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Joined Oct 14, 2008
Final Four wiseguy brackets
April, 2, 2010
Apr 2
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There are lots of ways to calculate success: Happiness is one, fancy cars are another. Or whether you have a putting green or a swimming pool in your backyard or, like John Travolta, garages for your freaking airplanes.

But here at the betting blog, we like numbers. Win-loss records, metrics, stats, records against the spread and the kind of digits that come after this particular symbol: $.

That's why, for the Final Four wiseguy bracket picks -- the ninth in our series that has had real-life pro bettors picking the NCAA tourney games both against the spread and to advance -- I went to the two sharps who have performed best so far: Alan Boston and Sal Selvaggio from, who both were hitting 80 percent on straight picks and better than 75 percent against the spread.

What's interesting to me about all this is how completely different their styles are. Boston is an old-school Vegas wiseguy. He's an Ivy League alumnus who's been living in Nevada for most of his adult life. He's also a pure college basketball fan. He makes his power ratings largely based on how he feels about a team, its returning starters and how its performance fluctuates throughout the season. I can't tell you how many times he's told me that knowledge relies on "knowing a team's flow"; he gets that only by watching as many games as possible, reading about as many teams as possible and loving college hoops as much as he possibly can. He doesn't rely on metrics or stats or even necessarily on players. He plays coaches, situations, styles. His power ratings are drawn up by hand.

Then there's Sal. He's in his late 20s, is a former electrician, still lives in Chicago and has no intention of moving to Vegas. At least until his wife "can't stand the winters anymore," he says. Unlike Boston, he does all his work on computers. He believes in stats such as offensive efficiency, points-per-game differential adjusted for strength of schedule, defensive-rebounding percentages and two-point field goal defense. He puts everything into spreadsheets -- he's given me a lesson or two in Microsoft Excel -- and has a tech guru who works with him. He loves college hoops, too, and follows it just as passionately as Boston, only from an entirely different perspective.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting that the two guys who have wound up on top come at handicapping from two entirely different yet effective ways. So here are their thoughts on the Final Four:

Duke Blue Devils versus West Virginia Mountaineers:
Current line: Duke minus-2.5
Boston says: "I made the game Duke minus-1, so even off my power rating I would be looking to bet West Virginia. And I like West Virginia. After watching Duke-Baylor I could see just how bad Duke is. Baylor athletically was just dominating the game until the refs took over, and I think they absolutely cheated Baylor out of that game. This is not subjective Duke bashing. I bet Duke in that game and wanted it to happen, but it was just insane.

"So now that I can see Baylor was just too good for Duke athletically, I think West Virginia will likely be the same. It plays intelligently, and if you have better athletes and, I think, better coaching and are an underdog, it usually leads to a win. When the two teams last played in the tournament in 2008, Bob Huggins threw a matchup zone at Duke, and the Blue Devils were confused. West Virginia beat Duke easily 73-67. I am expecting West Virginia to win rather easily."

Sal says: "I have Duke as a 3.5-point favorite. I have been one of the few sharp players that hasn't looked at the front of the jersey and trusted my model's numbers, as I thought Duke had been undervalued most of this year. It is 22-14 against the spread this season, which is evidence enough that my rating on Duke has been much better than the linesmakers' and betting marketplace.

"According to my ratings, the only team Duke wouldn't be favored over right now is Kansas. The Blue Devils have a superefficient, balanced offense and defense. In fact, they're good or great in just about every important category from an efficiency standpoint.

"West Virginia is another team I love. The Mountaineers have been in the top 10 of my ratings all year long and have a great X-and-O coach in Bob Huggins. Give him five days off, and I think he is going to have some stuff that might give Duke some problems. Just like Duke, WVU is well-balanced on both ends of the court, although this could be the game where they miss [Darryl] Bryant's shooting.

"Unlike the early game, this game should come down to rebounding. West Virginia and Duke are two of the best teams in the nation at getting offensive rebounds, but both are average at best in offensive-rebounding percentage allowed. As long as the 3-point shooting is relatively equal, whoever is able to get to the glass and get second-chance shots will likely win and advance.

"With that being said I am starting to see minus-2 pop up at some shops on Duke. Although it doesn't have the better coach, it does have the better team and some line value on its side. Plus it's Duke, so you know every questionable call will go that way. By no means is this gold-mine stuff like Butler plus-4 against K-State, but I think Duke minus-2 does offer some value and is worth a small bet."

Butler Bulldogs versus Michigan State Spartans:
Current line: Butler minus-1

Boston says: "I made it pick ['em]. But in retrospect the only team that Butler has played that has had any kind of smarts at all was Murray State, and Butler was fortunate to beat Murray. The other teams it played were not particularly well-coached, either -- UTEP and Syracuse were exploitable, and Butler always finds a way to attack your weaknesses and never mails in a possession. All that being said, when K-State had tons of energy and when teams have amped it up against Butler, it has struggled.

"Michigan State always has intensity and smarts, and while it's not the most athletic Spartan team, it's in a lot of ways the same as Butler. It's a more athletic version of Butler. Screaming fans aren't going to hurt the Spartans, either. Sadly I think Butler's run ends. Too bad, it is a great story for college basketball. But I will be betting a lot on Michigan State."

Sal says: "Honestly, this Final Four sucks. These are all play-on teams for me with no teams I am looking to go against. All four can play a great half-court game, and that is what wins in the tournament. My model has Butler as a 2.5-point favorite, after adding in 1.5 points for playing close to home. Favorites that play close to home have always been good bets. In fact, favorites of 20 or less that are playing in their home state have covered the spread 60 percent of the time since 1985.

"I love this Butler team and have bet on Butler all four games in the tourney so far and gone 3-1 against the spread. I will always look at it first in a nonconference matchup, as [its] coaching and discipline are so superior to just about every program in the country, as evidenced by its great track record against the spread in nonconference games.

"But even with the line value and technical analysis favoring Butler, I have no intention of fading Tom Izzo, who is one of the best tournament coaches of all time. With five days off, the Spartans will be fresh and up to speed on Butler's tricky sets, so the normal benefit Butler gets of playing opponents with little to no time to prepare is null and void in this case.

"You will hear a lot of pundits say this game comes down to Michigan State's great offensive rebounding against Butler's small interior. But you should know that Butler is one of the 15 best teams in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage allowed, which is a big reason why its defense is so good. The bottom line is, like most college basketball games, this will come down to who shoots the 3-pointer better; whoever does will likely win. This is a stone-cold pass for me, although I will be rooting hard for Butler to advance just to stick it to the selection committee."
Joined Apr 8, 2009
sick column. this guy is dishing out so much good info in this article and others. Also pretty good on bill simmons' podcasts.
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