Monday, March 13, 2006

March Madness - separating yourself from the pack

In my article titled Gaining an Edge in March Madness Pools, published in the Two Plus Two Internet Magazine, I discussed using the betting markets to help making picks in March Madness pools. I thought I would follow up that article with a post regarding this year’s tournament.

In the first round, I suggested to look at teams that were higher seeds (higher = worse) that were actually favorites or very small underdogs in the betting lines. The idea is that most competitors in pools are not going to understand the value of the betting lines and are going to be looking at the seeds and name recognition in their picks. The early lines show nine games with lines of 2.5 or lower. Although all the lower (better) seeded teams are the favorites, some of them are surprisingly small favorites.

Here are the games where taking the underdog probably gives you more value in separating from the pack while giving up as little expectancy as possible when it comes to having the underdog actually winning the game.

Texas A&M vs Syracuse: 12 vs 5
Syracuse is a 5 seed, and Texas A&M is a 12 seed. But the line is only Syracuse -1.5! That is very small for such a big difference in seedings. Syracuse also has the better college basketball name, having won NCAA Tournament championships in the past. They also just made a miraculous run and won the Big East Tournament which was featured widely on ESPN and other sports channels. Picking Texas A&M probably gets a lot of bang for the buck - getting value in separating from the pack, while giving up little in the individual game expectancy.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee vs Oklahoma: 11 vs 6
Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a 11 seed and is only a 2 point dog to Oklahoma, the 6 seed. Oklahoma is a well known in college sports. They are regularly among the best teams in college basketball and college football. It is likely that the random picker will go ahead with Oklahoma due to the 6 seed vs 11 seed, as well as the name recognition.

San Diego State vs Indiana: 11 vs 6
Indiana is a big name college basketball team while the layman probably has no idea that San Diego State even exists. Yet SDS is only a 2.5 point dog. Although picking SDS is giving up a little bit more in line value, it is probably gaining more than it’s worth in separation value.

Wisconsin vs Arizona: 9 vs 8
UAB vs Kentucky: 9 vs 8
Arizona is a 1.5 point favorite while Kentucky is a 2 point favorite. The 8/9 matchup is not always the best matchup to take the underdog since the small difference in the seedings allows the layman more reason to pick the underdog. In these two cases, both 8 seeds are big college teams that are recognizable by just about everyone as college basketball powerhouses. So in these two cases, picking the dog is likely to get more separation value than other typical 8/9 matchups.

Here are 3 games where the line is low, but I have more reservations about picking the underdog.

Wichita -2.5 vs Seton Hall: 7 vs 10
Marquette -2 Alabama: 7 vs 10
California -1.5 NC State 7 vs 10

In these three matchups between the 7 and 10 seeds, all underdogs are better known college basketball teams. This means there may be a higher chance that the layman picks the underdog in these matchups than other matchups. If that is the case, then picking the underdog has less value in separating from the pack (because too many others are picking the same dogs as you), while it still suffers from the same amount of individual game expectancy as the previous matchups I listed.

The lines are just coming out on the futures for the individual regions, but some notes I’ve made are:

Oakland Region:
The 3, 4 and 5 seeds all seem to be valued the same. Gonzaga, Kansas and Pittsburgh are all getting the same respect in the initial futures lines I’ve seen. So taking Pittsburgh (the 5 seed) to proceed further in the tournament than Gonzaga (the 3 seed) probably has the same expectancy, but it has the value of separating from the pack.

D.C. Region
From the initial lines, it looks like Tennessee and Illinois are valued about the same. Tennessee is a 2 seed and Illinois is a 4 seed. The tough part with Illinois is that they are likely to meet the 1 seed – Connecticut. I would use this information by making sure not to pick Tennessee to go too far in the tourney.

Winning a pool takes a lot of luck. Hopefully these small hints will help a little bit in increasing your overall expectancy. If you are in an office pool with a lot of “normal” people, then these strategies are worth more than if you are in a pool with a lot of people who bet on sports on a regular basis.

I wrote this up very quickly, and the markets haven’t really solidified yet (especially the futures markets). So keep an eye on changing markets right before you submit your picks. For example, one of the dogs I mentioned as good picks for separation value may become bigger dogs, and thus lose too much value in individual game expectancy.

Good luck!

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