The championship game in the NCAA tournament differs in small but significant ways from the Final Four, and form all the other games that have come before it. Basketball bettors who can recognize those differences are better positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that they can create. Here are five of the bigger differences of which college basketball handicappers need to be aware:
Stamina could be an issue – Basketball teams that play in the championship game are playing just two days after their last game. Those have been far from restful days, either – their excitement about the game, the excitement of the fans, the media attention, the family attention, and the demands of the coaches all add up to two not very restful days. That means that stamina could factor into the championship game more than it has in other games up to this point. Adrenaline can carry players early in the game, but as it wears on that won’t be enough. This can be a particular concern if a team is facing an opponent that is likely to make them play faster than they normally do. That is going to challenge their stamina even in the best case scenario, but that can be particularly disruptive in this circumstance.
Pressure is higher than ever – It’s hard to remember these days, but the guys playing in the NCAA tournament are young. Freshmen are less than a year out of high school, and even the most experienced players are only barely old enough to drink in a lot of states. The tournament would be immense pressure for even the most seasoned, grizzled veteran NBA star. For these young kids, though, the pressure will be unlike anything they have ever felt before. Every college team will be affected by that pressure to some extent – it is impossible not to be. Some teams will handle it better than others, though. If there is a reason for you to question the toughness of a basketball team on the hardwood or their ability to handle pressure or adversity in normal circumstances then you would really have concerns in this far from normal case.
Crowd is crazier than ever – The crowd in the championship game is going to be louder and more partisan than any other in the tournament – and likely than any that the teams have ever seen before. In the Final Four fans from all four teams are at the same session, so there is a large portion of the crowd that is neutral to the game that is being played. There is only one game played on championship Monday, though, so chances are much better that most of the people there will have a rooting interest in the game. Add that to the fact that the game is being played in a massive stadium, and that the fans of the two teams that are at the game have been sitting around for two days waiting for the game to start (and likely drinking excessively), and you have a recipe for an explosive environment.
Betting volume is higher – Betting volume for the national championship game is going to be heavy – particularly if one or both of the teams is a public team or if the public is likely to have a strong opinion on the game. It’s the first time in the whole tournament – or the whole college basketball season, for that matter, in which there is only one game to choose from, so people don’t have to decide which game to bet on or how they are going to split their bankroll among several games. It’s also the last chance that bettors have to bet on the sport all year, so people will be looking to go out with a bang, or to make up for their losses or wind up with a profit. Bets will be bigger than they have been. The increased volume won’t come with increased sophistication, though. The public is still likely to pick emotionally and to stick with the biases they often have – like the favorite and the over. The higher the betting volume is, the more you need to be aware of how the public is betting, how that is affecting how the lines were set and how they are moving, and what impact that has on value.
Neither team is highly prepared – Coaches can’t afford to do a whole lot of preparation for their potential opponent in the national championship game before they play their Final Four game because they need all the time they have to get ready for that game. That means that they only have from Saturday night to Monday night to assess their opponent, respond to the challenges they present, and prepare and implement a game plan for the game – the most important game the players will ever face. On top of the impossibly short time frame are all the demands and distractions that make it harder for players and coaches to be focused. That means that preparation in the championship game is a massive challenge, and neither team will be as prepared as they want to be. College basketball handicappers understand that that favors some teams over others. Teams that are used to playing against styles like their opponent plays will have an edge, for example. So will teams that have an adaptable style of play, or teams that typically dictate the style of play and the tempo of the game.