How To Bet On March Madness

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What are the best strategies for betting on March Madness? What are the keys to successful betting on the NCAA tournament? In this article we discuss the keys to making money betting on NCAA basketball and the annual March Madness tournament.

Many of the fundamentals for successful betting apply to betting on March Madness, because it’s those same fundamentals that lead to championships! If you’re in synch with the factors that lead to success in the postseason, you’ll be very well positioned to pick point-spread winners against the market. Pricing is often strongly influenced by public misconceptions about what really contributes to success in NCAA basketball.

#1 - Multidimensional Teams Are Better Equipped for Diverse Challenges

Weaknesses are exploited in the post-season as top competition will attack your weakest link over and over again. We’ve seen this derail many a so-called superpowers over the years. Balanced teams are better positioned to go deep because they can’t be attacked as successfully, and because they’ll be able to make adjustments to whatever confronts them in a given round.

Let's consider a few examples:

Firstly, teams who rely too much on three-pointers are going to be in big trouble in a game when those treys aren’t falling. You’ve probably heard “live by the trey, die by the trey” repeated often in college basketball coverage. That’s because it’s true! Teams with a balanced offence can survive an off-day from long range as long as they’re scoring inside and at the free throw line.

Secondly, teams who rely too much on pressing defences are going to be in big trouble when facing an opponent possessing excellent ballhandlers as the ability to turn steals into cheap points disappears. A balanced defence that can earn takeaways while also protecting the basket is more likely to string together wins than a defence that relies too much on presses and traps.

Thirdly, teams who rely too much on one major scoring star are going to be in big trouble if he finds himself in foul problems or run into a defender on an opposing team with the ability to disrupt his performance and limit his influence. Balanced offences can just go to another shooter, or mix their inside and outside threats to attack a defence. One-man teams are fragile.

So, if you’re betting on the NCAA Tournament, pay particular attention to versatility, balance, and depth. This will help you find quality dark horses who will offer value against market prices, while also exposing one-dimensional favourites who are ripe for upsets when they run into their kryptonite.

#2 - Defense Still Wins Championships!

This arguably has greater truth in college basketball than any other sport or league. Unfortunately, simplified media coverage of college hoops has hidden this from the public. Some recent champions have played at a fast pace, which creates the illusion of offence being more important than defence on the scoreboard. If you focus on “points per possession,” it’s very clear that you generally need an elite defence (top 25 or so in Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defensive Rankings) to run the table.

Championship defenses generally:

    • - Force turnovers at an average or better rate.
    • - Grab defensive rebounds at an above average or truly elite rate.
    • - Block a good number of shots.
    • - Aren’t prone to putting opponents on the free throw line too often.

It’s important when evaluating defences to remember balance here as well. A team that forces turnovers but is soft inside or foul prone will have trouble stringing together wins vs. quality. A team that guards the basket well inside but is too slow footed to guard the arc or make steals will fall to a sharpshooting opponent that’s getting open looks on treys. The best defences are usually “pretty good” at everything, while also being great at something.

Look to bet on the best defences. And, don’t ask a mediocre or worse defence to win money for you.

#3 - Invest in Offences That Attack the Basket

One of the most obvious keys to betting on NCAA college basketball tournament action in recent years is the fact that offences that attack the basket are much better suited to run the table than offences that rely on perimeter shooting.

Firstly, trey-heavy teams tend to yo-yo between great and poor shooting games, leading to a big cover when they score, but elimination when they don’t.

Secondly, teams attacking the basket are much more consistent, and are much tougher to deal with because defences have to guard the basket while avoiding foul trouble. This type of team can win blowouts vs. out-manned opponents, and are also well-suited to win nail-biters because they have a workable strategy late in close games.

It’s okay to step in occasionally with a trey-heavy offence, particularly if they’re facing a slow-footed opponent or are just coming off a game where they survived despite not shooting well. But, if you’re trying to forecast how the brackets are going to play out in an office pool, or to develop a percentage strategy that cashes tickets more often than not, your focus should be on aggressive teams that earn a lot of inside deuces and trips to the free throw line.

#4 - Avoid Turnover Prone Offences

It’s long been understood that guard play is a key to success in the college post-season. That’s generally attributed to ball distribution through the full 40 minutes and poise late in close games. The analytics revolution has helped handicappers see that turnover avoidance is also a very big factor in the Big Dance.

Firstly, teams who avoid turnovers give away very few free points while maximising their own chances of scoring each time down the court.

Secondly, teams who are too turnover prone because of sloppy ballhandling often find themselves on the short end of the stick because those blown possessions turned out to be the difference-maker.

If you spend some extra time evaluating tournament teams in the area of offensive turnovers, you’re likely to be very pleased with the results. You’ll steer clear of vulnerable teams you might have otherwise invested in and you’ll bet against a few mistake-prone teams you might not have noticed otherwise.

#5 - Respect The Track Records of Veteran Head Coaches

One of the interesting things about the Big Dance year-after-year is how often storylines repeat. Some head coaches have a knack for moving through the brackets even in seasons where they weren’t deemed as serious threats. Other coaches have a knack for failing to meet expectations no matter how favourable their seeding is.

Certain styles win, particularly for coaches who emphasise balance, defence, and ball protection! Certain styles lose, particularly for coaches who flounder when it’s time to win a chess game because they emphasise recruiting individual stars rather than building teams.

Try to spend some time reviewing straight up and against-the-spread results from the past five tournaments to get a sense of common storylines. Go further back for head coaches who have been managing their teams for many years. History does repeat in this sport, largely because of the factors we’ve discussed today. Certain approaches and team characteristics thrive in the post-season!

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