Huge horse racing junkies live for the big days to bet the big races. That's why they've created three "future pools" for people to wager the Kentucky Derby. But if your horse doesn't enter the starting gate you don't even get your money back...damn. If you're a mega partier, you get up big-time for New Year's Eve. Love to play golf? You count the April days toward The Masters.
So where am I going here. It's T-Time. The big dance, March Madness and the NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament. But what about the forgotten NIT? Please no acronym jokes about "not in tournament" or "not invited tonight", etc. There are some really good college basketball teams playing in the National Invitational Tournament in 2016 and more important for you to consider, some selective ones to wager upon.
The second race at Mountaineer Park
For some reason, most gamblers like to focus on the big event. Maybe it's an ego thing but is that the major purpose why we spend our time investing our attention? I think not. It's nice bragging you had the Super Bowl winner but I'd rather win big on a forgotten Jaguars-Browns game in NFL Week Four. In the same way, horseplayers spend weeks studying 3-year old form to bet the Kentucky Derby, where you might find a great 25-1 shot laying in the weeds on the card at Mountaineer Park on the first Saturday in May.
Which brings us to the NIT. Take a 10 second look at the bracket and you might think you're looking at the NCAA tournament 2015. OK, that's a stretch but so many familiar top schools. South Carolina, Florida, Virginia Tech, St. Bonaventure and many others didn't qualify for the big dance but are not exactly "second-rate" talent-wise nor second-rate competitive-wise either. Many like the Florida Gators or the South Carolina Gamecocks get bounced out due to being in ultra-competitive conferences like the SEC and faced major competition throughout their schedule. Putting it in Dick Vitale language...no cupcakes baby.
On the other side, smaller schools like Monmouth and Valparaiso (#1 seeds) play in smaller conferences but are very good teams, rich with experienced seniors that aren't off to the NBA after one flashy freshman year. Either they get in to the NCAA in a 14th to 16th seed or traditionally get screwed to this status. That is a fact of life for these schools. But overall, the field for this year's NIT is loaded with many teams used to going to the "big tournament", making for a very balance field.
Another knock against the NCAA Tournament is their ridiculous weight on season-ending conference tournaments. Dream all you want about Cinderella dances but what is Austin Peay doing in the field at 18-17? Kansas is currently a -26.5 favorite at Diamond Sports, Bovada, BetOnline and most elite-rated offshore sportsbooks to bury them in Round One this week. Your wagering strategy might be to take a nap and show up with 5 minutes left in the game to watch if they can cover over the Jayhawks.
At least all the teams in the NIT have pretty solid winning records. Although they may not have won their conference tournament, especially in tough conferences like an SEC or Big 10, they earned a chance here to compete and show NBA scouts their mettle. Also forgotten is this could be the very last game for many player's careers.
NIT Betting Strategies
Unlike the NCAA Tournament, the NIT is often more tilted toward betting favorites, especially in the early rounds. Where many have made a living in the first round of "March Madness", strictly tabbing underdogs, I tend to keep an eye on a few select favorites to cover. Here's a BEST BET on the radar screen.
St. Mary's CA -11 vs. New Mexico State
The Gaels of St. Mary's could be a "sweet 16" candidate in the NCAA Tournament and are a legit contender to win it all in the NIT. They've been on the bubble three straight years to get in the NCAA and even beat Gonzaga twice in the regular season, tying them for the conference regular season title. But again, the Gaels lost in the ultimate tournament showdown to the Zags to get screwed. Guess they would have to join the Big 12 conference to assure a spot to get in. It's a shame.
Here they are at home being on the court in California against the Aggies of New Mexico State, who have to travel. New Mexico State is not a slouch but are overmatched against a St. Mary's team that is angry and out to prove it. The better news for bettors is St. Mary's is 7-0 against the spread against non-conference opponents and 8-1 ATS in their last nine games against Western Athletic Conference teams. St. Mary's is currently -10.5 at top-rated sportsbook BetOnline and climbing. Probably a good idea to get down early as the line figures to increase before tip-off.
Maybe the only distressing news about the NIT is which team is not going to be there. Either the LSU Tigers were not invited or they turned-down an invitation to play. I am betting that the usual NCAA politics were involved. Perhaps it wasn't worth risking an injury to projected NBA first choice, superstar freshman Ben Simmons. I am sure ESPN did everything they could to persuade the Tigers to come to this dance.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, inlcuding NFL previews and picks from Glenn, click here.