A lesson in matchups just in time for tourney

March 8, 2019 11:20 PM

Rock, paper, winners.

You’ve probably heard that handicapping tournament basketball usually comes down to the matchups. Team A might match up great against Team B, but runs into Kryptonite against Team C. Upstart programs that run a lethal full court press can spring upsets against sloppy guards, but will allow layup after layup to smart opponents. An inside attack works great against a soft underbelly, but not against a tight zone. 

With major basketball powers soon embarking on their postseason journeys, Saturday provides a great opportunity to study the strengths and weaknesses of top contenders. 

Specifically, VSiN wants you to focus on these two games involving likely Elite Eight seeds: #4 Duke at #3 North Carolina (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET), and #7 Michigan at #9 Michigan State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

Casual bettors often fall into the following traps when betting marquee matchups…

  • Remembering a great outing from the team they want to bet on, and the worst recent outing of a team they want to bet against. (Losing by selective memory.)
  • Trying to figure out who’s “hot” or who’s “cold” based on recent straight up or point spread results. (Losing by turning sports betting into roulette.)
  • Holding a grudge against a head coach who didn’t win for them earlier this season or in past seasons. (Losing by thinking “that coach is a moron.”)

A “hot” team that runs a full-court press for a “brilliant” coach is still going to get waxed by a good ballhandling team that may not have covered its past few games. A “cold” team with a stingy zone defense can still knock off opponents who can’t make treys.  

If you force yourself to focus on skill sets instead of recent scores, you begin to develop a deeper sense of what really determines which teams win and cover. And, you realize how many mistakes you had been making with knee-jerk reactions.

Because the mainstream media has already done such a great job of hyping TV powers, let’s quickly discuss potential weaknesses that could derail Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, or Michigan the rest of the way. 

  • Duke has ranked worse than #300 all season nationally in three-point shooting percentage. The Blue Devils do occasionally hit their bombs. But, you don’t string together point spread covers in tournament basketball by occasionally hitting treys. Duke is also in the lower half of national rankings in defensive rebounding rate. Hustling opponents can earn second-chance points. 
  • North Carolina is soft on inside defense by tournament standards. The Tar Heels have allowed 47% shooting on two-point shots, which will really hurt them in games where referees have a quick whistle. 
  • Michigan State is well below tournament standards at ball protection, suffering more turnovers per offensive play than is acceptable. 
  • Michigan’s overall offensive efficiency doesn’t measure up to other superpowers because of average three-point shooting and inconsistency at the free throw line.

Start watching with a keener eye, and use resources like kenpom.com and teamrankings.com to learn more about the teams you’ll be handicapping throughout March Madness. Give yourself a matchup advantage against the betting markets.

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