree with the crowd and are right. You can’t be reckless or gamble unwisely, but smart differentiation is the road to success for NCAA Tournament bettors.