Another year has passed and, once again, it’s time for a perennial ritual of college life. This ritual is not fraternal hazing or spring break. No, this ritual goes by many names: The Big Dance; the Road to the Final Four; March Madness; or, more commonly, the NCAA basketball playoffs.
Over the past two decades, the NCAA basketball playoffs and the championship game have grown from an inter-collegiate rivalry to a booming business generating big television revenues, bigger television ratings, and a sportsbetting frenzy that is second only to the Super Bowl.
“The NCAA compares to the Super Bowl in the number of wagers, but you have to consider [the fact] that there are many more games [played] over a longer period of time,” says Joe Lupo, Race and Sports Book Manager at the Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
“Calculating the opening line for the sixty-four colleges involved is a process that has not as much to do with the number of overall wins and loses of the teams as it does with conferences and individual performance. “A team that’s 15-10 in one conference is not the same as 15-10 in another conference. When you handicap a game, you have to look at how one team is going to play against another team. To do that, you have to look at scoring, defense, and the players involved. We have consultants that provide us with what they feel the point spread should be. Some use a statistical method using offensive and defensive scoring as well as home and road scoring. Others use a method where they give each team a rating based on their opponents and how they win and lose against those opponents. How one person compiles the statistics and makes one line and how we compile our opening line are two entirely different things.
“We have people here at the Stardust that make lines for us and we look at a number of different odds and lines. We do some analysis on those and then we try to set an opening line that will have opinions betting both sides of the game. Going in we want as many opinions as we can that, we hope, will represent those who wager. It’s easier to set a line on a more competitive game. When it comes to the championship game, you are usually dealing with high profile teams with the same competitive nature.
“NFL football is the easiest line to set and it is also the most competitive sport. You are not going to have teams blow out other teams like you do in college sports where the winning margin is going to help them in the rankings. Anytime that you deal with college athletics, you are dealing with teams that have a different type of motivation for their winning margin. It is definitely much more difficult to set a college line than a professional line. It’s a different kind of game. The end result by how many is not as important as the win-loss record in the NBA or the NFL. In college they don’t want to win by 10, they want to win by 20. When a professional team is up by a lot, they don’t keep points at all.
“In the NCAA tournament, you will look at more veteran teams— UFABET teams with more juniors and seniors. You look at the depth and experience of the players. Some people look at teams with young guards because they don’t fair well in a high-pressure tournament. It is extremely important to take a really hard look at the coaches. There are so many coaches that it is easier to rank them as a good coach or poor coach. When the coaches are going up against each other, it’s easier for the coach with a better reputation. In the NFL or the NBA, there are fewer coaches at a higher level. Those levels are more consistent.
“It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Duke will [do well] in the tournament this year. That will change the handicapping because that is the perception as well as the betting. We may increase Duke’s spread slightly. We won’t increase it a whole lot, as people would expect, because that would give away too much value to the sharper player. Most of the novice type individuals playing the NCAA tournament will always play the more high profile teams. I expect that the experienced players will be on the underdog.”
According to gaming writer and sportstalk radio personality T.C. Martin, the novice player can gain a competitive edge with the experts by keeping his eyes open. “Handicapping the NCAA tournament is not a process that you can pick up just before the tournament gets under way. You need to dig deep and have an extensive background following the conferences, the teams, the players and the turnover.
“The turnover of the players that are graduating and the high school players that are coming in is very important. I’m not sure how much of a factor teams with high levels of juniors and seniors play in handicapping the NCAA tournament when so many superstar freshmen are coming in from high schools and a certain percentage of the superstar upperclassmen are going for the bigger dollars of the NBA. The University of Arizona is a perfect example of this. Arizona lost four-fifths of their starters from last year’s championship finals team and everyone thought that they were going to be nothing this year. They weren’t even ranked in the preseason top twenty-five. Then they came out smoking with a lineup of freshmen and sophomores and, I believe, only one junior. Now they are one of the top teams in the country.
“Look hard at underdogs. The beauty of the NCAA tournament is upsets. You have got to find the upsets to be a NCAA handicapper. Traditionally, you will see a high number of upsets in the early rounds. You really have to look at the match-ups during the seeding process. For example, just because a number two team is a 19 or 20-point favorite against a fifteen seed is no reason to believe that the number two team is going to blow the other team out. These are the games that you can find some value in, and that is the keyword value. You have to look for upsets and for teams that are of lower value that could spring an upset. How do you spring an upset? The whole thing about NCAA basketball is match-ups. You want to get a team that can match-up well. If you can find a good-sized underdog giving value then you will want to jump all over it.”
So there you have it; sixty-four teams will come to the big dance. As with any dance, there will be some highlights as well as heartaches. Only one team will walk away the big winner. There is only one sure bet: March Madness promises to be a handicapper’s heaven.