NCAA Tournament Betting Trends
by Trevor Whenham - 3/14/2011
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting antsy. The field is set, I’ve stared at the bracket until I can’t see anymore, and now I just want the games to start -- and I’m not talking about those stupid games in Dayton. The next three weeks -- and especially the first four days of the NCAA Tournament -- are like Christmas for sports bettors. To help pass the time until the games start, and to hopefully make the March Madness betting experience more fun and profitable, here’s a look at NCAA Tournament betting trends from three different perspectives:
The bottom seeds – It’s so alluring to hope for an upset of a No. 1 seed in the opening round. It would rock the sporting world. You would never forget it. The sad truth is, though, that it’s not getting any closer to happening.
The last time a 16 seed was within five points of a win was 1996. In the last four tournaments the No. 1s have all won by at least 16 points, and 14 of those 16 games have been won by more than 20 points -- with an average margin of 29.3 points.
There is a reason for the big spreads and lack of real hoping in these games. A monumental upset could happen one year, but betting on it to happen at any given time is dangerous business.
Sadly, the 15s aren’t doing much better recently. They have pulled off the upset four times in 104 tries, but they have failed to do so in the last 36 games over nine years, and have just one win in the last 13 years.
Looking at the 15s and 16s from a betting perspective tells a whole different story, though. In the last 10 years the No. 1s have only been 20-18-2 ATS in the first round, so there have been plenty of underdog betting opportunities here. It’s even better for the 15s -- they have gone 22-18 ATS, so a bet on the underdogs has actually been profitable over the long term.
The middle seeds - You know what the difference is between a seven seed and a 10? Basically just the number in front of their name. It’s no surprise, then, that the 7-10 and 8-9 games are the most wide open ones.
The nine seeds actually have an edge in their pairing -- they have won 56 of 104 pairings between the seeds. The 10 seeds haven’t done quite as well, but have still won 42 of 104 games. They have also come out on top in six of the last eight games.
The other thing to keep in mind for the eight and nine seeds is that things get really bleak for them in the second round -- they have just 13 wins over the No. 1 seeds in 104 tries, and have just one win in the last six years. That means that the eights and nines would need to have had an average moneyline in those games of +700 just to break even.
Needless to say, betting on the lower seeds in the second round has been a long term losing proposition. Betting on the seven seeds in the first round, on the other hand, is probably the surest bet on the board over the last decade -- they are a stellar 24-16 ATS.
Picking upsets - There are going to be upsets -- it wouldn’t be the tournament if there weren’t. The challenge for bettors is figuring out how many upsets is too many.
Some bettors see an upset possibility in every game, but the truth is that the majority of games are going to go to form. There have never been more than the 13 first round upsets that there were in 2001. The average over the last 10 years is eight upsets per year, though there have been 10 in each of the last two years.
One good spot to look for an upset is the 12 seeds -- in 23 of the 26 years since the field expanded to 64 teams there has been at least one win by a 12, and in nine of the last 10 years the 12 seeds have combined to win at least two games.
The one thing you can be reasonably comfortable of is that there will be an upset somewhere in the first two rounds featuring a top four seed. In only 13.5 percent of cases since the 64-team tournament started have all four teams in a region advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
From a betting perspective the three and four seeds are a good place to look for an upset. They have combined to go 42-37-1 ATS in the last 10 years. That’s basically just breaking even, so that means that there have been a whole lot of nice spots to bet the lower seeds.
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