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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, February 27, 2012 at 2:54 PM

The 372-game March Madness world begins tonight with two games from the Big South Conference-Radford at VMI and Gardner-Webb at High Point-and kicks into high gear Tuesday as the Horizon League begins its conference tournament. All the so-called minors and mid-majors begin post-season play this week with each entertaining hopes of sitting atop the world when the NCAA championship game is played in New Orleans April 2.

Hope springs eternal for 340 of the 344 teams that play NCAA Division I basketball, with only CS-Bakersfield (16-14), Seattle 10-15), Longwood (10-19) and Nebraska-Omaha (11-17) done for the season because they belong to no conference and have records that will not inspire an invite to the Big Dance.

It is a challenging but inviting and refreshing time of the year for handicappers as the "second season" begins. A new set of dynamics are in play in the post-season and the winners will come from understanding a world where there are no second chances. The world of one and done is upon us.

I have put together a strong March Madness Package and I am kicking it off tonight with a 25-unit play on one of the Big South games-Radford (6-25) at VMI (14-15) and Gardner-Webb (12-19) at High Point (12-17). VMI is an 8-point favorite, while High Point currently is -5. You can win tonight's game for just $25, or get on board for the entire 272-game March Madness Package for just $195 and play right through the NCAA championship game. The price includes all 500-unit and 100-unit games.

March Madness is considered the "second season" for me because it gives teams buried deeply in the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) a second opportunity to become one of the 68 teams invited to the NCAA Tournament. The winners of 30 conference tournaments get an automatic bid to the NCAA as does the winner of the regular season Ivy League championship. That leaves 37 open spots for at large teams.

In theory this means such as the 344th-rated team in the RPI standings-Binghamton (1-28)-and the 335th-ranked team, MD-Baltimore County (4-25)-can start anew their drive to get to the Big Dance. They meet Thursday night in the opening round of the American East Conference Tournament from Chase Arena in Hartford, CN, and the winner moves to its next game. Miracles can occur but it is easy to get run over in the fast lane.

Horizon League A Lesson In Paying Attention

As has been noted in previous writings, one must pay attention to the little things at conference tournament time and that begins with knowing where games are being played. The Horizon League, which begins tournament play tomorrow night, is a case in point.

The opening-round games are being played on the home court of the higher seeded team and that means 3rd-seeded Detroit (18-13, 11-7) will host 10th-seeded Loyola-Illinois (7-22, 1-17), 4th-seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee (19-12, 11-7) will host 9th-seeded Illinois-Chicago (8-21, 3-15), 5th-seeded Butler (18-13, 11-7) will host 8th-seeded Wright State (13-18, 7-11) and 6th-seeded Youngstown State (15-14, 10-8) will host 7th-seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay (15-14, 10-8).

Miracles are in play with the Horizon semi-finals are scheduled and for the Recreation Center in Valparaiso, IN. Awaiting the two teams that advance from the opening round are top-seeded Valparaiso (21-10, 14-4) which will be playing on its home floor and second-seeded Cleveland State (22-9, 12-6).

But, wait. The championship game will then be played on the home court of the highest remaining seed. All conference tournaments are not quite this wide-spread in game sites but scheduled differ from one to the other and there are some, such as the Patriot League, where all games are played on the home court of the highest ranked team and those like the Mountain West Conference which is played on the home court of UNLV, the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Rule number one of the conference tournaments: check the game site and make certain it does not favor a particular team.

RPI Is Now Powerful Handicapping Tool

I added the Ratings Percentage (RPI) to my handicapping repertoire in early January after teams had established themselves and found them valuable in analyzing most college games and I want to assure you they move to the head of the class in March Madness because they do show the true form-much of it hidden in the data-of each team.

In tonight's two ESPN games, Notre Dame (20-9), playing at Georgetown, is ranked 38th of 344 in the RPI ratings and has played the 50th toughest schedule in the country. Georgetown (21-6) is ranked 11th and has played the 20th toughest schedule in the country. In the other ESPN game, Kansas (24-5) is ranked the 6th best team in the country and has played the 10th toughest schedule, while Oklahoma State (14-15) is ranked 113th and has played a scheduled rated 30th.

With that information in hand, the handicapping process can begin and, as always, it becomes a matter of which covers the number.

For the record on tonight's two Big South games, Radford is the 326th-ranked team among the 344 and has played a schedule rated the 214th toughest. Its opponent, VMI, is ranked 284th and has played a schedule rated 321. In the second game, Gardner-Webb is ranked 295th and has played the 314th toughest schedule while host High Point is ranked 276th and has played the 266th toughest schedule.

Again, the RPI and SOS are a good place to start. There are numerous sites on the Internet that post the RPI and SOS (strength of schedule) figures.

Tonight's Betting Menu

ESPN Doubleheader Wins Tonight
Notre Dame at Georgetown   Kansas at Oklahoma State
My Best Bets Club went a perfect 2-0 again yesterday, winning a 15-unit play on underdog Colorado (+3) with its 70-57 win over California and getting the job done in a 5-unit play on Ohio (-4) in its 85-61 blowout win over Akron and I am going for two more today. I am releasing both games of an ESPN doubleheader-Notre Dame (20-9) at Georgetown (21-6) and Kansas (24-5) at Oklahoma State (14-15)-and am confident I will get the money in both games. The numbers are again as hard as a rock but in reading between the lines I found the elements that should get us the covers in both contests. Win these two ESPN games for just $15, charged to your major credit card.

25-Unit Knockout Play Kicks Off 272-Game March Madness Run
The 272-game March Madness run begins tonight with two Big South Conference Tournament games-Radford (6-25) at VMI (14-15) and Gardner Webb (12-19) at High Point (12-17)-and I am releasing one of these contests as a 25-unit knockout play to begin yet another successful post-season. The minors and the mid-majors go full blast this week, with the Horizon League beginning its college conference tournament Tuesday night and will five more conferences kicking in on Wednesday. You can win tonight's 25-unit play for just $25 or, better yet, get on board for the entire March Madness season than runs right through the NCAA championship game Monday night, April 2, for just $195. All major credit cards accepted.

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