Updated on 09/17/2011 11:35PM

NCAA selections and analysis for Thursday


LAS VEGAS - You can't teach an old dog player new tricks.

I tried, I really tried. After a disastrous football season, especially in the pros when the favorites covered at an unprecedented rate of 58 percent, I took a long, hard look at my handicapping methods after having to suffer my share of critics. Some of the criticism was constructive. For instance, one reader from Philadelphia (couldn't quite make out if his signature was "Lee" or "Joe") pointed out that I sometimes pride myself on a prejudice for underdogs and take "too much pleasure in getting a point or two by shopping the sports books - this can be like buying a 'bargain' that you don't need and will never use." Point well taken. It's like getting 'value' in a horse race on a longshot that finishes well up the track. How much value can that have been?

Also, in talking to oddsmakers and bookmakers around town, including Ken White of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, it appears the days of betting blindly on underdogs are long gone. The general public doesn't play just favorites like it used to and oddsmakers have taken the value out of live underdogs in many cases.

Also, local sports radio host John Kelly is known to say, "There are good favorites and bad favorites, good dogs and bad dogs." That is also very true, and I took all the above to heart heading into the NCAA tournament and tried to have a balanced mix of favorites that laid over their opponents and live underdogs, while trying to avoid false favorites and dead underdogs.

In Thursday's and Friday's first-round action, I had six favorites and six underdogs with my bankroll plays in the print editions of Daily Racing Form. On Saturday and Sunday on the drf.com website, I had four dogs and two favorites. Pretty balance, especially for yours truly.

It was quite a roller-coaster ride. On Thursday, I went 2-3-1 with some bad beats that I already whined about on the website and are too painful to relive again. I bounced back on Friday with a 4-2 mark. My time in the black was short-lived as I went 0-3 on Saturday, but then rebounded by going 3-0 on Sunday to finish the opening two rounds at 9-8-1 for a slight profit of 0.2 units (based on laying 1.1. units to win 1).

But now I get back to the thesis: my record with eight favorites was 2-5-1, while my record with 10 underdogs was 7-3.

Granted, I know it's a short sample, but it proved to me that I shouldn't be trying to pick favorites. It should be underdog or pass.

This isn't the first time I've tried to change my handicapping style. I've long been the same way with the horses. A few years back, Coast Casinos here in Vegas had a weekly five-race survivor-style handicapping contest called "King of the Hill" in which you had to have your top selection finish in the money in the first race, then first or second in the second and third races, then win the fourth and fifth. Conventional tournament strategy would say to take the favorite in the first race to stay alive (after all, even if you take a chance on a longshot and get it in the money, you don't gain an edge if everyone else is alive after the chalk is also in the money). I don't remember the exact results, but I know I only advanced past the first race once in the half-dozen or so times I "played it safe" and went with the favorite or second choice, faring much better when sticking to my own style, including one time when I won the $2,000 prize.

So I've had my second epiphany. If others can find the sure-thing favorites, more power to them. I've gotta be me. Onto Thursday's games, where I like two underdogs in the four games.

4:10 p.m. at Atlanta, Ga.

Duke is, well, Duke. If J.J. Redick is on, then the Blue Devils can easily cover this number, but it's just as likely he won't be lighting up the scoreboard and LSU will be in this game until the end (and some people will certainly point to the fact that Redick has not scored more than 20 points this late in the NCAA tournament and has come up short in other big games). Shelden Williams is the main inside player for Duke, but even though he's billed as a 6-9 big man, he tends to play smaller. He gets shots blocked and also has come up short when facing top competition. Glen Davis, on the other hand, is also 6-9 but plays bigger, both in height and width. "Baby Shaq" is a load like his namesake and I'll take him in this battle. I do have some trepidation in taking LSU since they failed me as a 4 1/2-point favorite over Texas A&M last Saturday, but I was still impressed that the Tigers pulled out the victory when challenged. That should bode them well here, especially with Darrel Mitchell coming in after hitting the game-winning 3-pointer.

PLAY: LSU for 1 unit.

Bradley (+6 1/2) vs. Memphis
4:25 p.m. at Oakland, Calif.

There's no reason to change after backing Bradley in each of the first two rounds. The Braves are certainly not playing like a No. 13 and have earned their way to the Sweet 16 with impressive wins over Kansas and Pittsburgh which were not flukes. Bradley plays scrappy defense like a Missouri Valley school, but the Braves also have frontline players like 7-footer Patrick O'Bryant and Marcellus Sommerville that could play in any conference in the country. Memphis hasn't been receiving the credit normally given to a No. 1 seed, and while I think that's been unfair, this could be where they meet their match. Memphis wore down Bucknell on Sunday, but I don't see the Tigers doing the same to Bradley.

PLAY: Bradley for 1 unit

Games of March 23

At Atlanta, Ga.

Duke (-6.5) vs. LSU LSU

Texas (-5) vs. West Virginia Texas

At Oakland, Calif.

UCLA (-3.5) vs. Gonzaga Gonzaga

Memphis (-6.5) vs. Bradley BRADLEY

Best bets in CAPS

Bankroll record: 9-8-1 for a net profit of 0.2 units. Record on all tournament games: 25-23-1.