Should we be playing the NCAA basketball odds more in the NIT this time of year than the Big Dance? Maybe, maybe not according to this handicapper.
I don't know about the rest of you, but yours truly has thoroughly enjoyed this year/s NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Yeah, sure, the right side of my bracket was pretty much garbage after the first weekend, a couple of upsets in the Midwest Region during the opening round all but destroying that quadrant.
Still, my picks in the South and West regions went very well and I got to see my beloved Texas Aggies reach the Sweet 16 thanks to the most remarkable comeback in the final minute of any NCAA Tournament game ever. Texas A&M's rally to eventually beat Northern Iowa in double overtime will be talked about for years to come, made even sweeter by the fact the Aggies beat a UNI side that had taken out the rival Texas Longhorns on a half-court buzzer-beater just two days earlier. Thanks to the few dollars I made during the tournament and regular season, my bankroll is ready to take on the MLB odds boards when the season begins in earnest next week.
A recent article over at Covers suggested all of us would have had more fun playing the NCAA tournament odds in the NIT, along with the CBI and CIT. Making the case for all of that fun was a huge boon for chalk in the early rounds of those postseason tournaments.
Postgame Clairvoyance Always A Winner
First, I'm not here to just beat up on Covers writer Jason Logan who penned the piece. He made some pretty good points about the lines in the less popular March tourney being softer and, in theory, at least, easier to exploit. As someone who tries to stay on top of and monitor league play during the regular season in the West Coast Conference, Mid-American and Missouri Valley, to name three, this can often be the case from November through February. Since the lower-tiered tourneys are comprised of schools from conferences like that, it only makes sense the same thing would occur in March.
What happened in the early rounds of the three smaller tourneys was pretty amazing. Favorites went 25-3 straight up in the NIT leading into the quarterfinals, chalk covering 20 of the 28 spreads. Favorites also won outright at a 27-8 clip in the CBI and CIT, though they managed to go a losing 16-19 against the spread. One of the favorites to lose in the NIT was No. 1 seed St. Bonaventure, the Bonnies dropping a 79-75 decision to No. 8 Wagner and losing that game at home, no less, on a -9 spread.
That immediately got me thinking of a team that busted my NCAA bracket, Michigan State. The Spartans were 22-12 ATS during the regular season and Big Ten Tournament, among the best teams in the nation of those among the top ATS teams in the nation. That record meant nothing in the first round of the NCAA's, Michigan State falling to No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State by 9 after being favored by 16½.
'We Cater To Sophisticated Bettors'
If we had all known beforehand that chalk was going to play so well in the NIT, I'd have certainly included a few more of those games for my free NCAA tournament picks at SBR. But apparently, I'm not enough of a "sophisticated bettor" that one lines manager quoted in the Covers piece referred to the gamblers at his shop.
This year's chalk run in the lower tourneys should be viewed as nothing more than a 1-year trend. Yes, you can get out of the public eye often playing the NIT rather than the NCAA Tournament, but you can do that during the regular season as well when Akron plays Ball State or BYU meets Pepperdine. The NIT is tougher for me to handicap in part because we've all seen too often a team relegated to that tourney in a negative mindset after being disappointed not making it to the Big Dance.
Maybe, just maybe, I'll learn how to get down on the right side of those games in the near future, and become a more sophisticated gambler in the process.