I took a day off work to sit at home and watch March Madness and gamble. Yes, you read that right. I spent one of my few vacation days of the year to sit at home on the couch, gamble and watch college hoops. Why the first two days of March Madness aren’t a National Holiday yet is beyond me; if Obama didn’t do it as big a hoops fan as he is I don’t see another president signing that executive order. I went all in for March Madness this year, I’ve been getting into sports betting thanks to two friends Jyrell and Tory who introduced me to mybookie almost a two years ago and for the big tournament I had over 220 pages of data on all the teams.
Friday March 19th
My alarm went off for about 0.5 seconds before my dog jumped on the bed ready to go; I’m starting to think he knows when it’s going off and is ready for action the moment he hears it. We go on our usual morning walk, covering about 2 miles and I spend the entire time playing through scenarios in my head and running the numbers I was looking at the night before. Who’s going to be the big upset?
Time to get quick workout in, I feed my dog and head to the gym, get my mind right for this big day.
I’m back from the gym, I’ve showered, I’ve eaten breakfast, got my pot of coffee going and a 245 page PDF in front of me so I can not only finalize my bracket and overthink all my decisions but place some money on some of these games.
This PDF has EVERYTHING I could want. Historical data on how different seeds perform against one another, historical data on conference performance broken down by seed and round, data on the favorites and underdogs vs the spread, Moneyline and Over/Under. Heatmaps for shooting spots on the court, every stat under the sun you can think of. S-Curve of where teams should have been seeded vs their actual seeding. The list goes on. So how do I compile all of this info to make a proper decision? I surely can’t use everything.
The first thing I did was look at S-Curve and compare opponents. The further the number was from 0 the more I took that stat into consideration Then I took a look at PPG (Points per game) PA(points allowed per game) Offensive Efficiency, historical results on how “x” seed performed against “y” seed, defensive rebounding, free throw shooting, FG% and turnover ratio. Usually I like to look at how a team fared in the last 2 weeks compared to their season average but for March Madness I decided that star wasn’t necessary.
I won’t say I went through game by game and measured each of these because I’ll be honest I didn’t; for the first round yes and somewhat the second round but after that I just went with gut feeling.
Let’s look at Colgate v Arkansas for example. Colgate was a 14 seed taking on #3 Arkansas and I had Colgate as my big upset pick and while originally I would have taken Arkansas, the data told me to pick Colgate.
Colgate was the second highest scoring team in the tournament only behind Gonzaga.
Colgate had an S-Curve of 12 which meant they were seeded about 12 spots lower than what they should have been. (No that doesn’t mean they should’ve been a 2 seed, they were the 57th ranked team and according to someone’s research they should have been closer to something like 45th overall)
Arkansas S-Curve was -1 which means they were ranked 1 spot too high. I dont think that's enough to go against them but Colgate's S-Curve was pretty high.
Colgate was third in offensive tempo
Colgate was 7th in 2pt FG %
Colgate was 2nd in 3pt FG %
Colgate was 4th in Turnover rate turning the ball over 13.8% of the time (NCAA Average was 19%)
Historically, over the last 10 years the #3 seed is 34-6 in round 1 and over the last 15 years the record jumps to 52-8. A 14 seed hadn’t won in the last 4 tournaments. My thought process was if the last 6 wins came from 2010-2016 then surely a 14 is now due to win one?
Hopefully you can see why I chose Colgate now, it appeared to be a logical upset pick and I was feeling really good about myself. I thought I was a genius and my bracket was going to be the best bracket ever if I kept this up. You can see why this took me so long to go through.
Oh, and gambling, that’s also why we’re here. We’ll stick with Colgate v Arkansas for this too.
Arkansas was an 8.5pt favorite over Colgate. Historically when the #3 seed is favored by 10 or more points; they are 12-8 against the spread. When the spread is less than 10 points the #3 seed is only 14-10-1 against the spread.
I’m picking Colgate to win in my bracket so of course I’m doubling up and taking Colgate +8.5...we’ll visit this later.
Rinse and repeat above for a slew of games and that’s how I made the picks for my bracket. After a long 3 hours of sifting through papers and making judgement calls I decided to call it a day. I usually take my dog out again about 1230/1pm but I’m not about to miss a single possession so this was my optimal time to let him out again.
We’re back just in time to chill out and get ready for the huge slate of basketball games for the day. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. The 2 games we’re watching are Colgate v Arkansas and Syracuse v SDSU. I took Syracuse on the moneyline to upset SDSU and I'm not really sure why. I didn't follow my data for this one, I just really like Syracuse and I trust their tournament prestige more than SDSU; despite San Diego performing better in some key stat lines and being ranked lower than expected.
Florida v Virginia Tech is the first game on the slate and you couldn’t start the tournament any better! First game going into OT and Florida sneaking out with a win!? Doesn’t get much better than that.
I was feeling great too because about the same time Colgate was up BIG on Arkansas and I’m screaming on the couch because I’m a genius and going to win all my bracket pools. Illinois and Drexel was a snooze fest as expected but it's another game correct and then Arkansas starts coming back. Oh no. Colgate not only blows a 15 point lead but then proceeds to get crushed by 17pts!!! 17! What the hell happened in the second half!? A 32 point swing is absolutely ridiculous...I guess I’m not the genius I thought I was.
I help coach High School football and we had a game that night, taking on a really good team and fighting for a playoff spot. I took my dog out one last time and then hit the road for our away game in Rockbridge County.
Arrive at Rockbridge County High School and everyone’s all jacked up about Oral Roberts taking down Ohio State. “There goes my bracket.” Who in the hell would have picked Oral Roberts. I had OSU going to the Final Four so that was a gut punch. Didn’t matter though to be honest because I was just focused on winning this game. Getting my WR’s warmed up and locked in to take down this notoriously good school.
