- Lead researcher for “College GameDay” since 1996
- Voter on ESPN CFB Selection Committee
The tournament and March Madness are upon us!
There really isn’t a more exciting three weeks on the sports calendar than the NCAA tournament. The first weekend makes for appointment viewing and trips to Las Vegas that become annual occurrences. With sports gambling legalization now widespread, you don’t need to head to Vegas to make a bet — but I highly suggest you do visit for the first weekend of the tournament at least once in your life. For those new to the gambling space, here are a couple of tips to help you enjoy — and possibly help make you some money over the next couple of weeks.
You don’t have to bet every game. There are 67 games starting Tuesday night. These numbers are as sharp as could possibly be and all the good numbers are long gone. There are few — if any — edges at this point. Pick your spots and do not expect to win every bet you place.
Plenty of options before and during games
Be aware of in-game betting possibilities. Many newcomers may not be aware of the advantages in-game betting offers, but you should be. In-game wagering awards you the benefit of watching and learning before betting. And you may just get an opportunity to get a better number. Say, for example, Duke starts slow vs. CSU Fullerton and you didn’t want to lay 17 prior to tip. Now the Blue Devils might just be -14 or so in-game. And with a lot of time left, that’s likely a better bet than laying 17. You’ve been there. A high seed is losing midway through the first half and you know they are going to win. Bet it at a discounted price!
Don’t fall victim to seeding
Don’t just think the 1- and 2-seeds will roll in the first round. It’s not as easy as it looks. Over the past two tournaments, the top two seeds are just 6-10 ATS. That means if you bet $100 on every number one and number two seed to cover, you’re down $500 in that span. Not ideal. 1st round struggles haven’t been limited to one and two seeds recently. Four seeds have also struggled, going 3-9 ATS and just 7-5 straight up. It makes sense when you think about it. Four seeds are teams likely ranked in the mid-to-bottom of the Top 25 and they are facing a conference champion from a good mid-major. Those types of teams lose all the time during the regular season, so it shouldn’t be a surprise now.
Don’t be afraid to play the underdog to win, not just cover
All told, of the 63 first-round underdogs the past two seasons, 22 won outright. Think that’s impressive? Think again. Limit the sample to the 47 games not involving a 1- or 2-seed and 21 were won by the underdog (44.7%). Clearly, don’t be afraid to back an underdog on the money line and ATS. Say you think a 13-seed is going to put up a fight vs. the 4 seed. Consider playing a 13-seed on the money line, meaning you’re going to get plus money on the underdog. And if you play all four and one of the four wins, you’re likely going to turn a profit for the four bets. But backing underdogs isn’t just profitable early in the tournament. Elite Eight underdogs have won exactly half of the 28 games and are 18-9-1 ATS. So file that way for next weekend!
Blue bloods see red
Premium name teams often mean one is paying a tax — or inflated price — betting on a team the public knows. So be careful about landing on one of them. Two examples of this are Duke and Michigan State Spartans. Since winning the national title in 2015, Duke is 4-9 ATS and has failed to cover each of its last six NCAA tournament games. Michigan State is 2-6 ATS with 4 outright losses in its last eight games as a favorite and just 4-8 ATS in its last 12 tournament games. Big names often equal a big price and wind up a big loser.
Tidbits to winning your bracket
And I wouldn’t be doing my job without providing a couple of bracket tips, and those will be plentiful on this site.
If you want to win your bracket pool, avoid picking more than two 1-seeds in the Final Four. I know you think it’s hard for these 1-seeds to lose, but it happens annually. Only once — 2008 — have all four 1-seeds reached the Final Four. Remember top-seeded Illinois last year, the second-most popular pick to win it all in last year’s Tournament Challenge? Trailed entire game to Loyola-Chicago in the second-round exit.
Putting a bow on that note: Don’t be afraid to knock Baylor out of your bracket early. Since Florida’s repeat 15 years ago, no defending champion has advanced past the Sweet 16. In each of the past four tournaments, they have been eliminated by the second round (No. 4 seed Virginia last year in first round, No. 6 seed Villanova in 2019, No. 2 seed North Carolina in 2018 and No. 1 seed Villanova in 2017 each lost in 2nd round).
History also says it will be a first if Auburn, Baylor or Illinois wins the national title. No team has won the national title after losing its first conference tournament game, which all three of those teams did last week. The most important thing to remember over the next few weeks is to have fun and enjoy the games. And if you happen to profit from it, that’s the icing on the cake.
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