NCAA Tournament Wagering and Handicapping: Best Value Bets 2015
by Trevor Whenham - 3/18/2015
Normally when we are looking at the NCAA tournament in the days before it starts we are focused on our brackets. The tournament - especially on the first weekend - is at least as attractive as a place for bettors to find some nice value as it is for playing pools, though. You have to be careful, but there can be some very nice value to be found on the opening two days of the tournament. To help with your NCAA tournament handicapping, here are the five best value bets of the first two days of the tournament in my eyes:
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Georgia State (+9) vs. Baylor (Thursday, 1:40 p.m. ET): I don't love this Baylor team. They score a lot of points, but they do it despite not shooting particularly well inside the arc and while turning the ball over too much. Georgia State is a talented, experienced team, and they have the size and the talent to disrupt the Bears. Georgia State has nothing to lose, and they are playing with a lot of confidence right now. They can smother teams defensively, and they are going to be willing to take a lot of risks here. I don't have a lot of love for the Big 12 in general this year. In fact, I expect them to have a really lousy tournament. Georgia State is more than capable of starting that off. They could pull off a big upset, but at the very least they are capable of keeping it close - closer than nine points. There is nice value here.
SMU (-3.5) vs. UCLA (Thursday, 3:10 pm ET): This is almost too easy. The Bruins are the least-deserving team in the entire field. They have not played well against good teams. They have not elevated their game in their biggest contests. They have not played well away from home. SMU is a talented team that plays a much more cohesive, team-oriented style than UCLA ever could. Plus, Larry Brown knows a thing or two about coaching. You'd think that he'd be past his prime at this stage in his career, but he is coaching really well right now, and he has this team on the same page. I expect the Bruins to disappoint - which is what they have done best for the last several years.
Stephen F. Austin (+6.5) vs. Utah (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET): This is the best of the 5-12 games on tap for this year. Utah is a very good team, with talent all over the court and some decent success this year. They haven't been as strong away from home lately as they were earlier in the year, but they are still dangerous. Stephen F. Austin beat VCU as a No. 12 last year, so they know how to handle this situation. They have lost just once since late November, and are a dynamic and tough team. They are fully capable of pulling an upset again, so I am willing to bet that the Lumberjacks can at least keep this one close.
Eastern Washington (+7.5) vs. Georgetown (Thursday, 10 p.m. ET): I just don't like this Georgetown team. Not at all. On paper they have talent, and they should be very good. They are not playing like it, though - at least not with any consistency. They don't play with any heart, and they don't seem to elevate their game when it matters. Eastern Washington is obviously a less-talented team, but they can shoot very well from outside the arc, and that can give a better team fits if they are shooting well. I don't like the Hoyas in the tournament at the best of times, and they are not at their best right now. I like the chances of the underdog to keep it close - at least.
Buffalo (+4.5) vs. West Virginia (Friday, 2:10 p.m. ET): I have nothing but respect for the job that Bobby Hurley is doing as coach at Buffalo. That kills me - I hated that Duke team of his back in the day. He has turned this team around very quickly and is leading them to the program's first-ever tournament appearance. It is no fluke. They are an efficient, creative, and very disciplined team, and they are going to be ready for this game. They have been playing very well over the last month. West Virginia is a decent team, but I am not in love with them. They are really reliant on their press - almost to a gimmicky level. Hurley is going to be able to find ways to disrupt the Mountaineers, and that give the Bulls a very good chance of not just making their tournament appearance but getting their first win as well. This is a nice value play.
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