March Doesn’t Have to Be Maddening

Brison Gresham #44 of the Texas Southern Tigers. James Gilbert/Getty Images/AFP

It’s March. Selection Sunday has come and gone, and suddenly, everyone in your office is an expert on college basketball. As the crowd arrives to bet on March Madness, it creates opportunities for someone willing to go against the grain.    

It’s March. Selection Sunday has come and gone, and suddenly, everyone in your office is an expert on college basketball.  

A week ago, your mailman, dental hygienist, and the old lady who lives next door may not have known who Michigan State’s coach was. Now they’re telling you why you should never bet against Tom Izzo in March and promising a MSU upset of Duke this weekend.  

The crowd of novices arriving to bet on March Madness can certainly muddy the waters, but it also creates opportunities for someone willing to go against the grain.  

Here are some tips on how to navigate the suddenly crowded college basketball betting landscape. 

That Game’s Not on My Bracket 

The majority of people betting on March Madness are filling out brackets and laying down a few bucks. But the massive increase in interest in college basketball in March does also increase online and casino betting on games as well. The interest, however, is solely limited to the games on the March Madness bracket.  

“I am so sure that Tom Izzo and Michigan State are going to win it all that I’ll go online and place a bet on the Spartans,” says a random guy who now knows everything about the sport.  

That obviously impacts the lines on the various tournament games. Experts trying to take advantage of the artificial increases or decreases in the line also put money on those games. That means that everyone is ignoring the un-sexy games that aren’t on the office pool bracket.  

There are four tournament games that start on Tuesday, in Dayton. The winners of those games appear on the bracket sheet, but the games themselves do not, because they’ll be played before the deadline for submitting your bracket is in. That means very few people are going to be betting on those games.

There’s also often a serious mismatch in motivation levels in those games. Small “happy to be here” schools will be motivated in their tournament debut, while bigger schools having a disappointing year may be sulking about having to go to the “play-in” round. That creates a recipe for an upset, similar to what goes on in the less-heralded college football bowl games. 

There are also dozens of games in the tournaments made up of teams snubbed for the NCAAs. The NIT will tip-off this week, as well as the lesser-known CBI and Basketball Classic. Their respective brackets are packed with teams that will be motivated to show they should have received NCAA bids, as well as teams still stewing over their snubs. It makes for an intriguing … and delightfully uncrowded … betting environment.    

I Love Those Guys! I Hate Those Guys! 

If you’re betting on the Big Dance, be sure to take a look at the games involving teams that move the needle. If novice fans are going to bet on anyone, it will be the teams with the biggest national names and followings.  

Kentucky is followed by a horde of fans known as Big Blue Nation. They’ll support their team no matter what, filling arenas on the road and placing money on the Cats. That means Kentucky lines may be inflated, creating an opportunity to get extra points when selecting the Wildcats’ opponent.  

Duke is another team that can have its line go haywire. There are certainly plenty of avid Duke supporters, and this year, with Coach K retiring after the season, there are bound to be even more. There are also plenty of Duke haters, however, who may put money on Duke as insurance, thinking, “if the hated Blue Devils are going to win, at least I can make some money off of it.” So, expect Duke lines to be inflated as well. 

In short, try to think like a random office pool bettor and go in the opposite direction.   

Watch for Weird Lines 

The other benefit of thinking like a novice is that it can point out things that don’t make sense in the lines.  

Most new March bettors lean heavily on the seeds. So if the money seems to be flowing in on a potential upset, it could mean that the smart money knows something the amateurs don’t—a late injury or teamwide illness, for instance.  

Paralysis by Analysis 

Most tournament betting guides will instruct you to “do your research,” but 68 teams, plus all the teams in the lesser tournaments, is just too many to break down in the limited time available.

So looking at the outcome of other people’s research can help—watch the lines. See where the smart … and dumb … people are putting their cash. And make sure you follow the right people’s money.