Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Monday, February 27, 2017 at 5:00 PM
If you’re like most sports bettors…you’re starting to watch A LOT of college basketball on TV now as you gear up for March Madness. Telecasts of marquee matchups always show the current AP poll ranking for each team. Don’t fall into the trap of letting those poll rankings influence how YOU rate the teams!
*First of all, it’s a big mistake to think of college basketball teams being on a “ladder” that starts at one and works its way down to 25. There’s so much parity in this sport right now that many of the top teams are fairly even. You can be reasonably accurate with “report card” grades…rating teams as A-plus, A, A-minus, and so on. But, truly pinning down the order within those grades? Nobody’s that smart. Numbers 6 and 10 might actually be dead even. The nature of the quality curve might mean 15 and 25 are dead even.
*Secondly, pollsters have proven time and time again that they aren’t very good at their job. They’re okay…but okay isn’t good enough if you want to beat an educated betting market. In the AP poll that just came out Monday morning Las Vegas time…the Pac 12 currently has three teams ranked in the top seven! That’s #3 UCLA, #6 Oregon, and #7 Arizona. I can tell you there’s NO WAY that all three of those teams are a cut above those who rank just below them. Maybe one will get hot and reach the Final Four. But, UCLA still has serious defensive issues. Oregon is sloppy with the ball. Arizona has just been exposed as a team that plays sluggish offense vs. a zone. Three of the best seven teams in the country? No way. Three teams on the list of potential headline makers? Sure…but there are more than a dozen of those. Maybe two dozen given some recent super-surgers.
*Mid-majors like Gonzaga, Wichita State, SMU, and St. Mary’s are typically overrated by the polls because they rack up great records in softer conferences. Any are capable of scoring big victories in the Dance. But, more often than not…they underachieve media expectations in March. For every one that sneaks deep into the brackets, three or four are exposed and dispatched early because they’re not battle-tested. Try to give that caliber of team the respect it deserves…but not MORE respect than it deserves.
*Teams who are slumping late in the season often take awhile to fall out of the top 25 because their full season record is still so good. But, most teams that limp toward the finish line keep limping in the postseason. They either ran out of gas…got sick of playing with each other…got sick of their head coach…or had a style of play that was eventually figured out by opponents. There are arguably teams in the top 25 right now who wouldn’t crack the top 40 if you only judged on recent form. Beating Vegas means knowing how teams are playing RIGHT NOW.
*Finally today, a lot of teams who are just outside the Top 25 rankings are actually better than teams who are in it! And, that could go down to as far as #40 or so on the scale. Just look at the Big 10 conference. Recent results look almost upside down based on what the standings had shown at the midway point of league play. Oklahoma State of the Big 12 is being priced like a top 15 team lately even though they haven’t cracked the Top 25 yet. Casual TV viewers can fall into the trap of thinking ranked teams must be better than unranked teams. Not always the case.
I hope you keep today’s discussion in mind as you watch all the TV blockbusters through the week. When building or updating your Power Ratings, ignore the mainstream media while focusing on skill sets, strengths and weaknesses, and recent form. Think about using a report card evaluation as a starting point…then don’t be afraid to rate a few teams on each line as being dead even or within a point of each other. You’re going to see a lot of pick-em or near pick-games in all the neutral court tournament games. Be in synch with how the market visualizes team quality rather than how pollsters do.
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Your friend behind the line will continue to post market data and team evaluation tips at least three times a week from this point through the tournaments. Based on prior seasons, you can expect even more coverage over the first two weeks of the Dance. I know I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are too.
Thanks for reading. See you again next time.