Bettors live large
looking small

Mar 13, 2006 10:48 PM

It’s that time of year again: Basketball games night and day, day and night.

After a few hours sleep, we wake up the next day and go through it all over again. NCAA tournament play is one of the most enjoyable times of the year for sports fans and bettors, with a seemingly endless stream of action and excitement.

Big name schools often end up in the Final Four: Illinois, North Carolina, Louisville and Michigan State last season.

In recent years we’ve seen teams such as Kansas, Texas, Syracuse, Indiana, Oklahoma, Duke, Arizona and Maryland. Big names, all of them, with no surprise schools like Pacific, Winthrop, Ohio or Stony Brook ever sneaking in.

Large, high profile schools have big athletic budgets and enough scholarships to attract some of the top basketball talent, which is a key to their success. However, this doesn’t mean smaller, lesser-known schools can’t compete with the big boys, especially when you look at one 40-minute game.

A year ago in the first round, Wisconsin-Milwaukee upset Alabama 83-73, UConn squeaked by Central Florida 77-71 as a 19-point favorite, Bucknell stunned Kansas 64-63, and Vermont beat Syracuse 60-57 in overtime.

With so many games in March, it’s easy to forget the early rounds. Look no further than Holy Cross few years ago when facing Marquette in the tournament opener. As a 10-point dog, the Crusaders covered in a close 72-68 game. Holy Cross also gave mighty Kansas a tough game a few years ago. At first glance some of the pairings look like mismatches, but a good handicapper is skilled in the art of careful analysis and patience.

Every year, it seems, one or two little known teams make memorable runs. A school like Butler from the Horizon League had one a few years ago. The Bulldogs topped Mississippi State 47-46, and then upset Louisville, 79-71.

Here are some note to follow for serious sports bettors:

”¡ It’s not wise to take big favorites on the money-line. The payoff is poor, and successful sports wagering is as much about money management as picking winners. Taking a shot with a big dog who you think might be able to hang in there is much smarter than wagering $900 to win $100.

The old NFL axiom, "On any given Sunday" certainly applies to March Madness. One team can beat another, regardless of record or talent. Sometimes the better team simply has a bad night shooting the basketball, or the big underdog can’t miss.

One of the most memorable upsets came in the 1985 NCAA Finals when Villanova, a +10 dog, upset mighty Georgetown 66-64. The Wildcats hit 22-of-28 field goals, 78 percent for the game! No matter how big an underdog is, if they shoot 78 percent they’re not going to be easy to defeat.

”¡ Some smaller schools have NBA-caliber talent. Miami of Ohio made a memorable run in 1999 with future NBA star Wally Szczerbiak. Miami went 24-8 SU/17-14 ATS that season, which included NCAA tourney upsets wins over Washington and Utah before falling to Kentucky as a +10 dog. Schools like South Alabama, Murray State, Bradley, Iona and Belmont just might be showcasing future NBA talent this month.

”¡ Some smaller schools have a great coach and play tough defense. You may recall a March tourney where the Detroit Titans upset UCLA 56-53 and Weber State beat mighty North Carolina 76-74 as a +14 dog! Teams are generally motivated to play in the NCAA tournament, but this isn’t always the case with the NIT. Some teams hoping to get to the Big Dance are disappointed at being selected for the NIT and aren’t always ready to give their best effort.

For example, four years ago in the NIT, Tennessee Tech of the Ohio Valley was a +12 dog against Dayton, yet won straight up 68-59.

”¡ Watch for situations where teams are looking ahead. That’s what appeared to happen in the game I mentioned earlier, Kansas against Holy Cross. Kansas needed a second half push to top the Crusaders 70-59 as a 29-point favorite, in what would have been an upset for the ages.

Bottom line: Avoid taking big favorites on the money-line and don’t simply lay the points on the more famous conference or school. Tourney time is loaded with big surprises.