The NCAA Tournament, like the Super Bowl, ropes in even the most casual of bettors. With bracket pools, early tip-offs and a slew of games to choose from, it’s a natural time for those who don’t normally bet to get back in the game.
Of course, an influx of recreational money gives contrarian bettors plenty of opportunity to find value. In general, many March Madness bettors only follow college basketball for the NCAA Tournament. As a result, they’re largely uneducated regarding current players and teams, and often overvalue favorites, higher-seeded squads, and trendy Cinderella teams.
Because oddsmakers understand the teams and situations that will attract public money, they react by shading lines to force these bettors to take worse numbers. For example, a blue-blood program like Duke is likely to be a popular wager among uneducated bettors simply because of the program’s history and mainstream name recognition. Power ratings may suggest that Duke should be a 10-point favorite in a specific matchup and oddsmakers will instead open the Blue Devils at -12, knowing that recreational players will bet on Duke, no matter the number. That’s two free points of value for a contrarian bettor looking to fade Duke at +12.
So which games should bettors target during the NCAA Tournament? According to our Bet Labs database, contrarian value begins to appear when a side is receiving 40% or fewer of total spread tickets. (You can find live betting percentages for every tourney game here; the closer we get to tip, the more reliable the data.)
The table below summarizes the data, since 2005.
As you can see, betting on teams that received the majority of public action (more than 50% of tickets wagered) has been a losing proposition since 2005, resulting in a loss of 63.90 units. (A unit is simply a bettor’s normal wager size. For example, a $100 bettor would have lost $6,390 (-63.90 x $100) betting those games.)
On the other hand, value increases the more lopsided a game gets, highlighted by an ATS win rate of 54.2% and profit of more than 24 units when the percentage of tickets wagered dips to 40% and below.
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