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August 21, 2014

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Objective analysis: March Madness betting

Three tips to help you come out on the winning end at the window

Three hits from the heart, son, on the NCAA basketball tournament, now playing at a sports book near you:

1) I won’t know until the tournament is over whether the Big East deserved its unprecedented 11 bids. But I’ll make the call by relying on an objective formula, not the hot air released by the sports-media windbags.

The 11 teams from the Big East received seeds ranging from No. 1 (Pittsburgh) to No. 11 (Marquette). I assigned each team a projected number of tournament victories based on how teams with that seed have performed in past years. No. 1 seeds are expected to win 3.4 games, for example, No. 2 seeds are expected to win 2.4 games, and so on, down to one-half of a win for No. 11 seeds. This method yielded a projected 17.1 victories for the Big East teams. If they exceed that total, no one should complain about the 11 bids.

Yes, you can bet on the number of wins by each conference in Las Vegas sports books. Not all books offer the proposition, but those that are on the ball do.

2) It has become common for pundits to suggest that travel can affect a team’s chances of winning in the tournament. In Las Vegas, of course, a game’s outright winner is often of secondary importance at best. We want to know who covered. It turns out that tournament travel is a critical factor even after accounting for the point spread, which usually acts as the great equalizer.

In the two most recent tournaments, for instance, teams playing within 150 miles of their campus went 14-7 against the spread. Teams playing more than 1,000 miles from home went 48-54 against the number. So backing the de-facto home teams and playing against the far-from-home teams yielded a record of 68-55 against the spread, better than 55 percent. That’s more than enough to get the money.

3) If you think eking out a lot of victories in close games means a team has character or heart or something, you’re watching too many sports movies. I want to bet against those teams.

Last year New Mexico was 10-1 in games decided by five or fewer points before going 0-2 against the spread in the tournament. This year I’m wary of Georgia (8-1 in games decided by four or fewer points) and Notre Dame (6-0 in games decided by five or fewer).

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