March Madness Trends and Best Bets

The Round of 64 always features some interesting outcomes. Handicapping a tournament like this can be difficult because of the differences between conferences and the hardships of trying to determine how good a team actually is and how well they match up with major conference opponents. Making informed, smart wagers over the first couple of days of the tournament is very important because the last thing a bettor wants to do is dig out of a hole against lines that get tighter and tighter as the field is narrowed down.

Thirty-two games are on the docket over Thursday and Friday after the field of 64 is set once the results of Tuesday and Wednesday’s play-in games are known. If you’re looking for upsets, exactly 10 lower-seeded teams have moved on in four of the last five years. Overall, underdogs are 78-71-6 against the spread over the last five tournaments in the round of 64. Over the last two tournaments, single-digit underdogs are just 18-24-2 against the spread.

Here are some trends to keep in mind for the matchups:

– #1 seeds are 18-10 against the spread against #16 seeds since 2007
– There have been three outright upsets in the #2/#15 matchup over the last two years after no #2 seeds lost outright from 2001-11
– #3 seeds have been profitable of late, with a 26-2 straight up mark and a 18-9-1 ATS mark since 2007
– #3/#14 games have stayed under the total 71 percent (31-13) of the time since 2003
– #4 seeds are 20-12 ATS over the last seven tournaments against #13 seeds
– In eight of the 12 covers for #13 seeds, the underdog won outright
– Major conference teams as #12 seeds have fared well recently, going 8-3 straight up and 9-2 ATS
– In #6/#11 matchups over the last four years, every spread has been 5.5 points or less and #6 seeds are 15-16-1 ATS and 18-14 SU
– To the last point, Ohio State-Dayton may break that trend with Ohio State currently -6
– The winner in the #7/#10 matchup has covered the spread in 62 of the 64 meetings since 1998
– Overs in the #8/#9 matchup are 28-20 since 2002
– Sides and winners in the #8/#9 matchup are split almost evenly as #8 seeds are 31-29 SU and 28-29-3 ATS

Here are some conference trends of note:

– The Big East has been a bad bet of late with a 71-83-2 (46 percent) ATS record over the last eight tournaments
– Outside of North Carolina (14-9 ATS), the rest of the ACC has gone 25-35-1 ATS in the past seven tournaments
– Since 1998, games featuring an ACC team as a double-digit favorite have gone under the total 66 percent of the time (applies to Duke/Mercer, Virginia/Coastal Carolina)
– Big 12 teams are just 12-21-1 ATS over the last three tournaments and 14-20-2 as favorites
– Big Ten teams that are underdogs of five points or less are 34-18-1 ATS in the last 51 times that has applied (applies to Baylor/Nebraska)
– Big Ten favorites of 6.5 or more are 35-17-5 ATS in the last 14 years (applies to Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State; Ohio State currently -6)
– Since 2000, Mountain West Conference teams are 16-35-4 ATS and no Mountain West Conference team has gotten past the round of 16
– The Ohio Valley Conference is on a 9-4 ATS run in the tournament (Eastern Kentucky)
– Unders in tournament games with an America East team are profitable, cashing at a 75 percent clip with one push
– MEAC teams are 2-8 ATS since 2005, excluding play-in games
– Not a conference trend, but a team trend – Xavier is 17-2-2 ATS in the tournament since 2004

Considering some of those trends and looking at the matchups, here are five of the best bets for the “second”-round games in the round of 64:

1. (9) Pitt (-5.5) v (8) Colorado

The Colorado Buffaloes are just 9-8 SU since Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a torn ACL. Technically, the game that Colorado lost to Washington could be included as the Buffaloes collapsed after Dinwiddie went down. Colorado’s biggest weapon this season has been the altitude at their home court in Boulder, as the Buffaloes went 16-2 at home this season. Away from home, Colorado has a 7-9 record and has struggled mightily to score points.

After beating Kansas and suffering a close loss to Oklahoma State on a neutral court earlier this season, Colorado has struggled against quality competition. Without Dinwiddie, their schedule included three losses to Arizona by an average of almost 20 points per game, two double-digit losses to UCLA, and an 11-point loss at Utah.

