2016 March Madness: Are Elite Defenses Undervalued by Oddsmakers?
A successful contrarian bettor typically questions conventional wisdom, and challenges widely-held beliefs. Sportsbooks are excellent at predicting where they’re going to get action each week, and they shade their lines accordingly. These shaded lines create additional value for bettors who dare to go against the grain and take an unpopular viewpoint.
Squares — or casual weekend warriors — overwhelmingly bet favorites and high-scoring teams, which has historically created value on underdogs. In fact, earlier this year we published an article on ESPN.com which determined that NFL teams with an elite offense have been vastly overvalued when they face off against stout defenses. As we enter the second week of the NCAA Tournament, we wanted to determine whether these trends translated for college basketball bettors.
Our research quickly showed that underdogs have gone just 371-382 ATS (49.3%) since the start of the 2005 tournament. This hardly came as a surprise following last week’s analysis which found that “Cinderella” teams (also known as public underdogs) have been extremely profitable to fade. However, we knew that these trendy ‘dogs have been particularly prevalent in the opening weekend of the tournament.
After some further digging we found that underdogs have gone just 271-292 ATS (48.1%) in the Round of 64 and 32, but 72-58 ATS (55.4%) in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. That record improves measurably when we look at underdogs of at least 3-points.
Since 2005, underdogs of 3+ points have gone 54-37 ATS (59.3%) during the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. #MarchMadness
— Sports Insights (@SportsInsights) March 21, 2016
Many squares will place their wagers based upon the results of their bracket, and it’s common place for bettors to choose the same type of first and second round upsets (i.e. 12-seed over 5-seed), but it’s very uncommon for them to eliminate top-seeded teams until later rounds. These behaviors are validated by our public betting trends which indicate that 1-seeds Kansas (69%), Oregon (65%) and Oklahoma (82%) are all receiving overwhelming public support.
It’s also interesting to see that bettors are clearly placing a lot of value in the top offensive teams, while ignoring elite defenses. Kansas (81.6 PPG) and Oklahoma (80.4 PPG) are receiving the most public support among the top seeds, while Virginia (70.4 PPG) is only receiving 59% of spread bets. Even though the Cavaliers boast the nation’s second ranked defense (allowing 59.7 PPG), they are receiving the least public support among the 1-seeds.
Using our Bet Labs software, we found that NCAA tournament teams who allowed less than 60 points in their previous game have gone 262-214 ATS (55%) with +35.05 units won. When they have held their opponent to less than 60 points in back-to-back games that record improves to 112-86 ATS (56.6%) with +20.10 units won. Although the latter example produced a higher return on investment (ROI), we chose to focus on the former since it contains a larger sample size and more units won.
We have found that underdogs have historically provided value to contrarian bettors, and that’s true of this system as well. When we focus on ‘dogs, our ROI nearly doubles from 7.4% to 14.3%.
It’s interesting to note that this betting system has been extremely profitable during the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, posting a 32-13 ATS (71.1%) record. As you can see in the results graph at the top of the post and the table below, this system has been consistently profitable over the past several years.
At the time of publication, there were two teams fitting these criteria for the Sweet 16. Bet Labs users are able to copy this system directly from our Think Tank to receive all current game matches for this system and many others. Bettors are also able to view the latest odds and trends from our free college basketball odds page.
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David Solar is the Content Manager at Sports Insights and can be reached directly at David@SportsInsights.com.