March Madness Calcutta Strategy: Who to Auction, Who to Bid, Who to Win

March Madness Calcutta Strategy: Who to Auction, Who to Bid, Who to Win article feature image
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Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Leonard Hamilton.

The legend of the March Madness Calcutta Auction lives on as fabled social media folklore.

As a participant of the auction from a half decade ago, there were many lessons learned. First was budget, as I had a whole bitcoin dedicated to collecting teams out of every bracket. With $BTC going for 80 Benjamin Franklins at the time, I found myself bidding twice my budget on top-seeded North Carolina.

Setting a budget and evaluating the live bidding is key to maximizing Calcutta profits. Knowing the tendencies of your competition is also key, as plenty of competitors have thrown my alma mater Arkansas at high prices as bait.

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A Calcutta Auction is the most fascinating angle from a sports investing standpoint. The rules of the auction dictate a bidder has an element from all disciplines from live betting a sporting event, evaluating an NBA TopShot market to building a DFS lineup. Timing is key in live betting, market prices are paramount in the TopShot world and selecting teams from different regions at cheap prices simulates fantasy sports.

So, what is a Calcutta?

A team is announced and the bidding starts. For every win, that team earns a percentage of the pot. Make it to the Sweet 16 and team winnings multiply. Win an auction on a team that makes the Final Four and fractions of the current bitcoin price start to add up.

Keep a log of teams price and total pot value with our bracket prediction odds handy. For example, if getting to the Sweet 16 earns 2% of the total pot, then a team like Tennessee at 49.5% odds should not be bid past 2% of the expected total pot dollars. Getting Tennessee at 45% of 2% is value, while the Volunteers at 55% of 2% is overpaying.

This article will look at a few advanced strategies for these types of auctions. Setting a price point in the market and striking early are the quickest ways to identify information, similar to playing a round of Texas Hold’em before and after the flop.

Here are a few teams I am targeting in auctions, along with their like seeded counterparts to use as signal.


The 4th Seed: Auction Florida State, Bid Up Oklahoma State, Buy Purdue

The most important element to auctioning is setting the market. In general, seeds go in the same price range pod. Within certain bands of pods there will be premium prices, as Gonzaga should go for more than Michigan unless your auction contains a crazed Wolverines fan.

Assuming the auction does not have emotionally attached alumni, look for the team in the pod that will generate a fair market in initial bidding. In the case of the four seeds, Florida State will serve as the indicator.

Virginia is dealing with COVID-19 issues and may be the bargain of the group, assuming full health. It is best to let the Cavaliers be one of the last teams auctioned after the market is set. The Seminoles and Cowboys will draw tons of interest, as Florida State consistently goes deep in March and Oklahoma State features one of the best freshmen in the nation.

CADE. CUNNINGHAM.@CadeCunningham_ hits back-to-back 3’s and the Pokes are on the high side!!#NewEra | #GoPokes pic.twitter.com/xIYxod7iKO

— OSU Cowboy Basketball (@OSUMBB) March 13, 2021


Oklahoma State’s path is particularly cloudy with an opener of Liberty and a potential Round of 32 against either Tennessee or Oregon State.

The Flames are living up to their name, ranking 10th nationally in both 3-point rate and 3-point shooting percentage. Liberty also has an offensive turnover rate rank of 19th, and ball protection is one of the most important elements of March Madness.

If the Cowboys survive the first round they may get another deep bombing team in Oregon State. These roadblocks will set Oklahoma State as a team that has lower odds to earn back the money that was won at an auction.

The team with the easiest path of the four seeds is Purdue. The Boilermakers are staying in-state and have a massive average height differential in their first round game against North Texas. The Mean Green have one of the worst free throw rates in the nation.

Purdue would then get the winner of Winthrop and a depleted Villanova. The Wildcats have lost their best player in Collin Gillespie and rank 248th in defensive effective field goal rate.

Per Sean Koerner, Purdue has an 11% chance to make the Final Four, which vastly outnumbers the odds for the Boilermakers’ peers. Throw Florida State out early to set the market and bid up Oklahoma State. Once budgets are demolished, grab Purdue at a discounted rate.


