Thinking Yourself Silly

NCAA Tournament Betting: Thinking Yourself Silly

By Loot, College Basketball Handicapper,

When betting on the NCAA tournament, we have to make sure to have the head-game locked down tight. This applies in many different ways. It’s a mentally-draining challenge to stay sharp during the entire course of the tournament. In addition, our decision-making processes and analysis are put to the test.

One of the biggest challenges is in editing ourselves. We can all tend to let our opinions run amok, causing us to make bets we shouldn’t make. Remember those pegboards we had as kids? Our bets need to be like those pieces that slide right in. If we have to struggle to jam in the peg, then we shouldn’t make the bet. Save your action to the bets that are so natural, they almost make themselves.

A certain amount of waffling is healthy. If you’re overly-enthusiastic about a pick, you just may be guilty of a major oversight in the form of underestimating the team you are picking against. But there is a line in the sand when you know that you’re legitimately torn between both sides of the bet and those are the ones we should leave alone.

To varying degrees, we rely on intuition to decide which team to bet. This is an area that is more undefined. One side of the bet just shines brighter for whatever reason. It usually comes from a good place–a composite summation of the game that shoots out of your mental filter favoring one side over the other. The problem is that once we tap into our more intuitive side, it can be hard to shut off. Pretty soon, it’s hard to make the distinction between legitimate intuition and what amounts to garbage thoughts that lead to poor wagers.

This intuition can affect how we look at the point-spreads. Naturally, it’s a good idea to identify and analyze the psychological aspects of a point-spread. We want to understand the nuance that may lie within different point-spreads to give us an edge. Then, we can make the sharp bet–the team that is on the good-value side of the all the activity that lies underneath the surface. But sometimes, we think ourselves silly doing this and end up missing the boat altogether.

At the end of the day, we need to handicap the game and not allow ourselves to be misguided by all the ramifications of the point-spread. An example would be that you like a team to win a game by ten points. You think the line will be in that neighborhood. But then the favorite is only favored by 4.5. You think that means there’s something about the underdog you overlooked and you bet them to cover the spread. Don’t let the point-spread play tricks with your mind. And don’t forget–you don’t have to bet. Don’t ignore the red flags.

When betting on the tournament and even when watching games where we don’t have a wager, we may see some patterns. Maybe the big-name favorites are crushing their opponents by numbers far exceeding the spread. Or perhaps the Cinderella teams are stepping up. Don’t let these things guide your betting. If you see a slew of lower-regarded and less-covered teams beating the cornerstone programs in college hoops, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. A lot of tournament bettors see things in the first day or two of the tourney and try to carry it over into latter stages of the tournament. First of all, every game is different and just because Mercer beat Duke yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to keep happening like that. And the further the tournament goes, the higher the chances are that those types of “patterns” will end.

When we start betting on the tournament, we are not making a commitment to bet on the entire thing for the entire duration. We need to know when it’s time to stop pressing our luck. Money management is always an issue, but the tournament simply cannot represent a time for you to go hog-wild. This isn’t make-or-break time.


If you managed to turn a nice profit in the first few rounds of the tournament, don’t give it back. Maintain the same high standards that allowed to get up in the first place. And that probably had a lot to do with your powers of selectivity. Bet in a way that insulates you and guarantees that you will still end up on the sunny side of things by the end of the tournament. Just because it’s the Elite Eight or the Final Four doesn’t mean the stakes have to go up for you as a bettor, where you have to raise your wagering amounts to accommodate the higher importance of the games.

Sure, picking winners is a big part of it. But a lot of guys can pick winners. And a lot of them end up in the hole at the end of March Madness. And the reason they end up that way is because there is something lacking in their perception of how to win money. The bottom line is the bankroll and not everyone who makes good picks is good at that part of the equation. A lot of it comes down to all the complexities that lie within having the proper mental outlook.