March Madness Betting Trends - NIT Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 3/16/2010
In all the excitement and anticipation surrounding the NCAA Tournament, it's easy to forget that there is another tournament that actually starts a couple of days before the big dance - one that actually used to be the most prestigious one. The NIT may now be just the place where teams that aren't good enough to make the real tournament play, but it's still provide plenty of betting opportunities, and anything that you can bet on can't be all bad. Here's a look at how this year's National Invitational Tournament shapes up, and what you need to consider when approaching the tournament:
Consider hurt feelings - The NIT is where teams that were snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, or at least think that they were, wind up. That means that there will be some teams in the NIT who think that they are far too good to be there. That in turn could mean that some teams won't be performing with all of the effort and intensity that they should be. In each of the last two years just one of the four No. 1 seeds has won their eight-team region, and this might be a reason for that. The best candidate for such a letdown in the NIT field is Virginia Tech. They finished 23-9 this year, and coach Seth Greenberg has been very vocal about their exclusion from the main field. Greenberg misses out of the fact that they just aren't a great team, and instead focuses on how they compared to other not great teams that made the NCAA field.
It's not a neutral site tournament - The last two rounds of the tournament are played at Madison Square Garden, but up until that point the bracket is played out on the home court of the higher ranked team. That means that there is a definite home court advantage in play that isn't a factor in the NCAA Tournament. It's much harder upsetting a team on their own court than on a neutral court, so you have to give the higher ranked teams more credit in the NIT than you necessarily would in the real tournament. There's an interesting twist to be aware of this year as well. Illinois is a No. 1 seed, but their administration obviously didn't anticipate that they would be a NIT team because their arena is booked for a Cirque du Soleil show. That means that they are forced to open their tournament on the road at Stony Brook.
Rivalries - Like in the NCAA Tournament, you need to consider both established and new rivalries that can be created by the brackets. Teams are often unfamiliar with each other when they meet in a tournament, but if the teams are motivated by a geographical or historical link then there could be extra levels of motivation at work. The most obvious example of that occurs in the first round this year. Little-known Jackson State has a chance to pull off an upset of in-state rivals Mississippi State in a game that would mean much more to Jackson State than it would to the Bulldogs. There are other examples as well - if Quinnipiac could pull off a big upset over Virginia Tech then the team from Hamden, Connecticut could meet up with the monstrous in-state powerhouse of UConn, and UNC and NC State could meet up in a quarterfinal showdown for state superiority. Mississippi and Mississippi State are also on course to meet up in the semifinals if all goes well for both squads, and since both are high seeds that certainly could happen.
Think about motivation - For some teams, getting to the NIT is a serious accomplishment - a goal they have been working towards. For others it's a letdown, even a punishment for a frustrating season. Motivation, then, can be a bigger factor in these games than in almost any game we have seen up until this point in the season. The trick, though, is to balance the impact of that motivation with the unavoidable fact that talent comes out on top most of the time if there is a real mismatch.
Don't get sucked in by names - When you hear the names North Carolina and UConn you think of indomitable basketball powerhouses. This year, though, they are just a couple of No. 4 seeds in the NIT, and they probably only really landed that high because of those big names. It can be very tempting to back these teams because of what they have done in the past, and because we know so much more about them than many of their potential opponents. Oddsmakers know that inclination, though, and they will exploit it for all it's worth. You need to go deeper than the names to avoid being sucked in.
My two cents - Despite their scheduling issues I think that Illinois was given a very nice bracket to contest, and I like their chances of advancing to New York. I think Memphis is dangerous as a three seed, and they have the potential to win their bracket. I think Rhode Island is a two seed that should be a one seed, and I am not nearly as impressed with Virginia Tech as Greenberg is, so I'll take the Rams to pull off the upset there. Mississippi State looked good against Kentucky in the SEC tournament final, and if they can carry that momentum forward here should win their bracket. I'll pick one upset in the semifinals and pick Memphis to beat Illinois, while I'll go with chalk and take Mississippi State over Rhode Island in the other. I'm surprising myself a bit as I say that Mississippi State will come out on top in the end.
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