There are a lot of ways to enjoy the NCAA tournament. You can join a Calcutta pool, bidding on teams that you track throughout the Madness. Or you can just watch.
But the classics are still the best, like watching "Good Will Hunting" or "Hoosiers" over and over again. There are no holes in those movies: You know there's going to be a moment that gets you, and that's why you keep coming back. That's what office pools are like. Same goes for taking it game by game and betting against the spread. They are straightforward formulas for thrills and chills.
Like the Super Bowl, March Madness is when the public bettors dominate the action. Pros are spent from a season of looking for tiny point spread miscalculations by bookmakers on Middle Tennessee State games. Once the season ends, they dig in for heavy play on the conference tournaments. "Those are like our final exam," says longtime wiseguy Teddy Covers. As I've said before, the NCAAs are when the sharps tend to relax. The opportunities just aren't as plentiful because bookmakers have a season's worth of data and a smaller pool of teams to worry about.
For bookmakers the most difficult matchups are between the high and low seeds. "How high do you want to set the lines?" says Pete Korner, of the linemaking service The Sports Club. "You are trying to find that plateau where we can grab two-way action." Same is true for the wiseguys, who tend to stay away from the 20-plus point spreads for fear of the favorite getting a big lead and then coasting the rest of the way.
Picking straight-up for an office pool presents different challenges and, in a lot of ways, is much harder than playing the spread. When examining lines, bettors -- the smart ones at least -- can skip a game if they don't see any value in it. That's the difference between gamblers and wiseguys: Wiseguys save their bankroll for games they feel good about. But you can't skip games in a pool, even if you don't have an opinion. You have to make a choice. And, the truth is, we are all really busy people. Most of us don't have time to study the 64-team field all season long the way professional handicappers do. When we see Texas-Wake Forest matched up, it's like choosing between Pinkberry and Red Mango. What's the difference?
Well, the wiseguys know. So, for the next two days, they're going to break down the first round of the brackets in the bloggy blog, from the perspective of who to choose straight up and who to pick against the spread (if anyone). Along the way, pay attention to the rules they live by, so you can make your own choices for Round 2.
Tuesday's lessons come from Teddy Covers, who took on the East, and Vegas Runner, who handled the West.