As the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament gets underway, most handicappers look to the point spread to get a sense of who the superior team is in a given matchup. However, as sports betting experts will attest, the spread is also an indication of which side is getting more betting action, not necessarily which team is better.
The intention of assigning seeds to various teams in a competition like the NCAA Basketball Tournament is to pit the best teams against the worst teams, and for the teams ranked in the middle to face each other to ensure fairness across the board.
In some tournaments, one sometimes comes across a team that is seeder lower than its opponent, yet is favored to win. The 2009-10 men's Big Dance is no exception, and handicappers look to rarities like these to capitalize on such a discrepancy.
I have listed three first-round matchups where the point spread doesn't necessarily correlate with the seedings. Some might find value in these games, so let's take a look...
(9)FLORIDA STATE vs (8)GONZAGA (+1.5)
Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference during the regular season, but fell to a hungry St. Mary’s team in the conference tournament championship. Florida State, on the other hand, finished tied for third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but posted a one-and-done in the ACC Tournament when they lost to North Carolina State in the quarterfinals on Mar. 13.
The Bulldogs have a more successful recent history in the NCAA Tournament than the Seminoles. Having made the Sweet Sixteen four times in the last ten years, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has demonstrated the necessary leadership to help the university shed the label as a mid-major underdog.
Florida State hasn’t won a game in the Big Dance in twelve years. Even though they have a 7-foot center in Solomon Alabi plugging up the key, the Seminoles will need to rise above the play that their 42 RPI ranking would indicate if they plan on making noise in the tournament. Gonzaga carries a 37 RPI into their first game in Buffalo.
In other words, although FSU plays in a superior conference, Gonzaga has a better overall program. Here are some more numbers and trends to chew on in the meantime:
- Gonzaga is 12-6-1 against the spread in night games, FSU is 5-13 (Tipoff scheduled for 7:15pm EST)
- Gonzaga is 11-5 ATS vs above-.500 teams. FSU is 6-16.
- Over the course of the season, FSU is 8-18 against the spread while the Bulldogs are 15-11-2.
Sam’s pick: Gonzaga
(11)MINNESOTA vs (6)XAVIER (+1)
If you think you need glasses after double-checking the spread and the seedings, not to worry. Minnesota played their hearts out in the Big Ten Tournament, only to get blown out by Evan Turner and Ohio State to the tune of 90-61 in the conference championship game.
Xavier endured a similar fate when it lost to Richmond, 89-85 in overtime in the Atlantic-10 Tournament semifinals. Jordan Crawford, the Musketeer guard who has turned many heads this season with a 19.7 scoring average in the regular season, must lead Xavier into a potentially hostile environment, given Milwaukee’s proximity to Minnesota.
Although Minnesota plays in a tougher conference than Xavier, the Golden Gophers could only muster a 9-9 record in conference play this season before they got hot in the Big Ten tournament. This combination of events would lead to Minnesota’s 62 RPI rating.
Conversely, Xavier tied Temple for best record in the A-10 with a 14-2 conference record. Coupled with a handful of heartbreaking losses against top-25 teams like Baylor, Temple, Butler and Kansas State, these results led to a vastly superior 19 RPI for the Musketeers.
If Gophers Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber can score consistently while Ralph Sampson III pulls down double-digit rebounds, Minnesota will demonstrate that this sixth-place team can hang with a sixth-seeded team. Although Minnesota has been a trendier pick, I’m sticking with the bigger, more physical Musketeers.
Sam’s pick: Xavier
(6)NOTRE DAME vs (11)OLD DOMINION (+2)
Although Old Dominion is not quite an underdog, the spread is noticeably small considering we're discussing another 11 vs six-seed. Notre Dame is 3-0 this season when favored by 1-4.5 points. On the other hand, Old Dominion is 0-6 when they’re getting the same range of points. Notre Dame is 17-10 vs the spread this season while ODU is 13-17. Last but not least, Notre Dame has beaten the spread in each of their last eight games.
Numbers and trends aside, ND has their big gun, Luke Harangody, back from a knee contusion after he sat out five games. While the two-time All-American missed time, the Irish switched up their game plan to a “burn offense.” For those unfamiliar, the newly-instituted burn offense is a slower, more deliberate method of wearing down defenders while moving the ball down the court.
Harangody was nursing his knee injury when this strategy shift took flight. So as to not compromise the chemistry that had developed amongst the healthy, red-hot Irish, Luke volunteered to come of the bench as a sixth man. This unselfish act was lauded by Harangody’s coaches as well as fellow captain Tory Jackson, which may be one of the reasons why Notre Dame seems to have gelled as a team at a critical time.
Old Dominion has had a nice run as the toast of the Colonial Athletic Association, but they have three things working against them: History (ODU has never advanced past the first round), there are no other CAA schools in the tournament for the Monarchs to beat up on, and Notre Dame is playing fantastic basketball right now.
Sam’s pick: Irish