The 7th Seed: Auction Florida, Bid Up Oregon, Buy UConn

There is no doubt the hot name in this group is Oregon, with Dana Altman’s history of runs in the NCAA Tournament. KenPom projects the Ducks to beat VCU in the opening round by just a single point, making the bid-up of Oregon vital to setting the market for seven seeds.

Per our bracket predictions, the Ducks have a 2% chance of making the Final Four. That is slightly less than Florida at 2.76%. The Gators have disappointed down the stretch since a return from a COVID-19 break.

Florida returned to action with a loss to Arkansas before three consecutive victories. The wheels came off at the end of the season, losing the final two games and missing out on a double-bye for the SEC Tournament. After a non-cover against Vanderbilt, the Gators were sent home silently by Tennessee in a double digit loss.

Experience and depth continue to plague a team that relies too much on guard Tre Mann and forward Colin Castleton. The Gators’ defensive rebounding rank of 301st would not bode well in a potential Round of 32 battle with Ohio State.

The winner of this group is the UConn Huskies. The Action Network bracket projections give the Huskies a 5% rate to make the Final Four, as the loss to Creighton in the Big East Tournament should trim the price during the auction.

Make no mistake, this is a team that can make the Final Four as indicated by our Dark Horse Contender piece lays out.

Backed by star James Bouknight, the Huskies were in control against Creighton in the Big East Tournament, allowing the Bluejays to shoot just 27% from deep. This is a top-25 team in defensive efficiency and also brings a rank of sixth in the nation in offensive rebounds.

Big East Tournament, meet James Bouknight#ThisIsUConn | #PullTheSled pic.twitter.com/YNKXqMVIUc

— UConn Men's Basketball (@UConnMBB) March 12, 2021

Use Florida to set the market for the seven seeds while bidding up the hot name in Oregon. The real value lies in UConn, but scouting the room is imperative with this purchase.

If there are other investors keen on the Huskies, look to nominate names that are of particular interest to the specific buyer to lower the budget.



The 12th Seed: Auction Winthrop, Bid Up Oregon State, Buy UC Santa Barbara

Tickets are floating all over social media of the odds Oregon State pulled to win the Pac-12 Tournament. The combination of the Beavers pulling off conference title along with the allure of having a 12 seed is enough to have the public biting hard.

Auctions will be treated no differently as Oregon State should fetch a price far beyond their odds for going deep in March Madness.

THE FINAL PLAY!!! FOUGHT FOR EVERY INCH!!! #GOBEAVS pic.twitter.com/9kGg6bVLvx

— Oregon State Hoops (@BeaverMBB) March 14, 2021

If there is one stat from the opening round to remember, it is that Tennessee gets to the free throw line at a top-100 rate while Oregon State is outside of the top 300 in defensive foul rate.

If Oregon State is the bid-up team, then Winthrop will be the public underdog to set the market on 12 seeds. As mentioned earlier, Villanova will not only be without Gillespie but rebounding from an injury to Justin Moore. The sophomore came off a sprained ankle and provided just 10 points in 27 minutes of play in a loss to Georgetown in the Big East Tournament.

Winthrop has a 4.7% chance of beating Villanova and potentially upsetting Purdue to make the Sweet 16. The easier and cheaper route is UC Santa Barbara at 6.5% to make the Sweet 16. The Gauchos should come at a much lower price tag than Oregon State and Winthrop, but yield better odds for the price.

JOSH PIERRE-LOUIS AND 1!!! 🔥🔥🔥#GoGauchos | @mvojet1 pic.twitter.com/tIVMX450Ud

— UC Santa Barbara Basketball (@UCSBbasketball) March 14, 2021

Winners of the Big West Tournament, UC Santa Barbara may catch a Creighton team that no-showed their conference tournament final and may have lingering issues with their coach. The Gauchos are mediocre in perimeter defense, but if the Bluejays are not hitting 3-pointers then it is curtains for the Creighton campaign.

In the Round of 32, UC Santa Barbara could draw a Virginia team dealing with COVID-19 or Ohio coming off an upset. The Gauchos are top 75 in three of the four factors including turnover rate, effective field goal shooting and free throw rate.

Allow Winthrop to set the market for the always coveted 12 seeds before bidding up the hot name in Oregon State. UC Santa Barbara will come at a much cheaper price tag with similar or better odds than its peers to make the Sweet 16 and leave the auction with profit.

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