Handicapping NCAA Tournament Cinderella Teams

The NCAA Tournament is all about the Cinderella teams – the basketball teams that seemingly defy all odds to pull off an upset or two against higher ranked college teams. For handicappers these Cinderella teams can create serious headaches. Now that they have won you have to figure out if they are capable of continuing to win, or if they have reached the end of their line. Public attention on these teams will be higher than they normally would be, so you have to be reasonably confident of their chances one way or the other because value can be tough to find. Here are six things college basketball handicappers need to consider when they are trying to figure out if a team is going to turn into a pumpkin:

Who are they? – Sometimes a Cinderella team just isn’t that surprising if you actually spend the time to get to know who they are and what they have done during the season. A lot of NCAA conferences get almost no attention during the year, but they can still produce strong teams and excellent talent. In short, sometimes Cinderella teams win because they are really good. If a college basketball team pulls off the upset by doing things they haven’t done all year then their success might not be able to continue. If they win by continuing what they have done with great success all year, though, then there could be a good chance that they can keep doing it. Basketball bettors need to look at how the team did in their conference and who they played against there, how they did in non-conference play, and how they measure up in key comparable statistics with higher profile teams.

Who did they beat? – This just drives me crazy. Sometimes an upset isn’t really an upset at all because the higher seeded team just isn’t very good – or at least isn’t as good as their seeding would suggest. That can easily happen with a major conference team – especially one from a strong conference. It can also happen when a team started the season strong struggles down the stretch or faces an injury situation in the tournament. Before you judge a Cinderella you have to look if beating the team they beat was really much of an accomplishment, or if they were really just the better team – or at least the one that is playing better.

How did they win? – To perhaps over-simplify, sometimes college basketball teams win because of what they do, and sometimes they win because of what their opponents don’t do. If the Cinderella team won because they were able to control the tempo, outplay the opponent defensively, or exploit favorable matchups then there s a decent chance they can keep doing it. If the win was more of a result of lousy shooting, lacking focus, or a shortage of discipline by the higher seeded team, though, then the win might be harder to replicate unless they get lucky and their next opponent has a bad day as well.

Were the matchups a big factor? Are they still? – Sometimes a college team can pull of an upset because they have a player or a system that the opponent isn’t capable of effectively answering to. Maybe the opponent is big and slow and the Cinderella is stocked with fast, athletic guards. Or maybe a hoop team is built around one player that is hard for a team to guard if they aren’t familiar with him. If the team won largely because of these matchups the it is crucial to explore if the same matchup advantages are likely to exist again, or if the next opponent is better suited to playing and winning.

Who do they play? – The success of teams in the NCAA tournament often comes down to where they land in the bracket. It’s quite possible that a Cinderella that has been playing very well can continue to play well and still lost because they are playing an opponent that is just plain better than they are. As the tournament progresses the teams that remain are the ones that are likely more talented and certainly playing better right now. It’s much harder to surprise teams or find weaknesses to exploit in later rounds, so it’s quite possible for a team to hit their wall no matter how they play.

Will they handle the pressure? – The further a college basketball team goes into the tournament, the more intense the pressure will be. That pressure can really build up if teams have a few days between games like they do before the Sweet Sixteen. Cinderella teams mostly haven’t dealt with national media scrutiny at all, never mind scrutiny on this scale. It’s important for college basketball handicappers to assess how well the team might deal with it. Has the school been in a situation like this recently? Has the coach been in similar situations with this school or elsewhere? How old and experienced is the roster? In doing so, bettors will be able to make more winning NCAA Tournament picks.

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