Let’s be real for a second. Trying to pick a perfect NCAA Bracket is like walking across a tightrope naked in front of a live audience. You begin with dreams of glory, an applauding crowd who all marvel at your athletic grace and physical beauty. Most likely, it ends in you falling in a painful mess and, literally, showing the world your ass…
I’ve got more than 160 picks published this year and we are still cruising at ridiculous 61% ATS. (@TheMarchManiacs on Twitter) And I am dreading posting an NCAA Bracket because a lot of the edge of being a good handicapper (picking a few games with value and leaving most untouched on the massive buffet table, analyzing individual matchups, etc.) goes out the window when trying to project who might play each other three rounds from now to determine the team that prevails to the Final Four (the math of that, over-simplified to give each game an even 50/50 probability, would be about 0.4% chance. Adding in the likelihood of better team prevailing, it gets much better, but still, ONE weird result throws it all into chaos and the odds are still, mathematically, very remote)
That said, when I approach a March Madness bracket, I am not aiming for perfection. I am looking for VALUE. There’s a reason why no one has won the massive Warren Buffet perfect bracket prize or even come close. Because there is no statistical analysis on Earth that said Michigan State, the Vegas FAVORITE to win the whole thing in 2016, was going to lose to Middle Tennessee in the opening round. In a one-game sample size, stuff happens.
There’s two different ways to approach Madness wagers, game-by-game (my preference) and future wagers (i.e. “Bracket Pools” or straight up Vegas futures like “UCLA to WIN CHAMPIONSHIP +1200”)
Let’s take a look at the later here, as there is little point in talking game-by-game until there are, well, actual games and a bracket. But rest assured, as the Bracket unfolds, that will be where my focus intensifies.
FUTURE WAGER VALUE:
This one is simple to me. What team has taken enough damage to their resume to introduce enough fear in the clunker that they are now undervalued in Vegas? I like when talented teams get forgotten because of one or two losses on the resume – especially if they were sustained early. I also like teams that have ROAD wins, because that tells me their success isn’t a false confidence from relying on the comforts of a friendly home campus environment.
I don’t like any team whose odds get slimmer than five or six to one in this year’s bracket. That one is just math. There are a LOT of good teams this year and making any of them that strong a favorite this season feels like bad value. Right now, no one is below that range, which is a testament to who WIDE OPEN this thing is this year. If we concede there are seven STRONG contenders (Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Arizona, UCLA, Duke) and three others that feel at least legit in Vegas’s eyes (Kentucky, Oregon and Louisville), getting anything less than +600 is a ripoff.
So, I want THREE THINGS:
The first two are obvious, the third, I’ll explain. I want a team that is ELITE at something important. Are you an elite offensive team (UCLA), an elite defensive team (Gonzaga), an elite shooting team (Duke), rebounding (North Carolina) etc. And are you devoid of a massive tragic flaw.
While, sadly, this theory does not shine favorably on my pet team since November, UCLA (not a good defensive team), but I will likely break a few rules for them because I think the offensive ability and balance is beyond “elite” and bordering on potential “transcendence.” This theory makes a team like North Carolina really attractive. They are Top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It also shines an interesting very positive light on teams like St. Mary’s, Purdue, West Virginia and Gonzaga.
Right now, here’s my five favorite FUTURE PLAYS based on a combination of the three above criteria, plus some weight given to VALUE for longer odds and the hedging opportunities they provide.
FIVE FAVORITE FUTURE WAGERS:
#1 – North Carolina 8:1 – Carolina is an elite offensive and defensive team and, just eye test, the best rebounding team I’ve seen in years. That gives them a little more margin for error than most teams when the lights get bright. It means they are a little more able to withstand a poor shooting night. They have elite talent, experienced guards, great size and length, an awesome schedule with tough road wins and a Hall of Fame Coach who has won two National Titles. What else could you ask for at +800?? They have a tough bottom of the bracket with both UCLA and Kentucky, all but assuring one of them will still be standing in the Elite Eight
#2 – Arizona 10:1 – This is my favorite play in the bracket, and if I were filling out an entire bracket, Arizona is my National Champ. They have a soft bottom half of the bracket as I think they advance smoothly past SMC/VCU, though St. Mary’s is solid, and they catch a real break with the Florida State/Maryland 3/6 combo.
I think Arizona has a really good chance of winning it the entire thing, and I like that they are in the West with a beatable #1 in Gonzaga. They are 21-2 after losing two early without Alonzo Trier. I think this is the year they finally get Sean Miller over the hump after several near-misses.
#3 – Iowa State 50:1 – This is a longshot with good hedging potential. They won the Big Twelve Tournament and have already won on the road at Kansas this season, their likely Sweet Sixteen opponent. They are led by one of the steadiest point guards in the nation in Monte Morris, who’s assist to turnover ratio hadn’t been equaled since the Big Twelve was the Big Eight. They have a veteran lineup and diverse scorers. If they can upset Kansas in the Sweet 16, your hedging opportunities amplify. We already cashed a nice longshot winner with the ‘Clones at +650 in the Big Twelve Tourney, I’m going to stick with them for the Big Dance.
#4 – SMU 50:1 – Another long shot with great hedge potential. Yes, they have Duke in the Sweet Sixteen (most likely) and are just a lowly #6 seed. But this is a big, physical and balanced offensive team with a bit of a chip on their shoulders after such a disrespectful seed. This is another team, that IF they can spring the Sweet Sixteen upset, who knows how great the value can become. Semi Ojeleye is an absolute beast too – don’t be surprised if the Duke transfer exacts a little revenge…
#5 – UCLA 12:1 – Yes. They are 104th in defense, so you can make an intelligent case to bail on the Bruins. But I am still ALL IN. This one is 100% eye test. They are the best, most balanced, most dynamic and offensively creative team in the country. They have Jason Kidd 2.0, and even if Lonzo Ball’s dad is annoying, he isn’t completely crazy. His kid IS THAT GOOD. But more importantly, so are TJ Leaf, Hamilton, Holiday, Alford, Welsh and company. This one is a bit of a leap of faith, but my justification is simple: if every in the country plays at their MAX performance, who do I think would win the game? And even when the hypothetical opponent is Kentucky, Carolina, Duke, Villanova, Kansas, Gonzaga, etc, my answer is always, U-C-L-A.
We still have a lot of work to do over the next few days, so be sure to check back early and often. As always, feel free to argue, object, conversate and troll with manners on Twitter @TheMarchManiacs