Normally this column is devoted to most things NBA but not this week.
The madness, mayhem and mania of March causes a one week diversion to express some thoughts about the NCAA Men’s Championship starting Tuesday and Wednesday with the “Play In” games in Dayton, Ohio. The full tournament begins at eight regional sites Thursday and Friday.
Few events over the past decade or so have gained as much in popularity as has the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament, a fact evidenced by the huge growth at the betting windows. The Las Vegas experience for the first four days of the Tournament when the main field of 68 teams is trimmed to 16, cannot be matched. The festive atmosphere surrounding those four days rivals that of the Super Bowl.
There are various forms of bracketmania with some pools just for fun and others involving high-end entry fees. In the days leading up to the tipoff of the first game on Thursday morning you may be bombarded by countless opinions, strategies and other information designed to assist you in filling out your brackets, with the goal of finding the most winners along the way and, hopefully, picking the National Champion.
This season’s tournament is rather unique with Kentucky almost the odds-on favorite to win the title and complete the first perfect season in nearly 40 years. Several teams have come close to perfection since Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers went undefeated in winning the 1976 Tournament.
But that was more than a generation ago and the college basketball landscape, as has that of all sports and society in general, has changed greatly. If successful, Kentucky would finish 40-0 and could be considered, given the current environment, as the greatest college basketball team of all time.
I have long been a believer that handicapping, be it looking to pick winners straight up or against the point spread, is a combination of both science and art. The science is in the development of Power Ratings and other metrics used to objectively analyze and compare teams and determine how much better one team is than another.
This approach usually is based upon using objective criteria or formulas and applying them consistently without any bias or judgement. This would tend to say that “all things being equal, if both teams play to their established form Team A is x much better than Team B.”
Back “in the day” when the lines making process was not nearly as sophisticated and inclusive as it is today, and lines were made using more of an artistic rather than analytical approach, the goal was to master the scientific aspect of handicapping – to arrive at a number that reflected a “true” difference between teams. That was the finish line.
Nowadays, with the lines making process much more involved, the science of handicapping is the starting point. The lines, for the most part, are very sharp and it’s in the interpretation and adjustments for the “other” factors that lead to finding winners.
It would be easy to say Kentucky will win the National Championship and it would be hard to argue against the Wildcats. And the vast majority of brackets will have Kentucky as the tournament winner.
In wagering on individual games, it may be better to look at teams other than Kentucky. One popular aspect is to play the futures, betting on a team, or several teams, at various odds to win the tournament.
For many years most Sports Books have offered not just odds to win the entire Tournament but also odds for teams to win their respective regions and advance to the Final Four.
This option may be more attractive this season than in other seasons.
In the unlikely scenario in which all four number one seeds reach the Final Four, the National Semifinals would match the top Midwest seed, Kentucky, against Wisconsin, top seed in the West, and the East’s top seed, Villanova, facing Duke, the top seed in the South.
In looking to play full Tournament futures you might best consider teams form the East and South as those regional winners would not face Kentucky until the Championship game if Kentucky is not upset beforehand.
This columnist’s view has Duke as the most vulnerable 1 seed with third seeded Iowa State a viable candidate to win the region. The Cyclones would most likely have to defeat Gonzaga in the regional semis before getting a chance to face Duke.
Iowa State has the most wins against other teams in the field, going 14-5 SU, 12-6-1 ATS. This team is well tested against top competition, playing more than half of their 33 games against teams that made the Tournament.
Looking for a longshot to win the South? Defining a longshot as a team seeded fifth or lower, meaning that such a team is expected to be eliminated during the first weekend, give tenth seeded Davidson a look.
From the East, Villanova deserves its top seed. The Wildcats lost only twice all season and avenged both losses in subsequent rematches. This is an unselfish team that features great ball movement and is the choice to win this region. Fifth seeded Northern Iowa is a viable longshot although they would meet ‘Nova in the regional semifinals.
If things go according to form in the West the regional finals would be the most attractive matchup, perhaps, of the entire tournament with top seeded Wisconsin facing second seeded, and perhaps deserving of a number one seed, Arizona. Both teams are capable of giving Kentucky very competitive games in the Final Four.
From a Power Ratings perspective, Ohio State, seeded tenth, rates very highly and would provide a great test for Arizona this Saturday. But the team that could oust the winner of Ohio State/Arizona and then Wisconsin is Baylor, the region’s third seed.
Finally, in the Midwest, Kentucky should have perhaps one tough test and that would be a Regional Finals contest against Notre Dame. The Irish have been mentioned by many commentators as having a realistic chance at derailing Kentucky because of their offensive abilities. Easier said than done and in the end Kentucky has to be the pick to win the Midwest and advance to the Final Four.
One opening weekend ‘upset’ that would not be a surprise would be seventh seeded Wichita State defeating in state rival Kansas. Do not be surprised if this game is very competitively priced and if the betting action supports Wichita State.
Ultimately the call here is for three Wildcats and a Cyclone to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis with Kentucky, Villanova, Arizona and Iowa State winning their regions with Villanova defeating Iowa State and Kentucky defeating Arizona.
That would give headline writers a very easy task in preparing their Championship game recaps as it would read “Wildcats Win.”
The experience from losing to UConn in last season’s Championship Game and with several key members of that team opting to return for this season rather than heading to the NBA to join one of the most heralded freshman classes in history combine to make college basketball history. The projected score is Kentucky 75, Villanova 58.
Here’s a look at three NBA games this weekend involving teams contending for the playoffs.
Atlanta at Oklahoma City (Fri.): The Hawks have relished chances to prove they are legitimate contenders to win the title and should put forth an honest effort in this game, even if some starters are rested or see limited playing time. ATLANTA.
Portland at Memphis (Sat.): Portland should be more impacted in playing the second of back to back games than should the Grizzlies. Entering the week Memphis had played 12 straight UNDERs dating back to Jan. 19. UNDER.
Dallas at Phoenix (Sun.): The Suns have won and covered both prior meetings this season although they last met just before Christmas. Dallas is 0-5 ATS in its last 5 road games, losing 4 outright. This game should be competitively priced and the spot does favor the hosts. PHOENIX.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]