The NCAA tournament is the biggest betting event of the year, but it’s also one of its most treacherous. On the first two days of the Big Dance (the Round of 64, not those play-in contests), games are tipping off every minute and if you don’t have a plan of attack like many of the best handicappers your bracket may not be the only thing that gets busted.
Here are some handy tips and tactics to follow as you handicap the NCAA tournament:
Ignore your bracket
Everyone fills out the bracket. Some put hours into their selections while others frantically scribble in their picks minutes before the first game tips off. No matter how good your bracket looks, remember that those are straight-up selections: wins and losses.
When it comes to betting the Big Dance, you should tuck your bracket away until the Sweet 16 and focus on the pointspreads. Don’t let your opinion on “who will win?” cloud your thoughts on “who will cover?”. Oddsmakers are so good at finding that handicap with their numbers, so dedicate your efforts to finding the edge against the spread and check your bracket brains at the door.
There’s no shortage of information on schools like Kentucky and Duke heading into the tournament. You’ll find stories and analysis across the board on the blue blood programs, however, there is little content out there on the small-conference competition these name-brand teams usually play in the opening games of the NCAA.
There is more hidden value when it comes to the teams seeded No. 10 through No. 16, and doing a deep dive into their respective seasons – especially their non-conference clashes and how they played down the stretch – is vital to spotting potential upsets in the early rounds of the tournament.
Pick up the pace
Mismatches in tempo are a great way to spot betting value in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament, be it betting against the spread or betting the totals.
You can get one up on the bookie by knowing that Team A loves to push the tempo and Team B relies on milking the shot clock and playing controlled basketball – or vice versa. Bettors will want to look at stats like points per possession, offensive and defensive efficiency as well as turnover differential.
Schools like West Virginia and Florida Gulf Coast play a frenetic style of basketball, trying to make their opponents play faster and outside of their comfort zone. Programs like Virginia and St. Mary’s look to chew up every second they can and grind down opponents on each possession. When these types of teams cross paths, you can cash in by knowing which one will impose its will on the other.
Liven things up
During the opening two days of the tournament, with so many games on the go at once and most of them happening during the afternoon, it can be tough to get your wagers in before tipoff. Live betting is a great way to stay in the game even if you can’t watch from the very start.
Live odds are constantly adjusting to the action on the floor, and that ebb and flow can also benefit those basketball savvy bettors. If the favorite gets off to a slow start, but you’re confident they can come back, you can grab a shorter spread. In-game wagering also allows for middling opportunities, like betting the underdog pregame and then wagering a discounted spread on the favorite during the action. If you know what to look for, you could cash in twice on one result.