Sweet 16 Betting: Differences Between First and Second Weekends
by Trevor Whenham - 3/23/2015
When a lot of casual bettors think about the NCAA tournament, they think of it as one big event - three glorious weekends of basketball every March. Smarter bettors, know, though, that that isn't entirely accurate. In reality, each weekend of the tournament is very different than the one that came before it from a betting perspective. Really, every round is different in a number of ways. As we await the start of the Sweet 16 after the end of the round of 32, it's a good time to reflect on five of the biggest differences between the first and second weekends and what they means for bettors:
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Less dumb money in week two: The NCAA tournament is the best sporting event of the year for my money. Within the tournament, the best days of action are the first two, and the last two. Those first two are like catnip for casual college basketball bettors. People who haven't bet on basketball all year, and likely haven't even paid attention, suddenly imagine themselves to be experts. They aren't satisfied with just filling out their brackets, so they look to put their genius on display at the betting window as well. Needless to say, these people can't always be counted on to make the best betting decisions. They bet with their hearts and not their heads, and they certainly don't put a lot of time or effort into analysis and handicapping. That, of course, is good news for bettors who are smart enough to understand what dumb money means. If you like a team when the public likes the opponent, and you have a good reason for it, then you could find some really juicy value in your bet. That's never a bad thing. Unfortunately, by the second weekend a lot of public bettors have already lost money or seen their tournament enthusiasm fade, so a bigger proportion of the money bet on games is smart(er) money. That likely means fewer out-of-whack lines and fewer chances to make the kind of value bet you dream of in high-profile games.
More competitive balance: To get to the Sweet 16 teams have had to win at least two games, and three in the case of those squads forced to open their tournaments in Dayton. At this time of year you do not win two or three games by fluke. To do so you have good talent, a good game plan, and you have been able to effectively craft a strategy against a decent opponent that maximized your advantage. It's much more likely, then, that we will see well-matched, more competitive games in this round than we necessarily will in the far more random opening round. It's still possible to see an unfair fight in this round - for reasons we will touch on later in this article - but for the most part if your handicapping indicates that only one team has any chance at all of winning then you might want to take a second look.
Time to regroup: The first week of the tournament is just crazy for teams. They find out if and where they are playing on Sunday night. They scramble to make arrangements and to prepare for a game a couple of days later. Then they get a single day off before doing it all again. The whole time they are caught in the excitement and chaos of the event they have all dreamed of playing in since they first picked up a basketball. That chaos affects teams in different ways. Some ride the wave for all its worth and exceed every expectation of where they should be (looking at you here, UCLA), while others just don't handle it well and put out less than their best efforts by far (paging Villanova, Kansas and Virginia). For the teams that make the second week, though, things slow down at least a little bit. They have a few days off to regroup and refocus. They already know where they are heading and who they could be playing. Many times we'll see a team that has looked vulnerable in the opening games become much more solid on the second week after they rediscover themselves and get back on track.
Reality sets in: When I think of teams here, I can't help but think of Florida Gulf Coast - though they are far from the only one that fits. In 2013 as a No. 15 seed the Eagles stunned Georgetown and San Diego State on the opening weekend. They didn't just beat both opponents - they crushed them, winning both games by 10 points. They were unbeatable, and they became national media darlings. Then they had four days to think about what they were doing, read the headlines, and get swallowed up by the hype. In the Sweet 16 they played Florida, and they were never even in the game. It was ugly. Sometimes teams that have overachieved realize who they are and crash back to earth here. Of course, that's not always the case - as George Mason proved so perfectly with their Final Four run in 2006, for example.
The stages get bigger: Every game in the NCAA tournament is huge - the biggest that players have ever played in many cases. As the field narrows, though, each game becomes dramatically more important. The pressure magnifies as players realize what they have already accomplished and how much closer they are to the biggest prize. Some teams thrive in those situations - Kentucky and UConn certainly did last year. Others shrink under the weight of expectations - Duke has done that more than once in recent years, to pick on one program. It's an imprecise science, but the better you can get at judging how well teams can handle intense pressure, the better you will do handicapping the second weekend of the tournament.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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