A Betting Guide to March Madness

I hope you all enjoyed the Super Bowl. Say what you want about the Patriots, but you cannot deny they know how to put on an exciting Super Bowl! The game was a pretty good one for the house as there was a lot of Carolina money on the moneyline and the total was so high that it was hard on teasers. I bet there were a few books sweating when the game was sitting 29-22 as many had moved back and forth from -6.5 to -7 and getting sided on this game would have been expensive. We weren’t too worried as we went to -7 -105 two weeks before the game and basically stayed with that line the rest of the way (the action worked out very well and was balanced within a few thousand dollars at kick-off). Having to push all that action (instead of collecting vig) would have made for just a break-even day, but that is a lot better than the alternative. Now, on to college hoops!

I recently received an email from the editor of Casino Times News magazine asking if he could use one of my columns on March Madness for their upcoming issue. I thought for sure I had written one at some point over the last 3 years but when I reviewed all previous articles, I found that I had only written about March Madness after the tournament was over. I must apologize to all of you for having never written about college basketball while the season was still underway. Let me take care of this oversight right now! (Much of this column can be found in the upcoming issue of CTN).

When I think of March Madness, I think of some of the most exciting sports moments of the entire year: monstrous dunks, roaring crowds, pressure-packed last second free throws and of course miraculous, half-court buzzer beaters. In short March Madness means excitement, and since betting adds excitement to any sport, it just doesn’t get any better than betting on the Big Dance. That is why I want to offer a few suggestions about betting on college hoops at this time of year.

First off, it is my opinion that basketball is generally easier to handicap than football. Some of the reasons include fewer players that impact each game, no weather to worry about and a lot of scoring that makes any one play less important than in football. The March Madness schedule helps give you time for that handicapping as there are a few days at the start of each week during the tournament that have no games. Make sure you use that time wisely so that you know which teams are hot, which are cold, which injured players are recovering (and could play) and which starters are banged up (and might not see the floor).

One stat that I don’t think bettors pay enough attention to is a team’s record against-the-spread (ATS). In a nutshell, a team’s ATS record is an indicator of the team’s success relative to public opinion. If a team has an excellent record straight-up (without the pointspreads involved) but has a bad record against-the-spread, that team simply has generally not won by as many points as the betting public has expected. For example Duke in 2002/2003 was 26-7 straight-up. That is a great record, but they were only 10-19-2 ATS (two of their games didn’t have a line posted). That means in at least 12 games, Duke won the game outright but a pointspread bet on them would have been a loss. Teams like this are very popular for bettors and those bettors simply drive the price up to a point where it is higher than the actual difference in ability between the two teams.

By spending just a little time studying this before the tournament you will find a few teams that are public favorites that don’t cover the spread very well. That will either save you a few dollars by keeping you out of those traps or that research will make you some money by taking advantage of the value in the line of the opposing teams. You aren’t likely to see any surprises the other way because the teams that are bad straight-up and good against-the-spread (like Tennessee State this year who is 7-19 SU, but 17-6 ATS) simply don’t qualify for the tournament.

Another thing to consider is that most of the teams in the tournament have been strong all year and will have been the favorite in most of their regular season games. At some point during the tournament many of these teams will be playing superior opposition and will be the underdog. Check to see how each team has done straight-up and against-the-spread in their previous games as an underdog in the regular season. This will help identify which teams thrive under pressure and which teams collapse when facing better talent.

One more suggestion before I sign off, make sure you know where each team is from and where they are playing each game. The tournament is played at neutral sites but occasionally a team will get to play close to home or even on its home floor. Being close to home will mean more fans (as well as less travel and more rest) and the contest could essentially be a home game. It is also possible the team could be playing at or near the home of a key rival, which will make for more opposition and an environment more like a road game. Those are powerful tidbits to know when you consider that home team advantage is roughly 4 points in college basketball.

Regardless of whether you follow all of these suggestions or none, do your homework, be sure to bet only what you can afford and of course make sure you have plenty of batteries for the remote! For more on my thoughts on why basketball is easier to bet than football, check out issue #67. I will be back in a month with a look at golf in time for the Masters.

The enjoyment of your wagering experience with us is my number one priority. Should you have any questions, concerns, or comments, I will personally ensure you are satisfied with your Bodog experience.

Good luck with your wagers!

I always welcome comments, questions and suggestions via email at rob@Bodog.com
Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino