Finally, the best time of year for college basketball fans is here. It's March Madness and whether you are spectator or bettor, you can't help but be excited to see the madness unfold. Many bettors find March basketball to be unpredictable and often times miss out on a ton of value on the board. As a former full-scholarship NCAA basketball player just last year, I will try to give you some key pointers to success in March from a player's perspective on some things that you may be overlooking or aren't aware of.
March is all about finding the right rhythm at the right time. When breaking down any game one of the first things you should look at is how a team ended regular season conference play and how they performed in their conference tournament. A team that has found its groove late in the end of the season can be dangerous around this time of year (i.e. UConn), despite public perception of their overall performance year-round. It's not about how you start but simply how you finish, this is true in anything in life including sports. You may be able to find value in an under-the-radar team that is clicking on all cylinders when it comes to the fundamentals of the game. Search for teams with consistent play as of late, the confidence they possess can sometimes be very influential.
Possessions, possessions, possessions; I cannot stress this enough. The teams who take care of the ball and value every possession usually win around this time of year, this is a fact. Some of the best teams out their turn the ball over at a very high rate; in March this can send you home. Common sense - the more possessions you have, the more shot attempts you get, and the less free baskets you give up. This will increase any team’s chances of winning, no matter how much of an "underdog" the public may perceive them to be. When breaking down games, look at how often a team turns the ball over. At this point every team has its own habits, so there won't be much of a surprise or curveball when it comes to their style of play.
3. Free Throws
Close games come down to free throws. You would much rather want to be on the side of the team who shoots free throws at a more consistent rate in close games. With the new hand check rules put in place this year, referees are calling touch fouls more than ever. Teams that get to the free throw line often and make them at a high percentage present great value in the tournament. For example, take a team like UConn; they have the highest free throw percentage in the country right now - 78.7% and just about anyone you send to the line will be able to knock them down. This is tough to beat because it forces teams to guard and defense is not a strong suit of every team. There's always value in a team that knocks down free throws versus a team that shoots poorly from the line. This single stat alone can be the difference between a late game cover, push, or loss.
If a team can't play engaged team defense, they won't make it too far. In sports we constantly see what great defensive teams do to great offenses, yet it is often overlooked. Why? Because public perception loves offense and teams that can put points on the scoreboard. Defense is considered "boring" but it's what wins games/championships. A team that can play great defense has an identity as a unit versus relying on a very talented player as the identity of the team. Think about it, if this player gets hurt or gets in foul trouble, the entire style of play for that particular team changes. Good defense almost always dictates the opposing team’s offense. Even better - good defense in turn creates good offense. Look for teams that take every possession on defense seriously and play with intensity as a group, these are the teams that are tough to beat (i.e. Virginia, Wichita St.).
Experience cannot be bought. There is great value in having been in a position before or multiple times because it makes you that much more comfortable the next time around. This goes for players, coaches, and coaching staffs. A seasoned, experienced team can go a long way in March. It is up to coaches to make adjustments and take advantage of key matchups in these loser-goes-home situations. The more a coach and his staff have been in the tournament, the better decisions they will make behind the scenes. The more times players have appeared in the tournament before hand, the better decisions they will make on the court in pressure situations. Look for experience, not youth. Sure there are exceptions, take Duke last year. You have to remember that they have possibly the greatest NCAA Division I coach of all time on their bench and his EXPERIENCE allowed him to put those talented freshman in the right position to succeed consistently. Look for teams with experience, especially at the guard position because they will be handling the ball for the majority of the game. Look for experienced coaches and staffs who know what to expect during this time of year.
You can never have too much information. Each bet is an informed decision. It's completely up to you how much of an informed decision you make. You can make yourself sharper than others on a certain game simply by putting more time into it. Take the time to cover all the details and not cut any corners. From school newspapers, to beat writers, to local articles, forums, injury reports, etc. There is a ton of information at your fingertips and the more you come across, the better you will be. Dig deep and find as much information as possible when breaking down games to give yourself an advantage that others may be too lazy to find or unaware of. It’s all about giving yourself an edge.
We know how much attention comes with big games in the tournament. Many bettors feel the pressure to bet on the big games just for the sake of having action on it. Your goal is to find value, wherever it may be. March is a good time to capitalize on games that may not be getting as much attention; such as the NIT, CIT, or even NBA, as some of these games will have much softer lines. There's nothing wrong with having money on a less appealing game with more value. You can always watch that big game a lot less stress-free knowing you found excellent value elsewhere. It's easy to get sidetracked by the hype, but if you stick to your disciplines, you can having a truly profitable run to end the month.
These are just a few things I look at while breaking down games as a former player. Focus on the fundamentals of the game and which team is more solid fundamentally on a consistent basis. You'll be very surprised at the information you come across if you dig deep enough to give yourself an edge. Try not to focus on finding "locks" but finding great value in each pick you make. This will produce returns beyond your expectations. Best of luck to everyone out there this March; I hope I shed some light on some things you may not have been exactly been looking for. Also, good luck to a numerous amount of my friends participating in post-season play this college season. If you find this content to be of value, please share it so that we can help as many people possible this March. Also, feel free to ask me any questions you may have, I will be happy to answer. All feedback/criticism is welcome as well: Twitter - @WageAid.