College Basketball Betting Guides

How To Zero In On A March Madness Winner In The Preseason

Most bracketeers start thinking about the outright March Madness winner when the NCAA tournament is just about to tip-off. After Selection Sunday is completed and the regions are set, that’s when the first ruminations start to happen.

However, if you’re betting on college basketball, you might want to look at picking an outright winner sooner. After all, the earlier you bet, the more value there is on the board.

To go about the process of finding teams more likely than not to make a deep run in the brackets next spring, there is a distinct strategy. We obviously can’t predict the specific brackets themselves, but we can make guesses as to which teams will be highly seeded and which teams appear to have the ingredients which can create something special on the court.

It’s not as though all teams are equal. Some really do have more than others, and it’s worth making those kinds of distinctions now as you evaluate teams and rosters.


How To Zero In On A March Madness Winner In The Preseason
How To Zero In On A March Madness Winner In The Preseason


The focus of college basketball analysts often goes to coaching, and there’s a reason for this: In college sports, the coaches are the fixed and constant reference points for teams, while players might last no more than one or two years at a given school. In the NBA, the players are the more fixed reference points, playing with a franchise for several years while the coaches get hired and fired more regularly. In the NBA, the players have the power, but in college basketball, the coaches have the power. It stands to reason that the best college coaches will get more out of their teams and will give themselves a leg up on the competition.

You do want to identify the best coaches, but more than that, you want to identify combinations of coaching and talent. If two teams are relatively even in terms of talent, but one has a much better coach, that’s the team you want to pick to make a successful March Madness run. If one team has a lot more talent than another but that team doesn’t have an elite coach, you might want to wait and see before placing a futures bet on that team winning the national championship or at least making the Final Four.

To mention one more specific point here, coaches combined with veteran rosters and more specifically proven veteran point guards are really good combinations to have on a college basketball roster. The point guard is an extension of the coach on the floor, so if the coach and the point guard are really strong, that’s a team you will want to focus on.

Guard Play

The teams which make the deepest runs generally have the best and most reliable guards. A key point to note here is that having great guards doesn’t always manifest itself in the same way. Some great guards are amazing scorers, others great passers, others great defenders. You don’t have to have the same package of traits in an elite guard, but what matters is that they do at least one thing at an elite level, which forces opponents to adjust to them and opens up other opportunities for teammates.

If a guard doesn’t score a lot but plays dominant defense and can regularly be expected to lock down the other team’s best scorer or shooter, that’s huge. If a guard hands out 10 assists a game, that’s huge. Guards don’t have to score to significantly affect the game. What matters is that they make it extremely hard for opponents to play at one end of the court if not both.

Guards, particularly point guards, are often referred to as “floor generals.” They control the tempo of the game and they get everyone else properly aligned on the court. The guards who can command the game better than others deserve top-level respect from a betting standpoint and will have a better chance of putting their teams in the latter stages of the NCAA Tournament each year.

Frontline Size And Depth

The poster child for this particular component of college basketball excellence is the defending national champion, the Connecticut Huskies. UConn was able to throw a lot of very large and agile bodies at opponents. UConn had a lot of size, a lot of strength, a lot of power, a lot of length, and a lot of toughness. The Huskies smothered opposing offenses. They dominated the boards. They made it very hard for opposing teams to attack the rim and get easy baskets. Opponents had to shoot 3-pointers well to have any realistic chance against UConn. The Huskies were imposing and consistently effective.

No team came especially close to beating them throughout the 2023 NCAA Tournament. They were a steamroller which utterly confounded and stymied six other teams en route to the championship. UConn was so convincing and dominant that this need for frontline size doesn’t really have to be explained any further.

Returning Production

When a team brings back multiple proven scorers, players who were really good on offense last season and decide to come back for one more year, it’s really hard to bet against those kinds of teams. If you know that a player will be a reliable scorer and get big buckets in important situations, that’s such a valuable thing for a team to have.

Those proven scorers will draw so much attention from opposing defenses that other role players on the roster will get great chances to score. Also, those players will demand so much attention from opponents that when they drive to the basket, opposing defenders will want to provide help and step away from the rim, thereby creating offensive rebounding opportunities and putback baskets.

The game opens up in a lot of different ways when elite scorers with savvy and a high basketball IQ are on the roster. Talented freshmen scorers are one thing; talented junior or senior scorers are even more valuable to a college basketball team. Having the natural athletic ability to score is great, but knowing how to score and operate within a halfcourt offense or any offensive style is even more important and central to the success and functionality of a college basketball team.

Being Able To Earn Free Throws

The teams with players who can get to the foul line a lot are worth so much in major college basketball. Guys who can immediately put the other team in foul trouble are so important because, as you know, five fouls disqualify players in college basketball compared to six fouls in the NBA. College players who can draw fouls and get teams into the bonus increase the margin for error on their team.

Relying on jump shooting for offensive production is a limited and tenuous approach in college hoops. Being able to get to the rim and draw contact and foul shots really separates some teams from others in this sport. We have all seen college basketball teams go through long scoring droughts. These are not seasoned NBA professionals. These are 19- and 20-year-old athletes in front of passionate (sometimes hostile) crowds.

They will go through six- or seven-minute sequences when nothing is going right and a team’s offense completely collapses. We have seen these droughts occur in the NCAA Tournament, and it’s exactly how defense-first teams such as San Diego State were able to do really well in last season’s edition of March Madness.

Having a guy who can regularly earn free throw attempts is a real safeguard against a severe scoring drought. The Cinderellas that have this quality can survive longer and it gives top teams an important weapon. That helps them reduce negative game segments and prevents opponents from gathering too much momentum during a game.

Basketball teams need scorers, a point which goes without saying, but teams also need free throw creators, which is part of scoring but also has other effects on games and teams which add even more value.

Offensive Rebounding

When tallying raw totals of rebounds, people can get into some false comparisons or empty statistical arguments. Collecting and measuring raw overall numbers of rebounds is not always helpful in basketball, for the simple reason that if a team shoots well, there aren’t as many rebounds to be had. If a team shoots worse, there are more rebounds to be had. The much better measurement of rebounding prowess and efficiency is the percentage of available rebounds gained. This is the true reflection of how good a team is at rebounding the ball.

Naturally, it’s easier to rebound on defense than on offense because the shooter is not normally in a good position to rebound the ball. Defenders are also positioned between their man and the basket, so they have a better chance of being able to turn around, face the basket, and block out their man for the ball. Offensive rebounding is hard, which means the teams which can offensive rebound a higher percentage of missed shots are claiming extra hard-earned possessions for their team. The teams with high offensive rebounding percentages take a significant leap forward in the estimation of basketball experts. Teams which can create second and third chances to score will be in very good shape when March Madness rolls around each year.

The Ingredients Of A National Champion

Of course, March Madness is wildly unpredictable. It’s hard to tell who is going to win it all – and that’s once the field has been cut down to 68 teams. It’s even harder to predict in the early part of the season. Nonetheless, if you stick to the strategies above, you’ll put yourself in better position to narrow down a squad that might be cutting down the nets at the end of it all.

Outlier Team
December 10, 2023
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