The start of the 2019 men’s basketball NCAA Tournament is less than a week away. While Championship Week is still in full swing leading up to Selection Sunday on March 17, now is the time to start formulating your betting strategy for this year’s Big Dance. Relying on the ‘Luck of the Irish’ in Sunday’s draw is not going to get it done.
The NCAA Tournament could be the most widely bet sporting event of the year. From filling out a tournament bracket for your local office pool to betting the opening round games on the floor of a high-profile Las Vegas sportsbook, everyone is looking to get in on a piece of the action that March Madness brings to the table.
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This year it all starts with the opening round of games on Thursday, March 21 and Friday, March 22. Following the four play-in games earlier in the week, all 64 teams will be in action over those two days and by the time Sunday night rolls around there will only be 16 teams left standing. Whether you are betting big on your tournament bracket or betting big on those initial onslaught of games, you need all the help you can get when it comes to walking away a winner.
Trends come and go with each passing year. Favorites were the hot bet in the first day of play in the opening round last year. They went 10-5-1 against the spread over Thursday’s 16 games before cooling to 7-8-1 ATS on Friday. The overall record of 17-13-2 ATS for favorites in the first 32 games last year was a much better performance than the losing record they posted in the three previous NCAA Tournaments going back to 2015. In 16 games on the board for the first Thursday of play in 2015, the favorites stumbled to 4-12 ATS.
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Overall betting trends ATS will vary from year-to-year, but you always know that there will be a couple of huge upsets during those first two days of play. History was made last season when the ACC’s Virginia Cavaliers earned the dubious honor of being the first No. 1 seed eliminated in its opening game. Other big upsets from the opening round in 2018 included Buffalo beating Arizona as a nine-point underdog and Marshall eliminating Wichita State as a 13.5-point underdog.
Anything can happen in a single-elimination format given the energy and emotion the NCAA Tournament brings to the table. However, when it comes to betting the percentages the overall lean still goes to the better team in any head-to-head matchup. Current playing form and a healthy lineup are two of the most important factors when it comes to picking outright winners. However, there are still a few team trends that can have an impact on the final outcome.
At the top of my list would be a team’s recent record both SU and ATS playing at a neutral site. Winning at home as favorites is easy. Winning on the road as underdogs is hard. Winning somewhere in between depending on how the overall crowd is leaning can come down to experience. A veteran team that has played well in neutral-site matchups should get the slight edge over a younger team that has not played all that well away from home.
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Another important trend when it comes to betting the games with the spread is a team’s record ATS when closing as a favorite and as an underdog. A strong record either way could tip the scales in their favor in the early rounds. Scrappy teams with a proven ability to cover as underdogs can be especially attractive during the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The favorite is expected to win. This only adds even more pressure on young kids trying to live up to high expectations.