Check trends
with patience

Mar 28, 2006 7:04 AM

Look at Final Four trends, but with patience.

It’s a great weekend for sports fans with the Final Four and the culmination of the college basketball season next Monday in Indianapolis at the RCA Dome for the national championship.

It’s clear that it’s not the teams that start the season hot, but the ones that get hot when it really matters — March!

Many things happen over the course of a long season. Some teams play great basketball in December and January, only to break down from injuries or run out of steam down the stretch. Pitt is a perfect example, starting 16-0 and 17-1. However, the Panthers were just 5-5 SU/ATS their last 10 games, getting knocked off in the Big East tourney and getting bounced by Bradley in the Big Dance.

A similar thing happened to Kansas last season. The Jayhawks won their first 14 games and started 20-1, only to go 3-6 SU and 1-8 ATS the last nine games. They never made it to the Final Four because of a 64-63 loss to Bucknell as a 13½-point favorite and a defeat to Bradley this season as 7-point chalk.

Other times an easy early season schedule, youth, untimely injuries, bad luck, poor team chemistry or a combination of these can cut down a potentially great team.

Youth and a loss of its best players certainly fell defending champion North Carolina, which got knocked off early by George Mason. An easy schedule and late season injuries hurt the depth of George Washington, which saw a 26-1 record evaporate with losses in the Atlantic 10 tourney and the NCAA tournament.

You may recall a year ago that Cincinnati and Mississippi State both started 14-1 with aspirations of playing for the title, but missed the Final Four weekend. When the going got tough, both the Bearcats and Bulldogs weren’t ready for prime time: Cincy was 0-3 SU/1-2 ATS as an underdog, while Mississippi State was 1-6 SU/2-5 ATS as a dog.

It’s very easy for sports bettors to look into trends to try and predict the future. Trends can be helpful if there are reasons to support it. For example, from a betting perspective, the last four Final Fours have dominated by the dogs.

The underdogs are 6-2 ATS, with five winning straight up. In addition, the games have gone 6-2 "over" the total. A sports prognosticator, relying exclusively on trends for handicapping, would jump on "over" and underdog this weekend.

You can even argue that it’s the right time of the college hoops season to take a shot with the dog on the money-line. However, this is where one needs patience and wisdom. Trends can also be a fool’s paradise. Just last season both favorites won and covered. So if you had used that strategy a year ago, you would have gone 0-2.

If you go back to the previous three Final Fours (1999-01) before the survey, we find Duke topping Maryland 95-84, Arizona blowing out Michigan State 80-61, Michigan State beating Wisconsin 53-41, Florida topping North Carolina 71-59, UConn beating Ohio State 64-58 and Duke surviving Michigan State 68-62. Note, the favorite was 5-1 ATS.

Remember we said the "over" has gone 6-2 in the Final Four the past four seasons. The three years before that, "under" prevailed 5-1. That’s a dead-even 7-7 the last seven years. All of a sudden, those who look solely at trends as the key to the sports betting kingdom are stuck at .500 ATS. Hitting 50 percent won’t turn a profit in the competitive 11-to-10 betting world.

Going back the last 11 years, "under" holds a slight 12-10 edge in the Final Four. During that span, underdogs hold a similar 12-10 edge on favorites. Again, trends are important to examine, but there has to be reasons behind them if you’re serious about putting down hard earned money on a side.

The most significant stat that stands out is that nine of the 12 dogs that covered ended up winning the game outright. That shows how competitive and relatively evenly matched the games become when teams get this far in the season.