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Amidst the Madness, Don't Ignore 'March Mildness'

13 March 2001

The office pool is in the inbox on your desk, waiting to be filled out. Half of your coworkers can't figure out the Tuesday night play-in game that makes their brackets more difficult to complete. More knowledgeable fans are commenting on the "irony" of Lefty Driesell's Georgia State team possibly meeting his old Maryland Terps club in the second round and the "quirk" of the potential deja-vu Duke-Kentucky game for a Final Four berth in Philly, the same teams and site of one of the greatest games in hoops history a decade ago.

Meanwhile everyone insists with straight faces all around that CBS has no control of the pairings.

Yep, it's NCAA tournament time, the high point on the sporting calendar for many and the second most heavily bet event of the year, with volume exceeded only by the Super Bowl. There are good betting opportunities along the way with 65 teams and 64 games, but under everyone's radar screen are 32 more major college hoop outfits playing for another title in the NIT. Glamorous? No. Worth a look? Definitely.

Though you're surrounded by madness, don't ignore March Mildness. In the NCAA tourney everyone is fired up and hoping to play their best game of the season each time they lace up their sneakers. This is not the case in the NIT, made up of second-tier teams judged not worthy of making the Big Dance.

The disappointment of missing out on the NCAA tourney is what makes some of the best teams in the NIT some of the best "go-againsts." Look for the team or two that whines, moans and bitches the most about not making the NCAA's. A couple of days later they will be matched up in an opening round NIT game against a less-heralded club that had no expectations of a NCAA bid and may be thrilled to still be playing.

The complaining team is not only excited to be in the game, it is devastated to be included in it. Any team that can't forge its way into the field of 64 is not an unbeatable goliath, and the lesser team has demonstrated the ability to earn a winning record against Division 1 competition. This difference in motivation provides the key for a play against the club that is disillusioned with its lot in life.

Note that this advice is usually only valid in the first round matchup. After winning a game, teams can overcome their disappointment and play well in an effort to prove themselves in the NIT. Supporting an excited club against one that has just been jilted by the NCAA selection committee will provide you with a decent value play or two this week.

Free selections: Kevin O'Neill is a writer, researcher, and handicapper. Free basketball selections are available daily after 5PM Eastern Time on his free telephone hotline at 1-770-618-8700. The hotline is a free 24-hour service, so make it a part of your daily basketball routine. (In the Atlanta area, this is a free local call. Beyond Atlanta, this is a long-distance call at your normal rates.)

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