Which is why we're going to offer up a quick primer now to help beat the NCAA odds.
Three hundred and fifty-one teams will compete for the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, from the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders and Houston Baptist Huskies to the UCLA Bruins and Kentucky Wildcats. There are at least that many betting strategies to consider once the season gets underway in a little more than three months; I know, because I've tried many of them from following home 'dogs to playing only games involving mid-majors to simply flying by the seat of my amply-sized dungarees.
Whatever wagering system or strategy you choose to employ, the first thing all fans and bettors alike need to do for the 2013-14 season is catch up on just where those 351 teams call home on the conference landscape. College football realignment the past few years resulted in relatively quiet alterations to the collegiate hardwood, but the latest shifts are going to bring very dramatic changes this season.
Conferences most affected include the Big East and ACC, plus the newly-formed American Athletic Conference that picked up remnants of the old Big East plus former C-USA squads. Defending national champ Louisville, listed at 12/1 at some shops with NCAA basketball futures odds this early, is among the teams moving to (hopefully) greener pastures in the American Conference which could be an impact group in its inaugural season with Temple, UConn, Cincinnati and Memphis (50/1) also part of the mix.
There isn't much doubt as to where the ACC stacks up entering the season. A conference that already boasted Duke (12/1) and North Carolina (15/1) was augmented by the defection of Syracuse (30/1), Pittsburgh and Notre Dame from the former Big East where Butler, Xavier and Creighton have joined the 'Catholic 7' who remained behind. This is Butler's third conference in as many years, plus the Bulldogs lost coach Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics in the NBA.
All of which is leading to a boatload of changes to schedules which are still in the works, though we do know a little something about the many early-season tournaments.
Speaking Of Coaches & Early Tournaments...
Butler isn't the only team with a 1st-year coach taking over, and you need to know coaches and their styles unless you're just going to ride trends developed in the past or as the season progresses. You could realign the conferences annually and coaches are always going to have their own systems and strategies just like any bettor.
You think Bo Ryan is going to start using a run-&-gun style or that Jim Boeheim stops using his 2-3 zone just because they're in a new league or playing new conference opponents?
It goes without saying you need to know the players, especially who's injured or serving a suspension, and there will be a bunch of those during the first two months of the schedule. Those first two months include a lot of tournaments that can serve bettors two ways, helping bring home a winner because you know which players are going to be on the floor in possible mismatches as well as getting to know which teams might have deeper benches when injured or suspended front-line players return to action.
I like to pick a few of the early-season tournaments and focus on the 'projected top 100' teams more than the rest for the first two months. Many of the tourneys begin by the second weekend of November and carry into early-December just before breaks for exams and the holidays; two that I've already pegged for extra attention are the Anaheim Classic -- new conference rivals Marquette and Creighton could meet -- and the Maui Invitational that includes Syracuse and Gonzaga.
Don't Forget The 'Little Guys'
Of course, nobody can really keep up with all 351 teams outside of knowing a few names and numbers. The Duke's and Ohio State's are easy to follow with their media coverage so enormous, but don't forget the teams outside of the 'Power 6,' a term that may need to be redefined soon.
Just like focusing on a few early tourneys, try and put your time and energy in on a few teams or conferences. Those games in the WAC, Big Sky and Horizon League can provide winning tickets for the bettor who follows the action on the court and at the window just as easily as concentrating on the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten.Whatever system or betting strategy you choose, the first rule should be to take a disciplined approach with your money. It's a five month haul to get to the last dance at the NCAA Championship, and your bankroll needs to last the whole w