Betting on the championship game of the NCAA Tournament is different than betting on any other college basketball game played throughout the year. In some ways it’s just another basketball game, but it is really so much more than that. Players treat it differently, bettors treat it differently, and so successful bettors have to treat it differently as well. Here are four ways for college basketball handicappers to consider in which the final game of the college basketball season is unique:
More pressure than ever – It can be easy to forget given the attention they get and the talent they have, but college players are young and inexperienced. They aren’t seasoned pros. Some of them aren’t even a year removed from their own prom yet. The more experience a college hoop player has, the more he is likely able to handle pressure and deal with adversity. When a young guy is exposed to pressure it’s hard to know how he will react, though he often doesn’t react well. There is no more pressure possible at any point in the college basketball season than players will face in the national championship game. There is only one game on, it’s on prime time and will be the most viewed game of the year, the stadium is packed, and the media coverage is intense. Coaches will try and work their players through all of this added pressure, but the coaches will undoubtedly be feeling more pressure themselves given what a win can do for them and their program. The more pressure players face in a game the harder it can be to predict how the players will perform, so this game is clearly tougher to handicapp than others as a result.
Nothing to look ahead to – College basketball players are notoriously bad for looking beyond the game at hand – worse than any other players in any sport in North America, I would argue. Very good teams will lose to bad teams because they are thinking about their conference schedule, or a big rivalry game coming up. Good college teams will be focusing on their second round opponent and will forget that they need to win their first round game first. Teams will get a huge lead in the second half, start thinking about the next game, and see that lead evaporate. It’s all very annoying for handicappers. For the first time all year, though, these players can’t possibly be looking ahead to something else because there is nothing else to look forward to. This is it. That’s one less factor to worry about. Unfortunately, looking ahead can be a very handy way to find value on the underdogs because it is often the favorite that is guilty of looking beyond the task at hand, so that opportunity is lost for sports bettors in this game.
Betting volume high and uneducated – The betting volume in this game will be as high or higher than any other college basketball game played all season. A large number of sports bettors on the game may not have placed another bet all season, and a lot of the bettors won’t have placed one before the tournament started. That means that they are likely largely uneducated bettors. Uneducated bettors are highly predictable in most cases, but when there are two good teams playing each other – especially if both are reasonably public teams – then the increased volume can create increased headaches because you can’t accurately assess where the bets are flowing and what the oddsmakers are doing to the odds in response to that action. I have seen more unpredictable and unexpected line movement in the final game than in any other game.
Typically played in less than ideal conditions – Basketball is not a sport meant to be played in a dome, and certainly not in a dome in front of 50,000 people or more. Those are just the kind of places that the NCAA likes to play the Championship game, though, because it maximizes their ticket revenue ad the hype and excitement surrounding the game. Those domes often have lighting that is far from ideal for basketball, and they can be very hard for players to shoot in effectively because of air flow, lack of familiar targets, and so on. We’ve sometimes seen the conditions in a game have a massive impact on the performance of one of the teams – like when Butler totally self destructed against UConn because they couldn’t put anything into the hoop. Combined with the pressure of the situation the setting makes this game a unique challenge for the teams and the college basketball handicappers.