March Madness 2020: Tips for betting NCAA Tournament bubble teams

A three-game losing streak has Rutgers on the verge of falling out of the NCAA tournament bracket. That’s because loss No. 4 could be at hand when the Scarlet Knights play host to Big 10-leading Maryland on Tuesday (7 p.m., BTN) with loss No. 5 on the horizon in the season finale Saturday at dangerous Purdue
(2 p.m., BTN).

Rutgers is one of a few teams that initially caught college basketball betting markets by surprise in the 2019-20 season. It held a gaudy 12-4-1 record against the spread in mid-January. As is often the case, markets finally adjusted their prices just as the team fell back to earth. That has resulted in a 2-4 ATS record the past six games (Note that New Jersey sportsbooks are forbidden from taking action on Rutgers games, but odds are offered in other nearby legal jurisdictions).

What was temporarily perceived as a great home court in Piscataway is now a site where Rutgers lost outright as a four-point favorite to Michigan, and where the Knights had to sweat three-point decisions as double-digit favorites over lowly Northwestern and Nebraska.

Cinderella’s coach is turning into a pumpkin before she can find her dress.

There is still time to rally and lock in a Dance bid. Many bracketology assessments will have Rutgers as a No. 10 or 11 seed this week off its current .500 straight-up record in the respected Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights also could improve their résumé with a deep run in next week’s conference tournament in Indianapolis.

Handicapping games involving bubble teams can be tricky for recreational bettors. Some keys to think about through the final week of the regular season:

  • The public typically overreacts to “need,” which causes lines to move in the wrong direction. Bubble teams must be inconsistent or they wouldn’t be on the bubble. Do you want to ask inconsistent teams to clear higher hurdles?
  • The players themselves often respond poorly to pressure. That leads to ill-advised shot selection and turnovers. Arguments on the sideline can hurt team chemistry when time starts to slip away.
  • Fatigue can be a factor in late-season fades. A grueling schedule has taken its toll and there’s no time to get back up to speed. Why risk money on tired teams?

It’s usually not a smart bet to invest in bubble teams, unless you are sure the line isn’t inflated against you … and that your offense will be able to stay fresh and execute for the entire game.

Consider making a list (right now) of all teams that can reasonably believe they’re on the bubble. That would mean programs listed in bracketology assessments from 10th seeds through 12th seeds, and then others computer-rated within striking distance. See if you can find schedule spots from now through Sunday where “need to win” might become a negative rather than a positive.

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