I myself take no interest whatsoever in American college basketball, but toy boy Archibald can't get enough roundball. Every year he organizes a friendly, non-profit office pool for the NCAA men's tourney. Instead of picking bracket winners, the object of his pool is to pick winners against the point spread each and every day as the tournament unfolds. The winner of his winner-take-all pool is the contestant who picks the most winners against the spread over 64 matches. All matches are weighted equally starting with tonight's play-in match to determine the 64th team through the 6 April championship.
To humour Archibald, I participate by relying on economists' studies showing that "heavy" underdogs win more than their fair share of college basketball games against the point spread, while "non-heavy" overdogs win slightly more than 50% (although this particular result is not statistically significant).
Last year, I followed this approach and finished 2nd with a 37-27 record or 57.8%. The "non-heavy" overdogs part of my strategy worked like a dream at 33-19 or 63.5%. But, "heavy" underdogs let me down at 4-8 or 33%. Last year's winner followed a plain-vanilla, all-overdogs approach that took home the prize with a 41-23 record or 64%.
It was very unusual to see overdogs win 64% against the points over 64 games. It has occurred to me that the "science" pointing to "heavy" underdogs in basketball may apply only to regular season matches. Playoffs may be different with teams going all out to bury opponents in elimination games. There is some evidence, albeit inconclusive in a statistical sense, that this may be true in NFL football.
In any case, just for fun I am sticking to the same strategy this year. So, in tonight's play-in match I recommend
Morehead State -3.5 over Alabama State
So far this year, heavy NBA underdogs are 45-38-2 or 54% against the spread.
Friday night take:
Minnie +12.5 over HOUSTON
Wash +14.5 over DENVER
Archibald refers you roundball fans to a New York Times article by Moneyball author Michael Lewis on the quantitative approach to picking players taken by the management team in charge of the Houston Rockets. We can predict that the Rockets will be a top team for years to come as long as they stick to this plan.