Winning in March is not just about the NCAA Tournament. The NIT and now especially the uber consolation tournaments CIT and CBI actually have offered countless motivational discrepancies that even the minor bowls don’t present with such frequency.
However a “March of Dimes” must begin with triumph in the conference tournaments.
Here is an inventory of parameters to look for:
Dictionary: Very high on our list of Golden Rules is how a neutral game is exactly that. It is neither a home game nor a road game for either team. Every time I hear a tout spout to weigh road performance more heavily when handicapping a neutral court game, I realize there will always be suckers around to finance the bookmakers for us.
“Home court advantage” is accurately named. It is more often a home crowd can kick start the home team than rattle the road squad. That being said, as teams are becoming increasingly freshmen laden, “road court disadvantage” is more of a factor in recent years, especially at the beginning of the season.
However, that is part of the point. Young teams have the highest upside and improve as the year goes on, especially on the road. Veteran teams are generally good road bets early, but just as their power rating rises their road prowess exceeds the point of diminishing return.
So weighing road splits more heavily in March is not only a myth but often the polar opposite of reality as home/road splits are generally less predominant as the season progresses. Neutral does not equal road and the truth grows deeper as the season does.
However neutral does not always mean completely neutral: One of the variables that we muse upon greater in recent years is how far each team travels for their “neutral” games. This is actually true for real road games in all sports, but overlooked even more for neutral.
Travel is the often-unnoticed aspect of playing away from home. It’s not just about dealing with enemy crowds. Though this has proven to be most affective in college bowl games, it is always a strong component to conference and NCAA Tournament handicapping.
And not all goes out the window after the first round, even if round two or three is a meeting of two squads who each traveled further than the team they conquered the day(s) before.
Travel can have a cumulative effect. It certainly does not top our list of metrics, so one should neither be disillusioned by first day results at a location nor ignore the underappreciated consideration.
New beginnings: So often you hear us quote the famed Yogi-ism of “90 percent of the game is half-mental.” Teams that underachieved especially late in the year recurrently mentally regroup come conference single elimination time. It’s time to get those preseason coaches polls and contrast them to the regular season final standings to help isolate which teams will regress to the mean with the fresh start mentally. If season ending injuries or players being kicked off the team are not rationale for the major divergence, bet the differentiation.
Read the previous day’s boxscores, literally “in-depth:” Every now and then the obvious is true. When teams are playing two, three or even four consecutive days, depth and how many minutes their key players have played is inestimable enlightenment. Nagging injuries are magnified. Most of the year, the Adrian Barbeau Theory wins: top-heavy squads are the best to bet on. In conference tournaments, we analyze the depth of each squad.
Yes this even applies to large favorites in first round games. Such squads are focused on the bigger picture of winning their tournament and are much more likely to ration their star player minutes if the opportunity arises. Hence fading big favorites with thin benches may be fool’s gold during most regular season situations, it gains prominence in the conference tournaments.
Look Ahead Does Not Always Apply to Both Teams: Though obviously in games leading up to the championship game, even the winners of a big upset have to play the next day. However, lower seeded teams don’t have the luxury of looking ahead.
Again, I will use the term, “big picture.” In most circumstances the top seeds are more likely to look ahead to what may be progressively better opponents each round, while the big underdog can only focus on the task at hand. Pay close attention to the dynamics of higher seeds, many of who are vulnerable to overlook the day one foe.
Recent Play is Bigger Than Ever: One of our Golden Rules is amplified in conference playoffs and that is when it comes to weighing recent play, “recent is not defined by X-number of games, but X-number of days.”
Around Christmas, where many teams take long breaks, how a team played in their previous three games is not nearly as foretelling as in March when they are playing three games in three days, four in four, etc.
When a team is in a groove, the sooner they get back on the court the better. Squads in a slump can use off time for mental, strategical, and physical adjustments and rest. This is where recent (using the above definition) Margin of Cover (or sweat barometer) really comes into our handicapping more than ever. As much as we love the KenPom power ratings and still use them well into March, they don’t take into account the diverse intangibles that are unique to conference tournament time.
Don’t sleep, surf: In the competition to get your business, sportsbooks are posting lines earlier and earlier and in fact are at a disadvantage in that they can’t use the prescriptions discussed here when making the line. Hence key overlooked information comes on the online news sites and on the teams’ own SID releases, which are usually online. Sharp information is much more prevalent in the conference celebrations than the regular season or even the Big Dance.
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