The Pitt Panthers have been road warriors this season with a 12-4 SU, 9-5-2 ATS record away from home. At home, the Panthers covered in just three of their 15 games. With the Panthers’ relentless defensive approach, the loss of Dinwiddie will really show through in a game like this.

This season, the Panthers lost nine games by a combined margin of 45 points, with the lone outlier a 15-point loss to Duke. They crushed Wake Forest and had a dominating first half against UNC en route to an ACC Tournament Final loss to Virginia. This team is playing well and Colorado has struggled against quality opponents.

2. (7) Texas (-1.5) v (10) Arizona State

The Arizona State Sun Devils loved home cooking this season with a spectacular 16-1 SU record at home. Away from Tempe, however, the Sun Devils were just 5-10 SU and 5-9-1 ATS. This matchup is quite a hike for both teams, all the way to Milwaukee, so it will be about as neutral of a crowd as one can expect. The Sun Devils haven’t won a road game since January 29, an overtime win over Cal. Of ASU’s eight conference losses, Jahii Carson scored 20 or more in four of them, which means that the Sun Devils do not give him a whole lot of help.

Rick Barnes’s Texas Longhorns are definitely inconsistent, but they hold a big rebounding edge in this game and a lot more experience. None of the current Sun Devils have tournament experience, while Barnes was here in 2011 and 2012. This will be Rick Barnes’s 41st NCAA Tournament game. Unlike the Sun Devils, Texas has a more balanced offensive attack and has less reliance on three-point shots.

Arizona State was just 2-9 SU and 2-8-1 against the number as an underdog this season.

3. (7) Oregon (-5.5) v (10) BYU

The Oregon Ducks struggled through the regular season as a very talented team that simply underachieved. They reached the Sweet 16 as a #12 seed last season and are looking to do something similar this season. It’s clear what kind of respect the Committee has for the Ducks as they’re a #7 seed despite a quick exit in the Pac-12 Tournament.

BYU will be without Kyle Collinsworth, a huge complement to leading scorer Tyler Haws. Teams generally need a bit of time to get accustomed to playing without a big part of their offense and the Cougars will not be afforded that luxury. Collinsworth meant a lot to the Cougars with averages of 14/8.1/4.6 in points, rebounds, and assists per game. Since this profiles as a high-scoring game, that’s a lot of production to lose.

BYU was just 9-10 SU and 7-12-1 ATS away from Provo this season. The Ducks have a lot of ways to score and BYU lost one of their more important ways of scoring last game.

4. (2) Wisconsin v (15) American Under 122

Don’t expect Wisconsin or American University to run up and down the floor very much in this #2/#15 matchup. Wisconsin was generally known as an under team that played at a very slow pace, but they mixed things up at times this season. This game, however, should be played at a slow pace. The Badgers can likely name the score in this game because of how much more efficient they are offensively, but they will be taking on an American team that has allowed just 58.6 points per game, eighth-best in the country.

Wisconsin is 321st in the country in possessions per game, while American is 347th at just 62.4. Both teams slow it down even more on the road. Furthermore, American has attempted an average of just 16.25 free throws per game, so there will be a lot of long, perimeter-oriented possessions for these teams in this game without a lot of points scored with the clock stopped. Because it should be a blowout, there won’t be a foulfest at the end of this one.

5. (14) Louisiana-Lafayette (+14) v (3) Creighton

In dramatic contrast to the previous game, if you blink during this matchup, you’re liable to miss four or five points. The Ragin’ Cajuns and Bluejays combined to average nearly 161 points per game this season and 142.4 points allowed. Louisiana-Lafayette held opponents to a 33.2 percent success rate from beyond the arc and that’s a big part of the Creighton offense. The gameplan for Creighton falls right into what Louisiana-Lafayette is comfortable with and that should be able to help them hang around.

Another key point in this game is that Creighton has scored about 10 points less per game on the road than at home. AT&T Center will provide an unfamiliar shooting backdrop for the Bluejays. For Creighton, nearly 45 percent of their field goal attempts were from three-point land, compared to just 31.6 percent for the Ragin’ Cajuns, so they can get into the interior for some easier buckets.

Unless Creighton shoots the lights out, ULL’s tempo and ability to get into the paint and score should allow them to keep this game close.

Adam Burke

Adam Burke

Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.