The best time of the year is back! With gambling being legalized all over the country, even more people can get in on the action from the comfort of their homes. College sports has changed a ton in recent years but looking at the data the past five to 10 years have been, which encapsulates the one-and-done era, has eerily similar numbers. So as you're poring over the bracket, here are some tips as to how to bet the tournament.
Pace, props and futures
Now that we have arrived at the NCAA tournament, these lines are the tightest you're going to find in the college game all year. Be selective and pick your spots, especially in the opening rounds. An area that I've seen value in the past is player prop bets. Most college games don't offer player prop bets, but many more providers are offering them in tournament games. I don't feel like these numbers are as honed as the spread, but some advantages can be offered betting the props vs. the tight lines. Futures always add to the fun as well. Now, let's dive into the numbers there, over the past 10 tournaments:
No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four 37.5% of the time (15 of 40)
No. 2 Seeds have reached the Final Four 22.5% (9 of 40)
60% of the spots in the Final Four have been occupied by teams on the top two seed lines. So if you're playing futures, the safest money is on a top-2 seed ... the right one(s) is the hard part.
Over the past 10 years, No. 1 and 2 seeds in the opening round are 38-42 (47.5%) ATS. So just because they're a high seed, that doesn't mean they are paying you out ATS. A good tactic for playing the big boys in the opening round is to play them live. A lot of times you can see the top seeds come out of the gate slow, you can assess how the game is going and it may shave a few points off a rather larger double-digit spread. And given their performance being sub 50%, live line will give you a little edge.
Upsets are a must
Seeds 11-14 straight-up are 52-108 (32.5%) over the past 10 years but ATS they're 43-34-1 (53.7%). When assessing what double-digit seeds to pick, research their schedule and history. First off in their schedule, did they play high major competition and how did they fare? If they've won some games or were competitive is telling. Also, if a team has guys that have been to the tournament before and had success those teams are even more likely to not be afraid of the stage and able to perform. Two teams that fit that criteria in the tournament are Oral Roberts, which still has multiple guys that beat Ohio State as a 15-seed two years ago and Max Abmas, a top-10 scorer in the country. The other team that fits is Drake.
And double-digit seeds are not always one-and-done, so a double-digit seed in a futures play to reach the Sweet 16 is a good play. Over the past 10 tournaments, 24 double-digit seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16 (12 teams in the past five years). The last tournament that didn't have at least one double-digit seed in the Sweet 16 was 2007. The 12-seeds get a lot of love historically, but no surprise the 11-seeds, many of whom are high-major teams that have had average regular seasons, are the most likely to run to the Sweet 16:
11-seed: 12 times
12-seed: 3 times
13-seed: 2 times
14-seed: 0 times
Blue bloods rule again?
Last year we had a blue blood-rich Final Four with No. 2 seed Duke, No. 8 seed North Carolina, No. 2 seed Villanova and No. 1 seed Kansas in New Orleans. Despite what appeared to be a wide-open field last year, these traditional powers navigated the gauntlet. This year, it seems even more wide open and blue bloods like Duke, Kentucky and Indiana in particular have high ceilings but have been inconsistent throughout the year. Be aware in future plays, but also ATS, you pay a premium with the line as the public has perception that these teams should win and that is baked into the line.
Big 12 three-peat?
The Big 12 has won the past two titles with Kansas last year and Baylor the year prior (also placing Texas Tech in the 2019 final). No team has repeated since Florida in 2006 and 2007. I think the Jayhawks could do it, but to bet on them doing something only a handful of teams have done in the last 40 years isn't likely. That said, the Big 12 is the best conference in the country by a large margin this year and they've been deemed that by KenPom four of the past five years. More importantly ATS in the tourney they've been solid over that stretch as well 53-30 (63.9%), just behind the Pac-12 at 32-18 (64%) but with 33 more games played. I think this trend will continue this year and the Big 12 will flex its might especially in the early rounds.
Just a few tips, but they call it March Madness for a reason ... good luck.