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Making Sense of March Madness

March Madness is finally here. Championship week is the week that gives almost every NCAA Division I basketball team a chance to make it to the national championship via conference tournaments.

And those tournaments offer unique handicapping opportunities because of the unusual number of games a team must play in a short period. Teams that are already guaranteed a spot in the final NCAA tournament by virtue of their won-loss records have less incentive in these conference tournaments than opponents in desperate need of a victory to assure an invitation.

Depth is a critical factor in handicapping these games. Teams that have a bye in the first round hold a huge advantage. To handicap successfully, check out the box scores. Look for how many minutes the five key players on each team have played. Teams that have enough good substitutes to permit the starters to play fewer than 30 minutes a game have a big advantage in the conference tournaments.

Here are my special tournament-edition power ratings for each of the teams playing in conference tournaments:



How Do They Match Up?
Power ratings of all teams playing in NCAA conference tournaments.
BIG EAST
Team Power Rating
Syracuse 86
St. John's 85 + 2 (home court)
Connecticut 85
Miami 84
Seton Hall 83
Notre Dame 89
Villanova 84
Rutgers 81
Georgetown 89
West VirginiaT 80
Pittsburgh 81
Providence 89
Boston College 90
ATLANTIC 10
Team Power Rating
Temple 88
Dayton 84
St. Bonaventure 83
Xavier 89
Massachusetts 83
George Washington 81
St. Joseph's 89 +1
Fordham 79
LaSalle 80 +1
Duquesne 74
Rhode Island 73
CONFERENCE USA
Team Power Rating
Cincinnati 91
Louisville 80
DePaul 82
UNC Charlotte 88
Marquette 83
South Florida 85
St. Louis 84
Tulane 73
Southern Miss 85
Memphis 85 + 3
UAB 81
Houston 76
BIG 12
Team Power Rating
Oklahoma State 84
Iowa State 92
Texas 87
Oklahoma 85
Kansas 95 +2
Missouri 87 +2
Colorado 83
Texas Tech 75
Baylor 81
Nebraska 83
Kansas State 77
Texas A&M 76
SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE
Team Power Rating
Florida 94
Tennessee 90
LSU 82
Kentucky 94
Vanderbilt 83
Auburn 84
Arkansas 90
South Carolina 84
Mississippi 87
Mississippi State 87
Alabama 87
Georgia 86
BIG 10
Team Power Rating
Michigan State 99
Illinois 97
Ohio State 88
Indiana 89
Purdue 83
Wisconsin 89
Penn State 84
Iowa 82
Michigan 79
Minnesota 82
Northwestern 76
BIG WEST
Team Power Rating
Long Beach State 79
Utah State 86
Boise State 77
Cal-Santa Barbara 78
Pacific 79
Cal-Irvine 81 +1
Cal-Fullerton 68 +1
Cal Poly SLO 72
MOUNTAIN WEST
Team Power Rating
Utah 86
Wyoming 85
New Mexico 82
Brigham Young 85
Colorado State 82
Air Force 73
San Diego State 78
WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Team Power Rating
Tulsa 86 +4
Fresno State 89
SMU 84
San Jose State 78
UTEP 83
TCU 84
Hawaii 79
Rice 75
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
Team Power Rating
Duke 101
Maryland 95
North Carolina 95
Wake Forest 91
North Carolina St. 84
Virginia 92
Georgia Tech 84
Florida State 79
Clemson 77




The Big Dance

Everyone enjoys watching the Sunday tournament selection show to see who gets invited to the Big Dance.

My list of power ratings for the top teams in the country follows. Most of these teams will make it into the NCAA tournament. The teams at the bottom of the list with power ratings of 86 or 87 can improve their status by playing well in the conference tournament.

Georgia is a most unique team this year with a 16-13 regular-season record but a good power rating. If the Bulldogs can make it to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament they will probably get an invitation to the Big Dance.

This chart can also be used to determine my theoretical point spreads when teams match up in the tournament. Power ratings should be compared, and the team with the higher power rating should be a favorite by the difference between those ratings.

Click here for the power ratings.



Now, let's look at how teams that are underdogs have done in conference tournaments over the last five years.



Conference Tournaments --Underdogs
vs. Favorites Against the Spread
Year First Round Quarterfinals Semifinals Finals
1996 7-12-1 18-27 12-12 9-3
1997 11-18 17-26 13-9 3-8
1998 20-13 22-24-1 9-15 5-7
1999 14-18 20-27 14-10 5-7
2000 16-18-1 31-27-2 18-13 7-9
Totals 68-79-2 108-131-3 66-59 29-34

Underdogs do not do particularly well in these conference tournaments, although they perform at just about a .500 level in the semifinals and finals.

The location of the conference tournament also offers interesting betting angles. Historically, when one of the conference teams hosts a tournament, the host has an advantage in the first two rounds.

That edge disappears as the other teams get acclimated to the court, however. Last year, though, the home teams performed poorly against the spread in each round except the finals. Whether this is a reversal of the longer-term trend is something I will continue to monitor.



Conference Tournaments -- Home vs. Visitors Against the Spread
Year First Round Quarterfinals Semifinals Finals
1996 4-3 10-10 3-5 1-5
1997 6-4 9-7 4-2 1-1
1998 7-4 7-9 5-6 5-0
1999 5-2 11-5 4-4 1-3
2000 3-6 6-8 3-6 5-1
Totals 25-19 43-39 19-23 13-10




Does revenge play any part in conference tournaments? Yes and no. A favorite that has lost straight up to its opponent during the regular season has covered the spread at a rate of 59 % in the last four years.

However, favorites who have lost twice to their opponent during the regular season only cover the spread 41% of the time. Underdogs who try to avenge a single regular-season defeat only cover at a 46% rate, while underdogs who try to avenge two regular-season losses cover the spread 45% of the time.



Playing the Revenge Motive
Favorites who lost twice in the regular season to their opponent covered the spread in the conference tournament only 41% of the time.
Year Single Revenge Favorite Double Revenge Favorite Single Revenge Underdog Double Revenged Underdog
1996 11-11 5-3 15-22-1 17-18
1997 15-8 3-6 15-26 12-15
1998 15-7 2-4 26-21-1 14-21
1999 9-10-1 4-7 19-28 10-20
2000 21-13 2-3 31-26-2 25-22-1RT
Totals 71-49-1 16-23 106-123-4 78-96-1




We will be back next Wednesday with a special NCAA tournament edition of Vegas Vice, where I will discuss the teams I believe have a chance to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

See you then.

and is currently the general counsel for a company that operates four hotel/casinos in Las Vegas. He has been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years and successfully concluded last football season by winning on 55% of his college and pro selections posted on TheStreet.com. He welcomes your feedback at Vegasvice@aol.com.
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