The NCAA Tournament Has Never Been an Underdogs’ Tournament … Except in the Elite Eight

The NCAA Tournament Has Never Been an Underdogs’ Tournament … Except in the Elite Eight article feature image
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Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jordan Poole

  • Do NCAA Tournament underdogs win enough to warrant betting them on the moneyline instead of the spread?
  • Using our Bet Labs data, we analyze how both favorites and dogs perform on the moneyline during March Madness.

In tournament and postseason settings, I always like to see whether the point spread has mattered in the past. As bettors, we often forget that a good chunk of ATS wins come from the underdog winning outright. So you’re often better off taking the moneyline than the points.

You’d think the NCAA Tournament would be a perfect fit for this, right? A tournament with so much chaos?

It’s true in college football bowl season and especially in the national championship game. It’s true in the Super Bowl. The underdog either wins the game straight up or loses and doesn’t cover the spread at an incredible rate in those settings.

Using our data at Bet Labs, we can check. And no, it’s not an underdogs’ tournament, either on the moneyline or straight up. The NCAA Tournament is much chalkier than bowl season, strangely enough.

NCAA Tournament ATS Results

NCAA Tournament Moneyline Results

You wouldn’t make money blindly betting favorites on the moneyline, but you’d come a lot closer.

Bettors blindly backing dogs have been burned badly over the last 15 years — more than $12,000 lost for a $100 bettor and a -12.1% ROI on a 27.5% winning percentage.

Even if you leave out No. 15 and 16 seeds, it’s still not even close to profitable with a -8.5% ROI.

But there’s one round that taking moneyline underdogs has been profitable, for whatever reason — the Elite Eight. It’s a very small sample, but dogs have won nearly half the games straight up at 26-30, and are 33-21-2 ATS.

Here are the moneyline results for each round:

So back to the original point — how often has the point spread come into play in Elite Eight games? Just seven times in 56 games. In those 56 games, we’ve had:

  • 21 favorites cover
  • 26 underdogs win outright
  • 7 underdogs cover and lose
  • 2 pushes

There’s not a great reason for this. It might be random. If you have a possible explanation, let me know.

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