The NCAA Tournament is the best time of year for college basketball bettors, and quite possibly for all sports bettors. If you aren’t careful, though, it can also be a very expensive time of year. The lines are tighter than they usually are in college basketball, and heavy public betting action has a big impact on those lines, so you can easily find yourself making rough bets if you fall into some tempting traps that present themselves this time of year. Here are five of the biggest mistakes college basketball bettors make at tournament time, and what you can do to avoid them.
Betting with emotion – The NCAA tournament is the single most perfect, most exciting sporting event structure there is. It just can’t be improved upon. Because of how good it is it is very easy to be overwhelmed with the excitement and the emotion of the tournament – all of the games, the close finishes, the fact they are all on TV, and so on. Any time you are making betting decisions based on emotion, though, you are sure to be making less than optimal decisions. The important thing here is to keep March Madness in context. While it is intense and exciting, and it can seem overwhelming at times, there is actually less going on than on most college basketball Saturdays – only a maximum of 32 teams playing n one day compared to hundreds on a busy weekend day. Not only are there fewer basketball games, but there is much more coverage for each game than there is for most, so getting accurate and useful information is easier than ever. So, when you really think about it, the challenge of handicapping tournament games isn’t necessarily so challenging after all.
Buying by name – Very often in the tournament – especially in the first two rounds – you’ll find games pitting a team you know well from a conference that is always on TV playing against a school which you don’t even know what state it comes from, never mind who plays for the team. In those situations it can be very tempting to pick the big name team over the upstart. There are countless examples, though, of times when the upstart team is more talented, more creative, or more hungry, and they come out on top. 15 years ago college basketball handicappers could rely on reputation and conference to make betting decisions for the most part, but now you really, really can’t.
Paying attention to seeds – When someone who doesn’t follow college basketball closely during the season fills out their bracket they are quite likely to pick the higher seeds to beat the lower seeds in most cases. Clearly, though, those seeds don’t always mean very much – as the winning percentage of 12 seeds in their first round matches against number fives have shown in recent years. There are many reasons why the seeds aren’t always an accurate assessment of strength. For example, it’s often easier for a middle of the pack team from a major conference to get a reasonably high seeding than it is for the dominant champion of a lesser mid-major. Seeds are one tool sports bettors use to assess the relative strength of teams, but they are a long way from being something that should be relied on.
Ignoring location – NCAA Tournament games are all theoretically played on neutral sites, but some sites are obviously far more neutral than others. Some teams will get to play just a couple of hours from their campus, while others have to fly across the country. The location of the game can make a huge difference in the outcome – especially if the game is close enough to home that fans can travel en masse. You also have to be aware of teams that have national presences. Michigan, for example, has a solid fan base in the stands regardless of where they play because of their national popularity. A hugely biased crowd can have a clear and unavoidable effect on the referees, and therefore on the outcome of the basketball game.
Ignoring matchups – In March Madness it often doesn’t matter which team is more talented or better. Every team in the tournament is going to be as focused ad prepared as they are capable of being, and they are going to leave nothing on the field. That means, then, that the most important thing is not what the team can do, but how well their opponent is suited to minimizing what they do well and exploiting their weaknesses. A far less talented college basketball team can win a game if they are hard for their opponent to match up to, if they do things that the opponent has rarely or never seen before, or if they are able to contain the opposing star players effectively. on the flip side, if a weaker opponent has no way to overcome the stronger team’s advantage in size, length, athleticism or shooting prowess then the game could easily get ugly. In short, college basketball handicappers need to understand that matchups are everything in the tournament.