March Madness Handicapping: Keys to NCAA Tournament Success



FairwayJay chips in some handicapping tips for the NCAA Tournament focusing on offense, defense, rebounding and other stats and profiles to guide you towards more profit.

Betting tips and winning formulas for cashing in on March Madness

In seasons past, I've written some college basketball postseason primers with NCAA Tournament betting tips and keys to NCAA Tournament success. I've combined some thoughts and chip-in some handicapping insight with information you can bet on when analyzing the NCAA Tournament and keys to success.聽

The volume of betting activity at the leading online sportsbooks and now more legal U.S. sportsbooks is tremendous at this time of year. Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of both conferences and teams helps the astute handicappers and bettors come tournament time.聽But the difference in March Madness is that in the elimination format of the NCAA Tournament, one poor, uneven stretch of play or a scoring drought can quickly end a team's season. There is no playoff series like the pros, or next conference game for the upcoming week. It's one and done elimination time.聽

NCAA Tournament betting tipsThe variance of 3-point shooting will cost some teams in the NCAA Tournament and post season play, and help others pull an upset. But along with rule changes in the college game over the years, the fundamentals of college basketball remain the same when evaluating the teams and match-ups. I have relied on these fundamentals when handicapping and evaluating contests while using statistical and ATS profiles, scheduling, late season situations, meaningful games and match-up analysis, which includes select teams that pressure the basketball and play better defense as top defensive teams.聽

Highest Scoring Teams in NCAA Tournament聽聽

To give you an idea on scoring increase, here are the number of teams that have averaged at least 80 points per game in recent seasons. There were 16 teams this season (included two at 79.9 PPG), and those notable teams in the 2021 NCAA Tournament include:

路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Gonzaga (92.1)
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Colgate (86.4)
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Baylor (84.4)
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Iowa (83.8)
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Arkansas (82.4)
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 LSU (82.2)
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Illinois (81.1)
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Ohio (80.4)聽

Close - Alabama (79.6) and Florida State (78.9)聽

路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 2014-15 鈥 3 teams
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 2015-16 鈥 23 teams
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 2016-17 鈥 36 teams
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 2017-18 鈥 37 teams
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 2018-19 鈥 24 teams
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 2019-20 - 9 teams
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 2020-21 鈥 16 teams

OSGA march madness contest

Keys to NCAA Tournament success

Offense:聽Scoring and offense continues to get headlines and is imperative for success. In tournament play, you must be able to score and avoid long scoring droughts. But with the top teams playing in the NCAA Tournament, there are more teams聽capable on the defensive end of shutting down one scoring option. Take the time as able to review the聽top shooting teams, then break down the tournament match-ups and dig deeper into 2-point and 3-point shooting, efficiency along with pace of play and how those teams fared against other top teams. Stronger defensive teams often force longer possessions and give nothing away, forcing players to make more passes in search of quality shots. Thus, experience is a real plus along with quality point guard play and scoring balance, both from the perimeter and inside with multiple scoring options.

March Madness betting anglesDefense: Teams that play solid defense and minimize turnovers and second chance opportunities will win more games. Defensive dominators are your best bet. 聽Strong defensive teams are often very well coached, and can make adjustments to another teams strength or offensive abilities. A scan of KenPom's聽top-20 defensive efficiency teams and rankings shows some of the highest seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament: Gonzaga (10), Illinois (5), Michigan (7), Alabama (2), Houston (16), Kansas (6), Arkansas (14), Tennessee (4). Teams seeded 6 and 7 in the NCAA Tournament also in the top 20 of defensive efficiency include San Diego State, USC and Clemson with No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago ranking No. 1 in the country in defensive efficiency. Oklahoma State, Purdue and Texas Tech are next in the top-25.聽

Discipline on defense and players willing to commit on that end of the court is a learned skill by coaches that demand it with constant energy and effort on defense. The type of defense a team plays may vary from game to game with man-to-man, zone or full court pressure. Superior defensive teams and those that have quality athletes and flexibility to adjust are your best bets. Key stats to analyze are聽defensive field goal percentage聽and聽turnovers forced, with overall points-per-game allowed also of note, especially versus quality teams.

Rebounding: One of the most overlooked areas in evaluating teams is their ability to rebound the basketball. The key here is rebounding margin, which goes together with a team鈥檚 defensive field goal percentage. Teams that are physical, strong and athletic on the boards also create more fouls on the opponent and get to the free throw line more often. The top teams will always be strong in these areas, and the ability to control the boards, rebound relentlessly on offense and minimize second-chance points on defense will go a long way in determining whether a team advances or not.聽

Notable tournament teams with rebounding margin of 7.5 or more per game include: North Carolina, (10+), Illinois, Utah State, Houston (9+) and Gonzaga (7.5+).聽

Other stat profiles and parameters include scoring margin. These NCAA Tournament teams all had an average scoring margin of at least 11 points per game this season led by Gonzaga鈥檚 remarkable +23 points per game scoring margin. They were followed by: Houston (+19), Colgate, Baylor (+17), Loyola Chicago, Cal Santa Barbara and San Diego State (+13), Illinois (+12), Iowa, Arkansas, Michigan and Utah State.聽

The difficulty for many handicappers and bettors is breaking down the match-ups with less familiar teams. Evaluating the statistical information, interpreting the data and analyzing how teams and players will perform when facing a different level of class opponent often keeps bettors away from unknown teams. Many will bet on the bigger favorites and name brands without knowing the strength and ability of some of the mid-major teams.聽

The intangibles of coaching, leadership, experience, team chemistry, injuries and riding momentum are part of the process in uncovering information to assist you when betting.聽

As you evaluate other statistical profiles and parameters, including assist-to-turnover ratio and net turnover margin, note that teams that take care of the basketball and create better shots with ball movement more than isolated one-on-one play will add to a team鈥檚 positive profile and winning ways. Often to produce profit.聽

The betting line is the great equalizer, and the opening week of action most often produces the best opportunity to cash and find value when trying to beat the bookmakers at the leading online sportsbooks.聽

Avoid getting stuck on media members comments or public perception, and also of touts that make false claims or have you believing they have all the answers. Recognize that each match-up and the next one as teams advance have its own place in evaluation. Don鈥檛 over-react to the most recent result, as the match-ups are key, as is coach and identifying potential value in a betting line.聽

Stick to some of these 'Fairway Fundamentals' and concepts and you'll start to see the court more clearly. With some added good fortune, you'll make more shots and layups and cash in when betting basketball at the online sportsbooks.聽

You can bet on it.

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay


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