The Madness that is March by Jim Feist

The craziness of March has already begun as the conference tournaments started this week. Already we’ve seen the underdogs show up and have a lot of bite to go along with their bark. Truth be known, there are many teams this year that can be ranked within a very few points of each other. Then you have a few teams, namely the Dukes, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Villanova and perhaps Xavier that could be ranked a little bit higher than the rest. But that difference between the upper echelon teams and the next level is not that great that the top teams can’t be beaten by several of the next level teams right below them.

Why is there so much parity this year? My feeling is, that just like the NBA where the teams realize that all that matters is getting to the big dance or the playoffs.  In the NBA, most of the regular season games are not as meaningful as they once were. We see more and more teams resting their stars, especially last in the regular season. In college, kids today are different than they used to be. I’d say there’s less of a pride factor among today’s young college players.

There’s always been this element of the underdogs doing well in the first rounds of all tournaments and perhaps that’s because in the first rounds the bigger teams, the better teams, the higher-rated teams are not yet playing.  What happens is that some underdogs start winning early in the conference tournaments, they look good as they win a game or two and then they have to play the stronger teams that got early byes. At this point, those teams playing back-to-back games or three games in three nights start to show fatigue and the teams they are playing are fresher and less tired.  When handicapping all of these tournament games we have to remember that the teams that have done very well during the regular season and have 20 wins are not all created equal. Those that have faced reasonable or really good competition are pretty well assured that they’re going to make the big dance, despite what happens in their conference tournaments.  It’s the teams that have 20 or more win against mediocre or poor opposition that need to be aware of missing out if they don’t win their conference tournament. Winning 20 games or more is no guarantee that your ticket to the NCAA Tournament will be punched. Therefore, from a motivational standpoint, always look for the teams that are assured of the big dance to be a little less motivated in the conference tournaments then they otherwise might have been.

As we go forward in the conference tournaments look for the stronger teams to start showing up and perhaps more of the favorites will do better the deeper we go.  I look back on my years of handicapping experience, over 47 to be precise, that has shown me that the fatigue factor plays a big role at this juncture of the season. The fact is that the better teams can go deeper into their bench and teams not quite as good have to play fewer players for longer periods of time. Also look at how teams perform on the road. The NCAA tournament plays all road games, but some teams get geographically close to their home sites. The CIT, CBI the NIT will play home games, but eventually all move to neutral sites. How these teams do on the road will show you how they perform away from home and on a neutral court.  That can be key factor as many teams perform great on their own home court in front of their own fans. However, when you put that same team on a neutral or road court, we will see a dramatic drop-off.  The better teams, those that perform on the road will be the teams that perform best in these tournaments.

Good luck and enjoy the best time of the year for basketball fans and bettors.