Finding Value Bets In The First Round Of March Madness
Productivity in the United States drops off a cliff during the initial Thursday and Friday of March Madness as Americans clear their work schedules and tune into the most exciting rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
The adrenaline, emotion, and upsets are the main draw, but it’s not just about office-wide brackets. Done right, bettors can make good money betting on the first round of March Madness. Let’s take a look at some trends that bettors and bracketologist can capitalize on.
Only One No. 1 Seed Has Ever Lost In The First Round
Look, nobody is going to be viewed as a genius for recommending you bet a No. 1 seed over a No. 16 seed, but you should be aware of this trend: Only one No. 1 seed has ever lost to a No. 16 seed.
Typically, the No. 1 seed’s moneyline is priced somewhere around -10000. This means that you’re going to have to bet big to win real money. But, with a 143 of 144 track record, this should be a gimme.
If you’re less interested in a 1% return on your money, there are a couple of other ways to work this No. 1 versus No. 16 matchup into your betting strategy. To start, you can add these heavy favorites into your parlays as “anchor legs.” If you’re betting a different game on the spread, parlay it with a few of these No. 1 seed moneylines to increase your payout.
Another possible strategy is to live bet these favorites. Watch the first few minutes of the game or even the first half. If the underdog gets ahead, you’re likely to see a significant drop in price on the favorite. As long as you feel like they can still come back and win, then you might have just found yourself a solid entry price with a larger return. Of course, there will be scenarios where a No. 1 seed goes up early and never looks back. Not much you can do in those scenarios, unless you’re interested in betting largest sums on even shorter odds.
Bet Futures With No. 1 Seeds
A lot of bettors will look at the -10000 No. 1 seed moneyline odds and pass. But, there might actually be another opportunity that’s worthwhile: betting No. 1 teams on short-term futures.
The NCAA Tournament is unique in that you can bet on teams to advance to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four, or to win it all. Sure, these are more complicated bets (challenging bettors to evaluate all possible matchups) but, the longer odds can make it worth your while.
No. 11 and No. 12 Seeds Can Pay Out
The No. 11 and No. 12 seeds are often the talk of the town when it comes to first round upsets. But speculation aside, having a clear-cut snapshot of the historic win percentages can help you determine if it’s worth betting on the moneyline or point spread for these lower-ranked teams.
No. 12 seeds are 52-92 all-time, a 36.1% winning percentage. This is a significantly lower winning percentage than you might expect– given pre-March Madness speculation media when nearly every pundit is predicting a No.11 or No.12 upset. No. 11 seeds are 55-89 all-time, which is a 38.2% winning percentage. Pick your spots, but don’t forget that the favorite is, in fact, the favorite.
First Four Teams Have Success In The Round Of 64
The NCAA Tournament expanded to a field of 68 in 2011, adding the “First Four.” After battling it out for a spot in the tournament, these First Four teams often don’t make much noise beyond their First Four matchup.
Virginia Commonwealth University is the First Four team that everyone remembers after their epic and unexpected run all the way to the Final Four. Beyond that, there is only one other First Four team that has made any real noise. In 2020, UCLA started as a First Four team and ended up playing in the Final Four.
Including these two Cinderella runs, there have only been three instances in which a First Four team has advanced beyond the Round of 64. However, when they do advance beyond the Round of 64 (see VCU and UCLA) they have a history of making deep runs.
While the First Four are often discounted by bettors (as they likely should be), bettors might find opportunity betting on First Four teams if those teams advance beyond the Round of 64. Moreover, bettors might be rewarded by taking a flier on one or more of the First Four teams to advance to the Final Four.
How to Take Risks on Underdogs
Looking for a longshot to make a run in the NCAA Tournament? While many do so for the purposes of filling out a bracket, your ability to spot an underdog with potential can result in significant payday.
Here are some key indicators to spot those diamonds in the rough.
