Evaulate Matchups

Mar 23, 2010 7:06 AM

It’s the final stretch of a long college basketball season. There are better teams, tougher matchups and defensive intensity. It’s a good time of the season to look backward – to look back, that is, to conference regular season play and early season matches against different conferences.

That’s because it can be tougher to analyze matchups during the Big Dance, with teams like San Diego State from way out West heading to the Northeast to play Tennessee of the SEC, for instance.

Even in the NIT or the College Insider Tournament, there will be unusual matchups of teams from different conferences and different styles of play. This is why looking back on regular season meetings can be helpful. You know what a team’s style of play by this point is. Coaches, for example, can change what had been a slow, defensive-oriented team from a year ago into a wide-open, run-and-gun style. This is evident in team scoring averages and can even be noticeable in over/unders from season to season.

Early regular season games feature a lot of non-conference action. This can provide good box scores to judge how a school from a smaller conference did when stepping up in competition against the big boys. However, you must remember that those games often took place last November – a long time ago. Teams can get significantly better or worse since then. So examine the starting five and the bench for those games.

There are all kinds of factors to carefully examine. While the big man is so important to winning championships in the NBA, college basketball tournaments find more of a premium on strong guard play. The sparkplug guard handles the ball, controls the tempo, and can go on a hot run from three-point land at any moment. Remember that the college three-point shot is closer to the basket than the NBA trey. In addition, poor guard play can result in too many turnovers, which can be a killer to a team’s momentum and hopes of advancing.

Here are some points to keep in mind when looking back on box scores from earlier this season to see how it might be relevant during tourney play:

• 1. Importance: Did a team play a tough schedule? Conference games, in a sense, are more important and can help struggling teams start over in mid-season. For many years Temple under Jon Chaney was known for playing a tough early-season non-conference schedule, and they often got tagged with more losses than wins. However, many teams can start fresh when conference play begins and are better off for rubbing elbows with strong schools early in the year. A team off to a bad start might not be bad, either, depending on who they played.

• 2. Familiarity: Teams will face their conference opponents two and three times a season. From season to season, players and coaches get a much better understanding of their opponents’ tendencies and strategies – and how to take advantage. When teams meet up in March that haven’t played one another, examine their schedule to see who they did play. More to the point, did they play teams with similar styles? And how did they do? A slow, defensive-oriented Big 10 school, for instance, may have struggled against an uptempo Pac 10 or SEC squad. That should jump off the page and could help predict what might happen the deeper we go in March.

• 3. History: An advantage for sports bettors is to examine the recent history of the teams if they meet again in the Big Dance. In the ACC, you can see how Duke and Maryland have fared against each other the last few years. Is there a distinct home/road differential? Does one team "own" another? Duke had won six in a row over Maryland before the Terrapins broke that string last month. Is this a revenge situation? Carefully eyeing the past can reveal clues about the present and possibly the future.

Also, has a team from a small conference made it this far into the tourney before? Some schools can be wide-eyed about being here, especially ones with few juniors and seniors. Plus, does a coach have a track record in March? One with past success, or possibly failure and blowing games they were supposed to have won.

• 4. Defense: Late in the season, if two teams are battling each other for the lead in the conference, a head-to-head matchup can bring out the best in their defenses. March tournament play has even greater importance -- win or go home! Defense can be more intense this time of the season, which is important if you are a totals player.