Why March Madness Betting SUCKS…But I Still Love It

by Rick Rockwell
on March 21, 2018

March Madness is one of the most exciting sporting events of the year. It’s filled with action, excitement and drama. In fact, I find it to be some of the most compelling reality television throughout the year. Also known as the Big Dance, the NCAAB Tournament is a stage where student athletes showcase their skills and try to do the improbable – win it all.

This multi-week tournament turns unknown schools into Cinderella, forges student-athletes into basketball heroes, creates legends for future generations, and introduces the next NBA superstars to the masses. As much as I love this event, betting on it sucks and here’s why:

Not a Lot of Value in Opening Rounds

As exciting as it is for the first tipoff of the tournament, the lines for the opening round games aren’t as exciting. In fact, most of the time, there’s no real value in betting on these early tournament games. For starters, when looking at the higher seeds vs the lower seeds, the disparity of on-court talent is so great that the betting lines reflect it. Even if you wanted to bet on Duke to crush their opening round opponent, the large spread and ridiculous moneyline make it unworthy of your time and bankroll.

When you move on to the 6-11, 7-10, and 8-9 matchups, the teams are so even that there’s rarely a betting line that inspires a large group of bettors to jump on it. Evenly matched teams typically produce small spreads that make it hard to pick a winner, unless you are a diehard follower of one of those teams.

Furthermore, these mid-seed matchups tend to pit teams that haven’t played against each other during the regular season. In fact, sometimes, these opening-round matchups are the first time two teams have played against each other in a long time, if ever. A great example of this could be seen in the opening round matchup between Florida State and Missouri. These two teams haven’t played against each other since 1980. This means that there’s very little data to provide insight into which team to wager on.

Without any real value in the opening rounds, it makes it easier to lose your bankroll before you can even advance to the Sweet 16.

Hard to Predict Underdogs

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the NCAAB Tournament is seeing the underdogs win and the team running around the court dog-piling on each other. It’s joyful television at its best. Unfortunately, it’s hard to predict which underdogs to bet on. Now, in an office pool or online tournament selection contest, picking upsets is easier. But, when you are staring at the different betting lines trying to choose a lower seeded team that can cover the spread or pull off the upset win, it’s a lot harder.

Let’s break this down further.

In 1985, the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams. This expansion created opening round matchups with #1 seeds vs #16 seeds. Typically, these #16 ranked seeds are small schools from conferences nobody has even heard of. So, it’s no surprise that these top-ranked teams have gone a combined 135-0 since then. Well, that all changed on Friday, March 16, as the University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers made history by upsetting the #1 overall tournament seed – Virginia.

With that loss, a reported 18.5% of brackets have been thrown into the garbage as all of those people picked Virginia to win the entire tournament. Despite Virginia being such a popular contest pick, not a lot of people took them and their -10,000 moneyline. However, there was one popular site that reported a bettor wagered $1,294.40 to win $12.95. Of course, that person lost. Conversely, there have been multiple winning bettors popping up on social media who successfully nailed the upset and wagered on UMBC. With a moneyline of +800 and another with +2000, one bettor won $16,000 and another won $2,000.

Bottom line, the odds of a #16 seed winning are astronomically low. For the previous 30+ years, bookmakers were taking money from people who thought there would be a historic upset. To finally hit once for the first time in 136 games only makes it more dangerous for bettors looking for the huge upset.

5 vs 12 seeds

Before some of you message me and say “what about the 5 vs 12 matchup,” this upset doesn’t hit as much as you think. Over the last 10 years, the #12 seed has gone 19-21. I will acknowledge that during the same 10-year span they’ve gone 25-14-1 ATS. But, let’s not get too carried away here. Coming into this year’s tournament, the #5 seed has gone 85-47 since 1985’s expansion. And, this year, all of four of the #5 seeds won.

4 vs 13

Coming into this year, the #4 seed was 106-26. However, during this tournament, two #4 seeds fell – Wichita State and Arizona. Did you pick them in your brackets? Arizona was a trendy darkhorse in their region.

3 vs 14

The #3 seed has fared better since 1985 than the #4 seed as they have posted a 111-21 record. This year, all of the #3 seeds won. This most likely resulted in many people losing money on the #14 seeds.

2 vs 15

Since 1985, the #2 seed has gone 124-8 against the #15 seed. This year, all four of the #2 seeds won by an average of 20 points. I can’t even imagine why anyone would’ve bet against this year’s crop of #2 seeds. They featured teams like Duke and UNC. Two traditional tournament powerhouses.

As you can see, there aren’t as many upsets as you think.  Since 1985, the top 5 seeds have a combined record of 575-105. When you add into the mix betting lines and odds, it makes it even harder to bet on the winning underdog.

Easy to Mismanage Bankroll

In the first week of the tournament, there are 48 games within 4 days. That’s a lot of betting opportunities. If you aren’t disciplined with your bankroll, you can easily blow it in the first week. Think about it for a moment. How are your money management skills?

I’ve seen it many times where bettors get excited for the first slate of games and take a loss on the day. Then they come back on day #2 and break even or lose more. They head into the weekend’s Round of 32 and end up reaching on bets to try and win their money back. Unfortunately, it only ends up in them blowing their bankroll in the first week of the tournament.

The tournament is a marathon, where you need to be patient and disciplined with your money. Sadly, too many bettors come into this tournament as if they’re sprinting as they place wagers on almost every game in the first few days.

You really have to be an experienced bettor to have success betting on this tournament. Typically, novices don’t understand the nature of this betting beast and have not figured out the proper betting strategy prior to the first tip off.

The Danger of Office Pools or Tourney Contests

I’ve said it many times. Office pools and online tournaments create a false sense of security and tourney acumen. Just because you finished high in your office pool or won it, doesn’t mean you are going to make smart bets. Success in one doesn’t translate into success in the other. Betting on games requires more skills, energy, and money than filling out your selection sheet in 5 minutes.

There are no significant consequences when filling out your tournament bracket. Just put in your $20 and pick your teams. You can be as biased as you want. For example, I choose Gonzaga every year to win the whole tournament. But, I would never bet on them to win it all. And, just because I finish near the top of my friends and family bracket challenge every year doesn’t mean that I have the same success with my bets.

Additionally, you can listen to all of the experts say which teams to pick. But, they aren’t taking into consideration the current spreads when they publically make their choices. Yes, Michigan State should win their first two games handedly, but that doesn’t mean they will easily cover the spread in both of them.

Lastly, and as mentioned above, with the tournament challenge you will need to pick every game. When betting, you don’t have to pick every game. In fact, you should only target a few games each day as possible bets. Unfortunately, the so-called office pool champions tend to carry the bracket mentality into their betting strategies and lose more than they win.

The “Big Dance” is a “Big Dud” when Betting

I love watching the tournament. I’ve been watching the Big Dance since I was a kid. Unfortunately, I don’t love betting on it. There are too many factors that make it a less successful financial venture than weekly football or NBA games. In fact, I would rather bet on pro-wrestling than the tournament. So, before you get excited to risk your entire bankroll on the tournament, take a deep breath and reconsider. It’s highly unlikely that the average bettor will hit their bets as if they just hit the last second game-winning shot in the tournament’s opening round.

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