Game over. Tough loss, 21-28 and I think we can beat these guys. We called the right plays and eliminated silly mistakes but fell short. The kids fought hard though and proved they can not only hang with the big guys but give them a run for their money too. Rockbridge was lucky to walk out of there with a win, but as we tell the kids; let it sting, let it hurt, but tomorrow our focus is on Spotswood.
I get home in time to catch the second half of the last few games of the day and see my Syracuse boys take down SDSU! That’s one way to make me feel better and then finally crack open that weekend beer now that the work week is over. I end the night right with Rutgers, Syracuse, Villanova and WVU all winning. Despite missing Colgate, losing OSU and Purdue I was feeling pretty damn good about my bracket
Bed time. Seriously...who decided Eastern Standard time would be the standard...this sucks.
Saturday March 20th, 2021
I didn’t even set my alarm but my dog thinks I forgot so he woke me up anyways (*eyeroll he doesn't know how to sleep in)
Morning routine was a bit different today, no gym and I already did my research so we drove out towards George Washington National Park and went on a hike. We did a little 5 mile trail and saw a cool waterfall at the top, he was all about running around in the water too and couldn’t be happier.
We finished up our hike in a little under 2 hours and then headed back home. I made a stop at food lion to get some frozen pizza. Before you judge, Digornos released this new pizza with a Croissant crust so I had to check it out.
Back home now for the day and not leaving the apartment at all, I’ve got everything I need and two TV’s setup in the living room so I can watch 2 games at once. This is the life.
I took some time to research more bets to take.
Let’s take Iowa -13.5; USC Moneyline and Capitals vs Rangers in the NHL; Caps O3goals
In hindsight I should have followed my data here. The 2 seed is only 27-31-2 vs the spread against 15 seeds over the last 15 tournaments but I went with my gut and thought Iowa would crush Grand Canyon. USC Moneyline was simply because I didn’t see Drake as having a real chance against an underrated USC team.
The caps actually beat down the Rangers the night before and I thought for sure they would repeat so the safe bet would be to take the Over on goals scored especially with all the high scoring games in the NHL this year.
Is it tip-off yet? This is the real day I’ve been waiting for because now I can truly sit and watch all the games uninterrupted. Saturday went about as expected. It was 6pm and all the teams that should win, won. I was 100% on the day and on top of the world. Everyone doubted Creigton but I stuck with them. I know they were cold going into the Tournament but again that's why I don't look at the last 2 weeks before for March Madness...I believe that stuff resets to a certain degree. I really wanted to bet against Bama but I held off, they’ve burned me a few times in the regular season but again I stuck with them for the Iona game. Nothing crazy exciting so far although Eastern Washington made it a good game for a while before KU pulled away (I hate the Jayhawks so much). And that Creighton game was a blast to watch!
The sun is setting, darkness consumes the sky, and the Madness begins.
Ohio v Virginia. Virginia notoriously struggles in the tournament, losing early and often, but they finally got over the hump in 2019 and won the whole thing. Is the curse over? Ohio says no. 13 Ohio takes down 4 Virginia!! You have got to be kidding me! Ohio will move on to the second round while the Cavaliers pack their bags and head home! I actually had UVA losing to Creighton in the second round so this loss doesn't hurt me too bad in the bracket but really UVA?? Ohio?? Can you guys figure this tournament thing out?
But the night isn’t over yet.
#11 UCLA takes down #6 BYU! They had a play-in game on Thursday to earn their way into the big dance and they go dancing all over BYU with a double digit win. And then as the night gets darker and my eyes grow weary, Abilene Christian does the unthinkable and beats Texas! I don't even care about my bracket anymore. But a guy who is an awful free-throw shooter and had a terrible night on the court walks up to the line and drains both free throws with ice in his veins. Down goes #3 Texas.
That’s the beauty of March Madness, you pick your bracket and every year you think it’s going to be different. This is the one. This is the best bracket I’ve done. But then some nobodies from Oral Roberts come out of nowhere and ruin it. But it’s exciting. You can’t help but embrace the Cinderella teams over and over again, it never gets old. You live for the buzzer beating shot, you live for the clutch moments at the free throw line, the coach for FGCU falling out of his chair when his team advances to the next round. That’s the real reason we all focus on March Madness. Plus everyone loves to be the guy/girl who chose the upset game correctly.
So what did I learn from all this? Analytics don't necessarily matter. They really don’t. Ohio State on paper should beat Oral Roberts 93 times out of 100. Colgate should statistically be the smart choice for an upset pick. But none of that matters. You just never know what’s going to happen and if Sister Jean makes an appearance you might as well put your life savings on Loyola-Chicago. I did the most research I’ve ever done for March Madness and I don’t think I performed any better than I normally do. A few games I picked by heart and should’ve stuck with the analytics and some other games like Colgate I went against my instinct. I don’t think there is a real rhyme or reason behind it all. Hell, back in February I picked the Bulls to win soley because I did some research and found out since 1994 they were 8-2 on Michael Jordan’s birthday...and I won the bet.
I have to admit it was a lot of fun, I think next year I might take 2 or 3 days off and do the same thing. So what are my picks this weekend? Not sure yet, but the better seed team wins 69.2% of the time in the Sweet 16 and in the Elite 8 they’re 19-39 against the Spread. Trust the Process.
Oh and that Digiorno's Croissant pizza is actually pretty good. Cook it less than the time prescribed on the box otherwise you’ll burn it but it’s pretty solid.
Thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed it.