NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Betting: Difference Between First and Second Week
by Trevor Whenham - 3/26/2014
While betting on the NCAA Tournament requires a different approach than betting on the college basketball regular season, smart bettors also know that betting on the tournament also changes as the tournament moves on and the field gets smaller. In particular, there are some significant differences between the first and second weekends of the tournament that bettors need to be aware of. When the difference between teams is small, as it is this year, these differences could be what allows us to find value in our bets in the Sweet 16 and beyond. Here are five such differences:
More dumb public money in the first week: The first weekend of the tournament, and the first two days in particular, are a major spectacle. People in large numbers are betting on the tournament who haven't likely paid any attention to college basketball for a year. They don't have a lot of recent information about teams, and they are likely to be making decisions based more on reputation, history or media hype than on sound handicapping principles. That means that value in the first round can be particularly juicy in spots where the public is likely to aggressively jump on teams not necessarily worthy of their faith. This year we saw vulnerable teams like Ohio State, Duke, and Kansas disappoint bettors in the face of heavy action, and the public also overbet Louisville heavily given Manhattan coach Steve Masiello's intimate knowledge of the Cardinals and Rick Pitino. By the second week of the tournament some of the enthusiasm of the fairweather fans has dissipated, and those that keep betting have more recent knowledge to base decisions on, so they can make slightly better decisions. There can still be some value to be found, but the public won't help things out quite as much as they did in the opening weekend.
More parity in the second week: There are obviously some teams that are better than others on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The gap between the best teams and the worst, though, is dramatically smaller than it is in the opening weekend. This year is a perfect example. There were plenty of mismatches in the first week of the tournament, but the biggest spread in the Sweet 16 is 6.5 points, and five of the eight games have spreads of three points or less. When the games are tighter, the outcome is less clear, and it takes more skill and attention to effectively determine which team will come out on top.
Teams have more prep time before the Sweet 16 than the round of 32: The last time we saw all of the surviving teams, they had had just a single day off to get ready for their game, so they were surviving as much on skill, adrenaline and overall commitment to systems as anything else. Teams have at least three full days off before their Sweet 16 game, so they have much more time to prepare and practice. That gives an edge to teams that can more effectively gameplan and to coaches who can better prepare for opponents and make their own teams less predictable. Teams that are more versatile and experienced could have an edge in these situations.
Teams have had a week to realize where they are: Making the Sweet 16 is a big deal for any program, but that's especially so for teams that aren't used to this kind of success. When teams have overachieved to get this far they have a few days to enjoy the media attention, get attention poured upon them by friends, families and fellow students, and think about what they have done and what is ahead of them. More often than not, then, teams that have been major surprises in the opening weekend are unable to match their intensity or effectiveness. That's in part because the time off has ensured that they can't sneak up on better teams, but it's also because the teams aren't as used to the spotlight, so are not as mentally-prepared for the challenge of this round as more established programs are.
Bigger, louder arenas: The regional finals are the first time that we can see games played in buildings not designed for basketball. This year, for example, the Midwest is playing in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the home of the Colts. The effect of playing in a football stadium hasn't proven to be as significant in terms of an impact on shooting as the public expects, so we can see teams that rely heavily on shooting to be bet poorly by the public in these cases. Wherever the games are played, though, there are only four teams playing, and fans of those schools could be more likely to travel because of the significance of the games. The fan impact in games can be significant, then, as crowds can be particularly vocal. Indianapolis, for example, is likely to be a crazy setting as both Louisville and Kentucky are short drives away and have passionate fans that really hate their Sweet 16 opponent. Michigan is not far away, either, and the Wolverines likely to have plenty of support, so the crowd will be a big factor in all three games. Similarly, UConn should have more than their share of support at Madison Square Garden, and San Diego State fans will be out in full force in Anaheim.
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