College Basketball Betting Guides

6 Biggest March Madness Mistakes People Make Betting On First Round

The 2023-2024 college basketball season starts in just about two weeks. The road to March Madness begins on Monday, November 6. As you prepare for a new college basketball season, you might be wondering how to follow these teams in a way which gives you information and perspective for the NCAA Tournament and which teams might be in the best position to make a run in the brackets and separate themselves from the competition. Consider some of the mistakes people make when betting on the first round of March Madness. It’s related to how they process the regular season and all the results and trends which flowed from it.


6 Biggest March Madness Mistakes People Make Betting On First Round
6 Biggest March Madness Mistakes People Make Betting On First Round

The Hot Team Fallacy

The focus of college basketball analysts late in the season often gravitates to the idea that if a team is hot coming into the NCAA Tournament, it must be more of a favorite to win than teams which aren’t hot. The last 10 games before the NCAA Tournament are often held up as a gold standard and a top guide to betting on the first round of March Madness.

There are certainly plenty of examples of teams which get hot and then win in the first round of March Madness. They then go on to make the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, but for every example of a hot team which wins in the first round, you can find a relatively similar number of teams which lose in the first round. It’s just not that simple. It’s not a world where hot teams automatically stay hot.

Remember, teams are playing exclusively within their conference in the final month or so before the NCAA Tournament. There is the Big 12-SEC Challenge, and there are a few other nonconference games in very late January or very early February, but then for the final five weeks or so before March Madness, it’s all conference basketball. Conference games are matchups between very familiar opponents who know each other’s tendencies inside and out.

These are easy scouting reports because the details of opponents are so thoroughly studied. Teams meet at least twice a year and will sometimes play three times against each other if they meet up again in a conference tournament. When teams then go to the NCAA Tournament, they are stepping outside their conferences and are no longer in that realm of very familiar opponents. The matchups are different, the games are at a neutral site with a different court and shooting background. Everything is radically different.

Teams which play in a very strong conference and then get outside that conference in March Madness will probably have success, but teams with a 12-game winning streak in a weaker conference will probably struggle in March Madness, when they face tougher opponents with matchup components which can cause real problems.

The hot team theory is just that: a theory. It’s not a fact. Connecticut won the national championship after struggling in the Big East Conference for the regular season and in the Big East Tournament. Miami was not great in the ACC Tournament but then got hot in March. Don’t fall in love with a team just because its last 10 games before March Madness were really good. Study the matchups first and always.

Picking All Of The Higher Seeds To Win

Every year when we arrive at another edition of March Madness, there are always some bettors who say to themselves, “This is the year when everything will be quiet in the brackets. I know this isn’t how it usually happens, but this year, there won’t be big upsets in the early rounds.”

Every year this happens, and with very few exceptions (occasional, yes, but not that often), the upsets still emerge in the first round of March Madness.

You do need to look for and pick a seed upset, keeping in mind that the seeds don’t always tell the full story. A team might have a high seed because of some really good wins it had early in the season, in November or December, but then it treaded water and didn’t improve in January or February.

The team might be seeded highly, but its level of basketball and its level of evolution might not warrant all that much respect in March, simply because its best performances came several months earlier. The magic of March Madness is also the most challenging thing about the event from a betting standpoint: You know there will be upsets; you just don’t know where they will come from.

You have to take the risk of picking an upset or two. The obvious challenge is knowing which upset to pick over the other. The successful bettors are able to snuff out and identify where the big upset will happen, such as Princeton over Arizona this past March, a 15 seed beating a 2 seed.

Using Geography As A Basis For A Pick

Some people might have said to themselves in last season’s edition of March Madness that Arizona was never, ever going to lose to Princeton because the game was in Sacramento, much closer to Arizona’s campus than Princeton’s. Remember this point about the NCAA Tournament: At these first-round games, there are certainly a lot of fans cheering for the higher seed, but there are fans from four different schools at these games.

March Madness first-round games have a setup in which eight teams are in the same “pod” or cluster of games at one site. The four games are broken up into a day session and a night session. Each session has two games. In those sessions, you will have fans of four teams – two for the first game in that session, and the other two for the second game of that session.

Example: In the 2023 edition of March Madness, Orlando hosted four first-round games. The day session had Furman and Virginia, followed by San Diego State versus Charleston. The night session had Duke versus Oral Roberts, followed by Tennessee versus Louisiana.

There might have been plenty of fans from any of those schools in Orlando, but remember: When a higher seed is playing, the fans of all the other lower-seeded teams – including the teams not playing – root against that higher seed. It’s obvious: The higher seed losing means those other teams (including the ones not playing) might have a more favorable opponent in the next round if they win their game.

Arizona did have plenty of fans in Sacramento, but Princeton fans plus the fans of Missouri and Utah State were all rooting against Arizona. So, even though Arizona enjoyed regional or geographical proximity to Sacramento, the venue was not favorable or hospitable. Three other fan bases were cheering against the Wildcats. Don’t fall in love with regional proximity or travel distances.

Teams That Won A Conference Tournament Aren’t Sure Bets To Win In March Madness

When a team wins a conference tournament, it wins up playing three straight days in most cases, sometimes four. Those teams are often exhausted when they then turn around and play in March Madness. If a tournament champion is a No. 1 seed, that’s one thing, but if a conference tournament champion is a No. 4 or 5 seed, it might be tired against a No. 13 or No. 12 seed which is fresh, rested and hungry.

No. 12 seeds usually are teams which play their conference tournaments one week before the higher seeds from Power Five conferences. They are often more rested than the higher seed. Don’t automatically elevate conference tournament champions from a betting standpoint.

Betting On Conferences

When a conference does really well in the regular season, all of that conference’s teams naturally become attractive betting choices in March Madness. However, because conference games are not March Madness games – all these first-round games are nonconference clashes – the dynamics change, and teams can get caught off guard by facing different playing styles.

The Big 12 is regularly a strong conference, but not all of its teams win in the first round of March Madness. Iowa State played an atrocious game and lost to Pittsburgh. TCU won, but it trailed for most of the night before rallying to beat Arizona State. Sometimes this thought process works, but not all the time. Focus on individual matchups.

Coaching Matchups

When looking at a first-round March Madness game, many bettors will say, “X Coach is better than Y Coach, so I’ll pick Team X.” Of course you should value coaching, but you also have to include other details in your calculations when looking at coaches. One coach might have the far better overall career resume, but that same coach might have struggled with this specific team in this specific season.

The other coach might be young or inexperienced, but he might also have done a great job with a specific team. A perfect example of this from last season’s tournament was Dusty May, the unheralded coach of Florida Atlantic, who had no previous experience as a head coach in the NCAA Tournament. That lack of experience didn’t matter. He connected so well with his FAU team, and he rode the Owls all the way to the Final Four and within an eyelash of the national championship game.

Trust the coach with the hot hand, not just the coach with the great career portfolio.

There’s No Easy System

Every year, every bettor is looking for some surefire system that will help them with their predictions for March Madness. To start, remember that this tournament is one of the most unpredictable events in all of sports. If you happen to get something wrong, don’t be too hard on yourself. Almost everyone gets something wrong in the NCAA Tournament; lots wrong. One good idea is to consider live betting college basketball because then you have a little bit of evidence to work with. Rather than guessing pre-game, you can watch some of the action and then lock in your bets.

Otherwise, if you’re looking to make your bets or fill out your bracket, stick to our parameters here and hopefully it puts you on a winning path.

Outlier Team
December 10, 2023
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