Teams That Have a Clear Strength
If you’re looking for an underdog to make a run past the first round, look for a team that’s elite either offensively or defensively. A team seeded No. 7 or lower has made the Elite Eight in 10 of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments. From that pool of teams, 17 of 24 ranked in the Top 30 in either Adjusted Offensive or Defensive Efficiency.
In the 2022 NCAA Tournament, No. 15 Saint Peter’s and No. 10 Miami advanced it to the Elite Eight. Miami was 19th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency while Saint Peter’s was 25th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Elite offensive or defensive efficiency could be a good tell for a deep run.
Threes Are Key
Taking a look at the same pool of teams (teams seeded No.7 or lower that advanced to the Elite Eight), it’s notable that teams with exceptional three-point shooting outperformed expectations. 17 of 24 teams advancing to the Elite Eight had a three-point field goal percentage that was better than the national average. In 2022, No. 15 Saint Peter shot 35.0% from beyond the arc.
Which teams shoot and make the most 3's?
And which teams should be shooting more…and less of them?
*Power 6 + Ken Pom Top 75 Teams pic.twitter.com/L6LvA6hzbQ
— CBB Analytics (@CBBAnalytics) February 22, 2023
When hunting for an underdog with breakout potential, double-check how they shoot the deep ball.
Coaching Leads The Way
Typically, when a team seeded No. 7 or lower makes a run, they have a coach with a formidable March Madness track record.
If you take a look back to some of the lower seeds that have advanced to the Elite Eight, you’ll notice that they were coached by the likes of Tom Izzo, Jim Calhoun, and John Calipari. Maybe the team on the court was being thought of, and valued, as an underdog. But, it’s hard to consider any team an underdog when they’re coached by a legend like Izzo, Calhoun, or Calipari.
Identifying teams led by coaches with experience in the tournament can help you identify underdogs that are primed to outperform expectations. These tournament-tested coaches don’t just understand how to approach each individual game, they understand how to approach the whole tournament. Look for underdog teams with coaches that have made it to the second weekend and beyond.
Play The Percentages
March Madness performances have been so thoroughly dissected and so much data has been captured and made available, that bettors can play with the numbers and start to extrapolate where the upsets really happen. While betting a No. 16 seed to go far is extremely unlikely, there are other areas where top seeds have proven to be quite vulnerable.
History shows us that No. 2 and a No. 3 seeds are likely to lose in the second round. No. 7 or No. 10 seeds advancing past the Round of 64 have upset No. 2 seeds 45 times in the last 37 years– the latest being No. 10 Miami stunning No. 2 Auburn in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. No. 6 and No. 11 seeds have upset No. 3 seeds in the Round of 32 48 times in 36 years (upsetting an average of 1.2 every year).
|FIRST ROUND UPSET||FREQUENCY||PERCENTAGE|
|No. 10 seed over No. 7 seed||57||39.5%|
|No. 11 seed over No. 6 seed||54||37.5%|
|No. 12 seed over No. 5 seed||51||35.4%|
|No. 13 seed over No. 4 seed||31||21.5%|
|No. 14 seed over No. 3 seed||22||15.3|
|No. 15 seed over No. 2 seed||9||6.3%|
|No. 16 seed over No. 1 seed||1||0.7%|
In terms of first-round upsets, No. 10 seeds upset No. 7 seeds roughly 39% of the time, while No. 11 seeds knocked off No. 6 seeds roughly 38% of the time. And, the famous 12-5 upset happens roughly 35% of the time. These are good moneylines to bet – especially if the odds are slanted too heavily in the favorite’s direction.
Meanwhile, betting on No. 13, No. 14, No. 15, or No. 16 upsets is more of a lottery ticket as the numbers suggest a huge drop-off in upset wins for any team seeded 13 and below.
When betting on these lower seed upsets, crunch the numbers and cross-references the moneyline to see if it’s worth it.
With so much action taking place during the first round of March Madness it’s easy to simply focus on tracking your brackets. If you find yourself with a blown up bracket after the first few games, remember there are still plenty of options to hedge that investment or simply get more involved in the Madness.