Why pro bettors have less of an edge in March Madness

"Bill" is a U.S.-based professional sports bettor who has been betting since the mid-2000s, the past seven years as a professional. He focuses primarily on college basketball.

He visited with Chalk ahead of the 2019 NCAA tournament to share some insights on the college hoops market and the difficulty of winning in March.

Q: Take us through your college basketball season and the edge you believe you have at different points in the season.

Bill: My edge is strongest and play volume is highest early in the season, and by the time March rolls around, I have less of an edge and therefore end up with fewer plays. I would say that my edge goes down a bit with each passing month through the season, the result of the market becoming more informed on teams and how they should be rated. The one exception is probably the start of conference play in early January, as many teams, particularly those who did poorly in non-league, use it as a chance to reset their seasons and start fresh. I always look forward to those first few weeks in January. The games start to mean more, coaches firm up their lineups and rotations, and the true ability of teams often starts to reveal itself after a few months of experimentation.

Q: So the March betting market is sharper? If so, why, and how can you tell that it's sharper?

Bill: By now, each team has played 30 games and everybody (except for maybe the NCAA tournament selection committee) has a good sense of how they should be rated. The limits tend to be higher in the NCAA tournament, which is attractive to bigger bettors who might otherwise be turned off by the lower limits you see during the regular season -- especially with totals. Also, tournament lines get far more scrutiny than a typical weeknight slate in mid-December. There are fewer games to worry about, media coverage of participating teams tends to be good, and injuries are often more public and widely known. All of these things contribute to it being harder to beat than at earlier times in the season.

Q: Are totals more exploitable than sides in March?

Bill: Not just in March, but at any time during the year. Almost all books take more on sides than totals, both in Vegas and offshore. There's a reason for that. Some prominent offshore books will take five times as much on a side than they will on a total and they'll barely move the line after taking a max bet. When totals get hit, the lines move fast and aggressively, a strong indication that the books don't have as much confidence in them.

Q: Does your handicapping approach change for the NCAA tournament?

Bill: Other than reducing play volume and often bet size, not really. I just don't find it to be that exciting of an opportunity compared to regular-season college hoops. When the season begins, there's 353 teams, dozens of offseason coaching changes, significant roster turnover and lots of unknowns. These unknowns combined with the sheer number of teams and games is very appealing. But in the NCAA tournament, there's one-fifth the number of teams and fewer with each passing round. And also, college hoops is now the center of the sports betting universe, whereas three months earlier it was competing for attention with the NFL, college football, the NBA, playoff and bowl games. There are good bets to be made, don't get me wrong. But the degree of difficulty is higher.

Q: Do you ever bet futures, odds to win the tournament?

Bill: I'll bet a few each year on teams that I know to be horribly mispriced, but the next college hoops futures ticket I cash will be the first.