2019 March Madness Betting and Handicapping: Bracket Strategy and Betting Cheat Sheet
After five long months of regular-season and conference tournament action, the college basketball season has finally reached its apex. The "first round" of the 2018 NCAA Tournament gets underway tomorrow with the first pair of play-in games set to tip off at 6:40 p.m. EST. In the first matchup, we will see No. 16 Prairie View take on fellow No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson. As of writing this, FDU is a 1.5-point favorite. That game will be followed up by a battle of No. 11 seeds - Belmont (-3.5) versus Temple. If that's not enough to whet the appetite, two more play in games will happen on Wednesday - No. 16 NC Central versus No. 16 North Dakota State (-5.5) and No. 11 Arizona State (-1) versus No. 11 St. Johns.
The winner of these four games get to stake claim to a tournament win despite much of the sporting world not recognizing these play-in games as tournament action. I, however, could care less whether they are officially recognized or not. College basketball is always a welcome sight on the television and provides not only me, but bettors around the world, a chance to bet on and consume arguably the craziest and most drama-filled tournament in the world.
If you are just getting into the college basketball scene and need a few pointers to help fill out your bracket or wager a few bucks, this article is intended to get you up to speed on what you need to know.
For starters, Duke earned the No. 1 overall seed, and Bovada has given them the best odds to win the tournament at +225. Next up is Gonzaga at +550, Virgina +600, North Carolina +700 and Kentucky at +1100.
Gonzaga (+160), Duke (-175), Virginia (+140) and North Carolina (+200) are the odds-on favorites to make it out of their respective divisions.
No. 1 Doesn't Guarantee Success
In a perfect world, taking all four No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four would save us a lot of stress and would make filling out our brackets easier. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world, and No. 1 teams aren't guaranteed success. In fact, a Final Four featuring all four No. 1 seeds has happened only once in the tournament's history. To take that a step further, a Final Four without any top seeds has happened twice over the last 11 years.
Defending Ain't Easy
There have been only seven teams in the history of the tournament to win two or more consecutive championships. The latest team to do so was the Florida Gators in 2006-07. This year, Villanova will take their shot at defending their crown. However, not only have they struggled this year, history is not on their side. I would highly recommend looking elsewhere when filling out your brackets or laying down a future bet.
No. 16 is not Sweet 16
It finally happened. A No. 16 seed shocked the world and got in the win column versus a No. 1 seed. Last year, UMBC became the first No. 16 team to beat a No. 1 seed when they took down the Virginia Cavaliers. If you had them in your bracket, congratulations. Now stop lying. While it's a monumental accomplishment, I don't foresee it happening again for a very long time. No. 1 seeds are No. 1 seeds for a reason, and after this year they will improve their record to 139-1. Don't be a fool and ruin your bracket by picking a No. 16 over a No. 1 this year.
Look for the No. 12 over No. 5 Pick
This is typically the most highly-regarded spot to find an upset in the round of 64. There are no scientific reasons why, but No. 5 seeds have suffered through their fair share of disappointing performances over the years. In fact, the No. 5 seed is 89-47 against their first-round opponent, which is a winning percentage of .654. That is the lowest win percentage among the top five seeds. Last season was just the second time since 2012 that all four No. 5 seeds have advanced past the first round.
Hottest ATS Team
Heading into the tournament, the team with the best ATS record is Mississippi. The Rebels have covered the spread in 23 of 34 games this season and now must go up against an Oklahoma team who has struggled lately to keep games close. As of writing this, Ole Miss is a two-point favorite. And should they continue their torrid ATS run, the Rebels may be the best ATS play of the first round.
Coldest ATS Team
Each year, there is always one or two teams that are hotly debated about whether or not they should have gotten into the tournament or not. This year, if it weren't for an outright conference championship, Northern Kentucky would be on the outside looking in. The 'Norse' reeled off five straight wins to take the Horizon League title, but they have been a brutal ATS bet all season long. They managed to cover the spread just 12 times in 32 games and now must go up against a great Texas Tech team. Look for Tech to cover the line of -14 when these two teams hook up on Friday.
Hottest "Over" Bet
If you are a totals player, I would suggest taking a look at the "over" in the Kansas vs. Northeastern game. The Jayhawks have the best "over" record in the tournament with a staggering 21 games hitting the "over" compared to 12 for the "under". Their opponent has also played to the 'over' more often than not as they have gone over the total 19 times while staying under just 12. The currently total sits at 144.5, and I expect it will rise by tip off.
Hottest "Under" Bet
When you think of Duke, you should immediately think of their loaded and talented roster and think points would be easy to come by. For Duke, yes, points are typically easy to come by, but for their opponents, not so much. This is likely the reason Duke has gone 'over' the total just nine times in 34 games this season. They now get to take on a No. 16 seed in the first round, and their options are NC Central, who stayed under the total 17 times in 30 games, or North Dakota State, who played to the 'under' in 11 of 30 games.
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