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Friday, February 26, 2010

Superbowl hangover March madness Brackets Time

Superbowl Hangover

It's a sad day. As the last bits of lingering confetti are swept off Bourbon street, reality sinks in.

Football season is officially over. So how can gridiron diehards keep their bankrolls in the black for the next six months? Before you strap on steel construction boots and fluff up your catering resumes, remember to sharpen your handicapping skills in preparation for the the holy grail of sports -- March Madness.

The Superbowl might be king for an evening but the NCAA tournament is the undisputed grandaddy of all wagering events. Why worry about the tourney now when we're still three weeks away from selection sunday? Some guy named John Wooden once told us: "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Who better to heed such advice from than a man who won a record ten NCAA tournaments? Sports bettors are by nature impulsive beasts, but profitable ones must plan and prepare their strategy weeks in advance before launching their assault on the books.

March Madness Brackets and office pools are great for camaraderie but the real value is handicapping the opening round games. Neutral sites, overinflated spreads, and matchups between small conference darkhorses and power conference big dogs create a myriad of opportunities for the bettors to fatten their wallets. It's no secret that underdogs have covered opening round games at a 60% clip over the past 15 years. While system bettors have successfully subscribed to the blanket underdog method for years, be sure exercise caution and examine individual matchups first. The books are adjusting lines to counter the growing parity in college hoops so don't be the one to get caught off guard if this is the year that oddsmakers finally catch up.

It's never fair to bash system plays if they are profitable but the most successful sports handicappers are purists who objectively examine single outcomes to protect themselves from a potential system catastrophe. Now is the time to pay attention to the following:

1. Start paying attention to the obscure conference with automatic invites. Conferences such as the Horizon (Butler), Sun Belt (Western Kentucky), America East (UMBC), Missouri Valley (Drake), Southern (Davidson), etc. Do some research on which teams are running away with their leagues (such as Cornell in the Ivy League) and familiarize yourself with their rosters and coaching philosophies. Put more emphasis on teams that dominate both their regular season and postseason tourneys. When the first spreads are posted, be educated enough to know which smaller conference teams are ailing: information such as who is missing their leading rebounder or second leading scorer and how important they are to their team's success can be the difference between winning and losing.

2. Ignore streaks. Even if a team runs the table during the regular season the one and done format of the tourney guarantees nothing. Teams that end conference play on a hot streak rarely carry over similar success in the tournament because they don't have the familiarity of facing in-conference opponents they've already had the luxury of playing and scouting earlier in the season. There's simply less info and film available for smaller conference teams because they get far less media exposure and televised games whereas the smaller name programs have the advantage of pulling tape on every game of their better known opponents.

3. Do factor in certain historical trends. Certain programs (Michigan State, Duke) have cement reputations for postseason success. Their respective coaches prepare their teams with rigorous non-conference schedules and have the innate ability to turn up the heat in March. Teams with tourney experience and seasoned coaches are capable of overachieving in down regular season years. Conversely, other programs consistently struggle in the tourney despite an impressive regular season body of work (Arizona, Louisville, Pittsburgh). Be careful not to ride a high powered offensive team that traditionally flounders against a defensive oriented team that uses a shot clock eating four corners reminiscent offense (anyone remember 13th seeded Princeton's upset of 4th seeded UNLV in '96?).

Do your homework on the above and you'll be well prepared come Selection Sunday. Feel free to fill out multiple low risk brackets too, just remember not to go Rick Neuheisel on us.


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