Sports Betting

March Madness can be chaotic for Vegas handicappers. Here’s how they handle it.

How do professional bettors handicap all the fast action of college basketball conference tournaments on the fly? This weekend’s analytical challenges are very different from the regular season. Teams playing in semifinals and finals will be trying to survive multi-games-in-multi-days gauntlets.

Sharps pay a lot of attention to box scores from earlier rounds because it’s impossible to closely watch EVERY game in EVERY tournament from the first round through the quarterfinals. Points of focus are:

Minutes Played by Key Contributors: Fatigue can be a huge factor for teams with short rotations during these unique conference tournament formats. Any surging underdog or favorite with limited bench strength is likely to hit a wall over the weekend. Deep teams are much better able to string together success. Sharps also factor in game pace (up-tempo teams wear out sooner, slower teams can endure).

Shooting Extremes: It’s not uncommon to see a team post a great one-game result by shooting way over its head (particularly from long range). Doing that two or three games in a row is much more difficult. The laws of math get angry. And, opposing defenses make adjustments. Sharps don’t ask “lucky” teams to stay lucky.

Turnover Avoidance: You’ve surely heard sports analysts through the years talk about the importance of “guard play” in tournament basketball. Good “quarterbacks” distribute the ball while avoiding turnovers. Efficient offenses run by quality guards are capable of stringing together wins because they waste so few possessions. Any team that won a game despite a high turnover count will have trouble overcoming that hurdle the next time out. Well-tuned engines will continue to hum.

Defense and Rebounding Win Championships: this is another analyst favorite that’s proven the test of time. Obviously offense is needed too. But, in a field of talented athletes, defense and rebounding can be a critical tie-breaker (particularly in games priced near pick-em). Sharps respect “rebound rate” (percentage of available rebounds grabbed) and rim protection (two-point shooting percentage allowed).

If you’re betting the SEC semifinals (noon and 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN) and finals (noon Sunday on ESPN) or any other attractive TV features, catch up on those key indicator stats before you make your final decisions. It’s easy to find box scores at and other statistical websites.

Other notes

Speaking of back-to-back challenges, the New Orleans Pelicans host the Phoenix Suns in NBA action Saturday night, after hosting Portland Friday. The Pellies carried an 0-4 straight up and ATS albatross into the twinbill. Though, New Orleans is 4-1 ATS on night two of a back-to-back since the beginning of January.

A humbling loss for the Birmingham Iron last week in Alliance of American Football action. Championship hopes seem distant after a 31-14 home loss as a four-point home underdog to league power Orlando. The Apollos won total yardage 468-272 on 7.3 to 4.8 yards-per-play. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert is clearly the league’s MVP through the first half of the season. Can Orlando keep him healthy?

Birmingham still has the second-best record in the AAF at 3-2, along with San Diego and San Antonio. Birmingham visits San Diego Sunday (NFL Network, 7 p.m.). Undefeated Orlando is featured in Saturday’s prime time game, hosting 2-3 Arizona (NFL Network, 7 p.m.)

Quarterback Aaron Murray had his second straight big-stat game for Atlanta. After taking over for injured Matt Simms, Murray has posted passing lines of 20-33-0-254 and 27-43-0-306. The 28-year old who played college ball at Georgia also has 67 rushing yards on 10 carries.

Atlanta (2-3) hosts San Antonio Sunday (CBS Sports Network, 3 p.m.).

Week Five formally kicks off Saturday with a battle of 1-4 teams when Memphis visits Salt Lake (BR-Live, 3 p.m.). It will be interesting to see if the AAF can maintain its broadcast and betting footprint as college basketball’s March Madness kicks into full gear.

Jeff Fogle writes the daily VSiN newsletter. Sign up at