How to research before betting: NCAA Tournament Edition

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Hosted by
Terry Collins

I’ve been strapped into my chair like I’m about to take flight in a fighter jet, and sweating like an obese kid during the mile run in P.E. class trying to find winners for the first round of the NCAA tournament. This is my favorite time of the year, and nothing comes anywhere close to challenging for that spot. In this blog I felt obligated to express how I go about researching games when some of the teams I’ve not had the opportunity to see more than once or twice. I hope this helps others find a process that helps them succeed. Remember though, what works for me might not work for you. Find what you’re good at, and grow on it. Everyone has a different process, this is just mine.

Don’t get too deep in unreliable stats alone!

Undoubtedly no matter who I talk to about matchups, and my thoughts on who will win, someone will try to bring up a statistic they read on Twitter or Facebook to disagree with me. Now before all the nerds reading this (let’s be honest, none of them are reading this) I should say that obviously stats are extremely useful WHEN USED CORRECTLY.

Far too often I hear someone talking about some mid major schools defensive rating, or offensive success rate, as a set in stone projection on what they are capable of doing against a power five team in the tournament. NOT ALL STATISTICS ARE EQUAL. At some point you need to be a realist to compare the quality of teams they played. For example, just because you notice a team from some mid major conference like the Missouri Valley has 63 ppga doesn’t mean they are likely to hold a high scoring SEC, B10, etc. school under that same average. This is where common sense comes into play. The example team from earlier plays in a conference with teams like Bradley in it. The weakness of competition needs to also play a factor in your decision making.

Stats are still useful…to a degree

Now I’m not saying that these numbers can’t be used, and are trash. In my opinion the proper way to utilize these to your benefit is to use them to create a greater picture of what the team can/might do, and their style. Being able to figure out the identity of a team such as slow defensive and grind it out style, or fast paced up tempo style based upon it’s season numbers is critical. Use these statistics, along with other research such as post game reviews, interviews, game logs etc. to figure out what kind of team it is that you might bet on or against. We all know the Arkansas, Illinois, Alabama, and other higher paced teams. But when comparing to lessor known teams, information is king. In short, use statistics to predict style comparisons and matchup differences, not outcomes.

Predictable statistics

Let’s dive more into which statistics we are more able to use at face value. I went through outlining why some statistics can’t be taken at face value, but which ones can be? One thing we know is great shooters can shoot regardless of what school they are matched up against. The court dimensions don’t change from gym to gym. We get a pretty large sample size of shooter percentages and attempts per game over a full season. Will there be a slight increase or decrease when playing an unfamiliar team, and the obvious game flow? Sure, but the sample size throughout the year is large enough to use.


From Trevor Ruszkowski, USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the season if a team, or player, is shooting at say, 43%+ three point range, it’s safe to say that they are very accurate from deep or vise versa if they have a terrible percentage. Using this example, if you see a matchup with one team being a great three point shooting team, and the other being terrible defending the three, it’s safe to say you can predict that the great shooting team should be able to convert from distance at a highly probable rate.

Pass Rate

Shooting isn’t the only statistic you can use at face value. Pass rate is another sometimes forgotten about stat. It’s not something you can count on being a factor often, but sometimes it can be huge. Take Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn. As an Illini fan I’ve seen every single game from start to finish this year. The one issue it seems the dominant big man can have is becoming a black hole for the ball. When the ball enters, the overwhelming majority of the time it’s going to be a shot. How can that be helpful? When finding statistics that give you a predictable outcome, such as a player shooting the overwhelming majority of their touches, you can compare it to the opposing side’s strengths to correlate an advantage either way.

Once again using the previous example, if you know Kofi is going to primarily shoot the ball upon entry, but he’s going against a great post defender, and a great defensive rebounding team, you can use those facts to predict a possible advantage to the defense as long as they can force misses and get the board. That being said, I merely use that as an example because of how truly little he passes. The part about finding a defender to stop, and out rebound him….well good luck. My Illini bias aside, the point I’m trying to make is you can absolutely use, and should consider, ones tendencies. You should also compare them to the opposing sides counter attack and come up with probable outcomes.

Team Passing

Another factor you can use somewhat piggybacks on the last point, but is not entirely the same. Team passing, and team involvement offensively is another great statistic to use. This takes more of knowledge of individual teams likely meaning you might need to have watched them a few times. That, or you can do some real deep digging. I prefer the watching option, but that’s just me. For instance, you know one team seems to get lost or is slow in defensive rotation. They are playing a team who you can tell are utilizing 7 or 8+ passes a possession. They have a high assist per possession number. In cases like this, you can assume the offense can find success capitalizing on poor team defense and rotation.

Are those the only stats? Not by a long shot. You have others such as turnover rate, efficiency ratings, even things like figuring out the rate in which a player, or team is likely to be called for fouls, and many many more. For the purpose of time I’m not going to go through each one. I just wanted to outline how tendencies are extremely useful in predictability.

Statistics are probabilities, not actualities

I’ve spent all this time outline things you can use, and how to use them, but we need to remember that if statistics were always an indication on who would win, we wouldn’t need a tournament. Although statistics can, and should give you a general outline on how a game, or part of the game, should unfold there are going to be outliers. Use statistics to gain a perspective on the game, but never forget the skill, or human element that is comes with the game.

Form an opinion on the game, on your own, but don’t cherry pick certain stats just to support your eye test theory. If you want to solely use your gut, go for it, but if you find statistics that differ from that don’t just throw them away and forget about them. Never be afraid to chase your gut if you have a strong feeling for what you think will happen, because once again, with the refs being human, coaches being human, and players being human, there will be certain levels of variance between statistics.

Enjoy it….Make bets that you like.

Lastly, gambling is supposed to be enjoyable(although I’ve had some pretty angry nights because of it). If you do all your research and you just hate the bet that the stats are leading you to, don’t bet it, or follow the side you can live with. There are many people in the gambling world who try to act as if making a gut pick based on nothing but personal feeling is incredibly wrong. That in fact is what is wrong with gambling touts now a days. They preach how eye test or gut picks are the worst thing ever, but they forget that the majority of guys, or girls, out there are just betting on games for another level of involvement, or excitement for the game and less about the monetary gain.

Know when to stop

Now I’ll never support reckless gambling, but if you as the gambler know that you are doing it as a fun hobby, and not a supplemental income, then have fun with it. Decide how much time, if any, you’re able to devote to research and bet responsible amounts. I’ll never criticize someone for betting on a game without doing their homework as long as they did it responsibly, and had fun doing it. The minute that you stop having fun gambling is the time you need to stop gambling. Just to summarize everything, I’ll never support reckless gambling, but I’ll also never criticize someone for how they elect to decide on bets. As long as you enjoy it, to hell with the haters.

Like always, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @TCollins1012 with any questions or comments (I had to start a new account so any new follows are oh so appreciated lol). Be on the lookout for my next blog with some official picks. Now let’s make some money and retire early.

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Episode 273