Sweet Sixteen Betting Trends
by Trevor Whenham - 03/21/2007
I'm looking forward to the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight with great expectation. So much expectation that I can hardly sleep. Until they get here, though, the responsible thing for us to do is to look back on what has already happened to see what we can learn that can be applied to our handicapping going forward. I'm not a huge believer in general trends as a handicapping tool, but there is value in understanding some trends that have emerged so far in the tournament. At the very least, by uncovering some trends it gives us something else to consider - the more relevant information, the merrier. Here's a look at five clear trends from rounds one and two of this year's tournament:
1) Don't over-think the first round. The favorites are favorites for a reason. Looking for a lot of upsets is usually a bad idea when you're filling out your brackets, and it was also a pretty bad idea when it came to hitting the betting windows this year. The favorites covered 21 of the first 32 games in the tournament, and one game ended in a push. That means that blindly picking the favorites won at a 68 percent rate. That makes sense - if the selection committee does their job properly, the higher ranked team should be substantially better than the team they are playing. The games are, to varying degrees, mismatches, and mismatches are what you are looking to bet on. The exception would seem to be the game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seed. The difference between those two teams is the smallest. That played out this year, with the underdogs covering in three of four of the games between the middle seeds. If you remove those evenly matched games, the favorites covered in 74 percent of first round games. That's a very solid profit for no handicapping.
2) Embrace double-digit spreads. For many people, double-digit spreads are something to stay away from in college basketball. You can never be sure what a coach's agenda is going to be once his team takes a lead, so a team will often settle for a win and let their opponents score enough in the last few minutes against reserves to cover the spread. During the tournament you don't have to have the same concern about struggles with motivation, and teams will usually give full effort up to the final buzzer. That means, at least in theory, that a good team is likely to cover a fair spread. That theory has proven itself accurate this year. There have been 11 games played with a spread of more than 10 points. The favorites have covered in eight of those games. That's 73 percent.
3) Second round performance by a conference is not related to their first round performance. The Big Ten started out extremely strong against the spread. They were an impressive and unexpected 5-0-1 ATS in the first round. They crashed back to earth in the second round, though, going 2-3 ATS. They weren't the only conference that struggled over the weekend, either. The SEC started 4-1 ATS in the first round, but fell to 1-3 ATS in round two. The Big East was 3-3 ATS in the first round, but none of the teams that advanced to the second round were able to cover in their weekend game. The conference that was able to maintain their momentum over the weekend was the Big 12. The four teams from that conference went 3-1 ATS in the first round, and were only slightly worse at 2-1 ATS in round two. As a general rule, though, you should ignore what a conference did in one round when trying to figure out how a team from that conference will do in the next round.
4) Offense or defense - it doesn't matter. The top 10 teams in the country in offensive efficiency went through the first two rounds of the tournament at 10-8 ATS. The top 10 teams for defensive efficiency were only barely better at 10-7-1 ATS. That tells us a couple of things. First, as you would expect, a large percentage of the top teams survived the first round. Second, neither offensive nor defensive efficiency is a profitable indicator of performance by itself. There does seem to be one way to use the rankings to a handicapping advantage, however. Three teams - Ohio State, North Carolina and Texas A&M - are in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Those three teams have gone a respectable 4-2 ATS, and all three are alive to play another day.
5) The mid-majors are a good bet…if you're patient. If we take the loosest possible definition of a mid-major - any team that is not in one of the six major conferences - then the 29 teams that fit that criteria were a dismal 10-18-1 ATS in the first round. Seven mid-major teams won their first round game. This is where it gets profitable. Those seven teams were a very impressive 5-2 ATS in round two. Once the true contenders from among the teams from lesser conferences step up they become betting value as bettors seem to underestimate their chances and undervalue them. Conversely, the BCS conferences were a very profitable 21-13-1 ATS in round one, but they made their backers wallets thinner by going 9-13-2 ATS in round two.