Almost every year in college basketball it seems like we have at least one unlikely winner of a major NCAA conference tournament. A team will come into their tournament seeded well down the list. They’ll have all sorts of issues that led them to underachieve and disappoint during the season. They’ll potentially face basketball teams that were much better than them in the regular season. The odds are stacked against them, yet somehow they get hot at just the right time, their luck sticks with them, and they pull off a shocking conference tournament win. That could get them a NCAA Tournament bid that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, or it could dramatically improve their seeding in the big dance. Either way, if bettors could identify the teams that could make a run before they make it that could be very profitable. Unfortunately, that is a very inexact science. Here, though, are six characteristics that most of these surprise teams typically share. Smart college basketball handicappers know that if a team doesn’t have a majority of these then they aren’t nearly as likely to perform miracles:
Led by a strong player – A team that makes a run in a conference tournament has to have a player that they can rally around – someone who can carry the load, and be the leader for the team. In order to win a tournament in such a short time frame the team needs to believe entirely in themselves, and one player can help them do that more than anything else. That player doesn’t necessarily have to be a superstar caliber player, and he doesn’t even have to be the best player on the team. He can be one who is a clear leader, or one who seems to come through in the clutch. If a team doesn’t have that one player who seems to define their program, though, then it is really going to be hard for them to pull off a conference tournament miracle. Even teams that play like a team in every way need to have this one player – the leader of their pack.
Clear, correctable reasons they have underachieved – If a team is good enough to win a conference tournament, but would be a surprising winner of that tournament, then they obviously have underachieved in some ways during the season. It is important that you are able to recognize the main ways in which they have underachieved. Have they shot below their potential? Have they struggled against high tempo teams? Have they been weak against higher quality teams? Do they struggle to play against outmatched teams? Are they inconsistent, or weak in the second half? Once you have identified the problem you need to decide whether those problems are easily correctable or not. Is it a habit that they can break or an adjustment that they can make, or is the problem more systemic – like a personnel issue? If the problems could be corrected simply then there is a chance that they will be. Teams can’t change who they fundamentally are at this point in the season, though.
Definite style of play – In order for a team to make a run in a conference tournament they need to be able to define what time of team they are, and it needs to be a style of play that they are suited to and which can be effective. It could be a particular tempo they play at, or a style of defense they prefer, or a way they run their offense, or a type of shot they are very good at creating. Whatever it is, they have to have something that is very hard to play against when it is working for them. If a team doesn’t have that then it can be hard for them to build momentum in these situations.
Vulnerable conference opponents – Ultimately, any team that wins a conference tournament has been helped by some extent by their opponents. They rarely will have beaten the best teams in the conference when they are playing their best. Either the seeding has to have worked out perfectly for them, or they need to have had some luck in the tournament. Perhaps a top level team was upset and they were left to play a weaker team. Or perhaps the top level team faced injury issues, or weren’t motivated to win the conference tournament. Maybe top teams in the conference have weaknesses that the team could exploit if they played at their full capacity. Whatever it is, before you can believe that an underdog can pull off a big run in a conference tournament you have to believe that the top teams in that conference could very conceivably not win the tournament.
Coach with experience – A big run in a short tournament like a conference tournament requires incredibly strong coaching. A coach has to be able to game plan in a short time frame, he has to keep his players motivated and focused, and he has to know exactly what buttons to push. A coach can’t know that unless he has been in a high pressure postseason situation before – either as an assistant or a head coach. If a coach isgoing through this for the first time then it is going to be hard to trust him – no matter how good he has the potential to be. That’s especially the case in a situation like this because the team wasn’t dominant in the regular season so there are clearly issues that the team has, and the coach will have to lift the team to perform much better than they have all year.
Health – Simply put, a team that wants to make a run has to be healthy. their key contributors need to be able to play at their best, and they need to have the depth to weather the challenges of tournament play. Consider all of the points in this article in your college basketball handicapping and bet accordingly to win.