2017 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Opening Line Report

After an unimpressive slate of first round games, the second round of the tournament was packed with excitement. Wisconsin (closed +213 on the moneyline) knocked off Villanova, South Carolina (closed +270 on the moneyline) upset Duke and Xavier (closed +270 on the moneyline) steamrolled Florida State.

Casual bettors often live their lives by the mantra “life’s too short to bet unders,” and that has certainly been a profitable strategy during the first two rounds of the tournament. Historically there’s been value taking the under during March Madness, but the over has gone 34-17 (+14.33 units) during the 2017-16 NCAA Tournament. That’s far and away the most profitable tournament for over bettors in our database (which dates back to 2005).

Overall favorites have gone 42-10 straight up (SU) and 25-25-2 against the spread (ATS). Betting against the public continues to be a profitable strategy, as teams receiving less than 50% of spread tickets have gone 30-19 ATS, but the more intriguing storyline involves the rising popularity of underdogs. The ‘dog received the majority of spread bets in 16 of 52 games (30.8%) which is a much higher rate than we saw during the regular season.

It’s still early in the week and the public betting trends can still change dramatically before tip-off, but we’re already seeing the majority of spread bettors backing the underdog in three Sweet 16 games. Xavier (+7) is receiving 52% of spread tickets against Arizona, Wisconsin (+1.5) is receiving 54% of spread tickets against Florida and Butler (+7) is receiving 62% of spread tickets against North Carolina.

Another interesting storyline involves the red-hot Michigan Wolverines. After winning the Big Ten championship, the Wolverines have won two consecutive games in the NCAA Tournament, including an impressive upset against 2-seed Louisville. In the Sweet 16, the 7th-seeded Wolverines opened as 1-point favorites at Bookmaker against the 3rd-seeded Oregon Ducks. With public money pounding the favorite, Michigan has moved from -1 to -1.5 in early betting.

In perhaps the most hotly-anticipated game, Kentucky opened as 1.5-point favorites, but public money quickly poured in on UCLA. With 88% of early spread tickets backing the Bruins, Kentucky moved from -1.5 to +1 at CRIS.

The table below displays the opening and current line at Bookmaker, along with the public betting trends from our contributing sportsbooks.

Matchup Opening Line Current Line Public Betting
Purdue vs. Kansas Kansas -4 Kansas -4.5 Kansas 77%
Michigan vs. Oregon Michigan -1 Michigan -1.5 Michigan 67%
West Virginia vs. Gonzaga Gonzaga -3 Gonzaga -3 Gonzaga 57%
Xavier vs. Arizona Arizona -7.5 Arizona -7 Xavier 52%
Wisconsin vs. Florida Florida -1.5 Florida -1.5 Wisconsin 55%
South Carolina vs. Baylor Baylor -3 Baylor -3.5 Baylor 64%
UCLA vs. Kentucky Kentucky -1.5 UCLA -1 UCLA 88%
Butler vs. North Carolina North Carolina -7 North Carolina -7.5 Butler 64%

We will continue to monitor these lines and trends as the week continues. Our goal is to inform bettors what’s responsible for moving the line and whether any games are offering value based on sharp money indicators or historically profitable betting trends. Although it’ still early, there’s one game where public money is already affecting the spread.

#4 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #1 Kansas Jayhawks

Despite their impressive victory against Iowa State on Saturday, bettors clearly aren’t sold on Caleb Swanigan and the Purdue Boilermakers — a surprising occurence given the Big Ten’s dominance over the first two rounds of the tournament.

Kansas opened as 4-point favorites at the market-setting Bookmaker sportsbook and, according to our public betting trends, are receiving 77% of spread tickets and 93% of spread dollars. This one-sided public betting has caused the Jayhawks to move from -4 to -4.5. Since there have been no steam moves triggered, we can safely assume that public money is solely responsible for this half-point line move.

It will be interesting to see whether public money continues to inflate this number and whether there’s eventually sharp buyback on Purdue. For what it’s worth, Matt Painter has gone 12-6 ATS during the NCAA Tournament since taking over as the Boilermakers head coach back in 2005.

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David Solar

David Solar has been the Content Manager at Sports Insights for over four years. He specializes in sports betting analytics and has created several popular data-driven betting systems. He can be reached directly at david@sportsinsights.com or on twitter at @TheDavidSolar.

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