Keep your eye on NCAA Tournament ‘Bubble’

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It’s the time of the year when college basketball teams on the March Madness ropes either gather some traction to remain on the NCAA Tournament canvas or tumble into the NIT abyss, or worse. 

Yes, we’re talking about the dreaded “Bubble Watch.” 

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Over the next 11 days, you’re going to hear a lot of talk about teams moving on and off the proverbial bubble. One day, a team is in. The next day, they’re out, depending which college hoops pundit you believe.

Ultimately, it all gets sorted out on Selection Sunday, which comes March 15. In the meantime, if you’re a college basketball bettor, how do you handle handicapping and betting “bubble” teams? 

What, then, is the best tack for dealing with the Wichita State Shockers, perched precariously on the knife’s edge — the last four in to dance? Or the Richmond Spiders, who need to dig deep to escape the tangled web of the first four out? 

“I don’t go out of my way to do it,” says Massachusetts-based handicapper Shawn Harnish on how the bubble factors into his wagering process. “But if I’m on the fence, (bubble status) could push me to bet against (such a squad). If it’s a young team, it’s another strike against it. If it has one player who carries it and he is young, that’s the trifecta.” 

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has had the Shockers lumped in with the Utah State Aggies, Cincinnati Bearcats and Stanford Cardinal as the final quartet to squeak into the NCAAs. With Richmond, he has pegged the North Carolina State Wolfpack, Rhode Island Rams and Mississippi State Bulldogs as the first quartet not to receive dance cards. 

Combining bubble significance with the wagering of money is a fool’s errand, according to Vegas Stats & Information Network writer-broadcaster Matt Youmans, who uses North Carolina State as an example. 

On Feb. 25, woeful North Carolina actually gave 2.5 points at home to its rival, which might have served as a warning; the Tar Heels won, 85-79. Since, the Wolfpack have been an NCAA outsider. 

“Bubble motivation is only a minor factor for me, sometimes no factor,” Youmans wrote in a text message. “Amateur handicappers typically put too much emphasis on teams in must-win situations. NC State could not afford to lose to North Carolina, and how did that turn out?” 

Jay Kornegay, the vice president of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, says his oddsmakers do not use the bubble as an ingredient when they cook the point spreads for these final regular-season games and conference tournaments. 

“We understand (such a team) has to win, but it doesn’t affect the power rankings,” he wrote in a text. “We’ve seen plenty of ‘must-win’ teams lose outright (this season). We set the lines based off their power rankings.” 

On Feb. 27, 13 of 47 underdogs won outright on the major line. On a huge card two days later, 33 of 99 ‘dogs earned outright victories. Those are opportunities, bubble or no bubble, on which handicapper Dave Cokin seeks to capitalize. 

“I’m looking for underdogs that might catch a better team flat,” he says. “There have been good examples of that every day.” 

Pacific (23-9, 11-5 in the West Coast Conference), as a favorite with five consecutive covers, has rewarded upstate New York capper Tom Barton handsomely in recent weeks. 

“But nobody’s talking about Pacific,” he said.

Finally, Matt Lindeman, whose rich career spans both sides of the counter, believes bubble status might play a role — albeit a nominal one — in some shops. 

“You might see a slight shade in the situations where a bubble team is playing a team out of postseason contention,” he said. “But, realistically, there is not a huge effect in the market. And sharp guys will be quick to correct it if too much value is placed on it.” 

Here are this week’s selections. Projected numbers courtesy of veteran Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White.

Wednesday 

New Orleans at Northwestern State, Total 154.5: Sixteen of the Privateers’ 22 have sailed Over, including eight of their past nine. Moreover, theirs is among the 20 most inefficient defenses. The Demons are a sieve on defense. OVER 

North Texas -1 at Charlotte, Total 129.5: At 20-7-1, the Mean Green is one of the country’s best cover teams. Its offensive efficiency is among the top-10-percentile. Charlotte owns the seventh-most ineffective possession ratio. NORTH TEXAS and OVER 

Thursday 

Hawaii at UC Davis -4: Davis is among the nation’s top 10th-percentile against the number. Since December, the Aggies are 15-4 ATS in lined games, not once failing to cover consecutive games. Impressive. They lost by a point on the island on Jan. 25, but they were getting eight. UC DAVIS 

Saturday 

UCLA at USC -3.5: The Bruins are hot, having won 11 of their past 13, with nine covers in that stretch. Plus, they have that 11-point defeat to their rival, at Pauley on Jan. 11, to avenge. UCLA 

Last week: 2-3 

Season: 41-36 

About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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