NCAA Tournament Betting Trends
by Trevor Whenham - 03/25/2008
We have a few days to sit back and breathe after four intense days of college basketball before we have to get ready for four more days. This is a great opportunity to look back at what has happened already. By knowing what has happened we stand a better chance of avoiding costly mistakes in the next two rounds. Here, then, is a look back at the betting trends that have emerged in the first two rounds of this tournament.
It was a good weekend to be a public bettor. As you know, the public has a blind love of the favorites at the best of times, and that tendency is especially strong at times like the tournament when more novice bettors than usual are wading into the betting pool. You would think, then, that the favorites wouldn't be that attractive - extra action on the favorite should drive the lines up and provide value on the underdog in a few more games than normal. That's not the case this year. The favorites in the first two rounds of the tournament have gone 30-18 ATS so far. That's a 62.5 percent winning rate, which is obviously wildly profitable. It would seem, then, that blindly picking the favorites was the way to go.
If only it were that easy. Breaking it down by round tells a slightly different story. Favorites in the second round were just 9-7 ATS. That's still profitable, but not enough to make it interesting. That means that the first round was an incredibly attractive 21-11 ATS, a 65.6 percent winning rate. Drilling down even further you'll see that on Friday, the second day of the tournament, the favorites were just 8-8 ATS. That means that they went a ridiculous 13-3 ATS on the first day. Most of the profit for the whole tournament so far was booked on Thursday.
The first day of this year's tournament was about as formful as a day can be. Only two lower seeds won. Texas A&M, a No. 9, beat No. 8 Brigham Young, but the Aggies were actually favored by one so it is hardly an upset. The only big upset on the day was Kansas State, a No. 11, beating up on USC. The Wildcats were only three point underdogs, though, and it's not like they came out of nowhere to pull off the win. The only other team that didn't cover was Duke and they were lucky just to survive Belmont.
The main point is this - as much as it may look like the tournament is playing out as a favorite-fest, that's not entirely the case, and acting as if it were is a bad move. The first day was an incredible and one-sided situation. Whether because of an adjustment by the books, one by the public, or just the reality of the tournament, though, the next three days settled down and were about as balanced as they can be at 17-15 ATS. The numbers for the whole tournament so far would make you think that this is a favorite heavy-tournament, but it is really just a fairly typical tournament with one day that was an extreme.
You might think that the public would favor the top four teams more than the others, but that doesn't appear to be the case, either. Those teams were 7-1 ATS on the first day and 4-4 ATS on day two. That means that the rest of the favorites were 6-2 ATS on day one and 4-4 ATS one day two. Virtually no difference.
The totals were more balanced, but no more consistent. Overall, games went over the total 25 times in 48 tries and ended up right on the number in two others. That means that 21 games went under. Betting the over, the typical public choice, was profitable, but not enough to retire on, or even to buy a really fancy dinner unless you bet pretty big units. The public didn't do as well here.
Looking at the totals day by day is quite interesting. On the first day when the favorites were wreaking havoc games went under seven times and over eight times, with one push. Things balanced out on the sides on Friday at 8-8 ATS, but the totals weren't balanced at all - 10 overs and a push in 16 games. The second round was even less consistent. On Saturday six of the eight games went under the total, while six of Sunday's eight games went over and one hit the total. Again, no overwhelming trends have emerged. It looks like we may just have to resort to handicapping the games because nothing that happened last weekend gives us the easy key to what will happen this weekend. Not that I expected it to, unfortunately.