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Before Selection Sunday, before I knew the potential 68 teams bound for the Big Dance - even before I read Sleepy’s CBB Betting Strategies or Greg Frank’s Situational Spots (which you should definitely read) - I wanted to see if there were truly any first round trends that could be exploited as we approach March Madness 2021. After hours turned into days, I found that in fact the last 13 March Madness ATS numbers started to offer some insight into how we should look to attack this year’s tourney. Looking at data from 2007-2017 first, then at 2017-2019 and 2019 specifically, we start to notice some interesting numbers.
The following table summarizes each seed’s win percentage ATS in the opening round:
In general, in order to overcome the house edge, a bettor needs to win over 52.38%. Under these specific parameters, blindly betting on the 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, and 15 seeds would all have been profitable. Having this information is a step in the right direction, sure, but unless we have the DeLorean and Doc Brown at our disposal, it won’t necessarily result in future earnings. We need to dive in even further and see if this chart is repeatable moving forward. So let's take that 10-year sample and focus on the past three years:
The following table summarizes each seed’s win percentage ATS and the ATS Margin. A negative number in the far right column shows the average of which a favorite fell short of covering against the spread:
First off, let's acknowledge that it's dangerous to make grand assumptions based off of a small sample size. After all, each seeding matchup in our chart is only twelve total games. With that being said, fading the favorite in every matchup - with the exception of the 2 vs. 15 and 3 vs. 14 games - would have been an extremely profitable endeavor. If a $100 bettor blindly played the underdog at the closing number, they would be up $900 (+9 units). On average, a bettor would've covered the spread by 1.9 points per game.
The following table again summarizes each seed’s win percentage ATS and the ATS Margin. This time we will take a look specifically at the last time saw March Madness action, which is just for the 2019 year:
As previously noted, betting round one underdogs blindly is +EV again here. The trend is even more significant when analyzing the above chart specifically, which in this case would have netted +6.8 units.
And the 2019 tournament will be the most predictive of the upcoming one... Wait, I know what you are thinking, "if three tournaments are a small sample, isn’t one insignificant?" Well, actually, you're right, because highlighting one year and making actionable assumptions may not just be dangerous, it might be just down right ludicrous. Unless there was a fundamental change that took place that year, however.
The fundamental change? On June 11, 2018, NJ Governor Phil Murphy signed Assembly Bill 4111, which effectively legalized sports betting in the Garden State, and this set the stage for states across the country to legalize sports betting. All March Madness bets were previously placed legally in Nevada or illegally through credit shops and offshore books. With the increase in availability in an ever-growing number of states, and with the ease of use with sportsbook applications, the number of sports bettors increased exponentially. And a vast majority of these new bettors have slim to no previous betting experience.
The Takeaway? Fade the Favorites
So what does this all mean? Here are the number 1 seeds from 2019: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Gonzaga. Only Gonzaga was able to cover in the first round. Gardner-Webb, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Iona were all able to cover the spread against the best teams in the country. How many novice bettors have even seen a game from these small schools? How many know what conference they play in, what type of style they play, or who their leading scorer is? How many novice bettors even know these schools exist in the first place? The answer to these questions justified the days and hours of research: They don’t.
In many respects, college basketball's regular season has become insignificant to the casual observer, as well as the aforementioned "novice bettor." Some say the season doesn’t truly start until the conference tournaments, and many viewers won’t even start watching until March Madness tips off. Yet this doesn’t preclude these individuals from actually betting on the games. When the average person sits down, fills out their bracket, and bets the tournament, they put their money on known commodities. Simple as that.
If you read this far, you clearly are interested in how to make money and what the takeaway is for this upcoming March Madness tournament. First off, I would seriously read the other Betting Predators articles, not just for college basketball but across all sports. They offer a ton of insight, information, and angles that simply aren’t covered here. With that knowledge and the information garnered from our research, I’d mainly look to fade the public and higher-seeded teams. I’ll also be looking to fade brand names that are further down the bracket seed lines with teams like (8) North Carolina and (5) Villanova.
Identifying spreads with a high concentration of money and a low percentage of bets will also identify the sharp versus the public side. Typically, sides in which the money is significantly higher than the bet percentage is the side you would want to be on. And finally, while blind betting is mentioned/referred to consistently throughout this article for data points, it's not necessarily a suggestion moving forward. It's merely mentioned to highlight the history of consistent returns fading favorites in the tournament. Will blindly betting the underdogs continue to be profitable? With the influx of public money driving up top-seeded teams and name-brand schools, it's fair to assume the trend of fading favorites will continue.
Use the insight from this article to get on or off a play, but not as the sole catalyst to place a bet.