Sports

Betting on madness: A guide to wagering on the NCAA Tournament

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Can anyone stop Kentucky?
Timothy D. Easley/AP

The NCAA Tournament’s first weekend—48 games in four days—has surpassed the Super Bowl as the biggest betting event of the year. Las Vegas Sun gambling reporter Case Keefer helps guide you to the window:

STRATEGY

Ignore future odds. Instead of taking the price posted on your chosen team to win the tournament—for example, undefeated favorite Kentucky at even money—start with a small amount and bet on that team to win each game on the moneyline, continually rolling over your winnings to the next contest. If you’re correct, the payout will be higher, and if you’re wrong, the initial risk is lower.

Bet the favorites you like early, and the underdogs late. This football-betting gospel also applies to the NCAA Tournament, where the flood of casual gamblers almost always pours money onto the team giving points to inflate point spreads closer to tipoff.

STATS

Offense wins championships. Eight of the past 10 champions have rated in the country’s top four in offensive efficiency, which is a measure of points scored per 100 possessions. This year’s four best teams at scoring are Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Duke and Villanova.

Wins and losses aren’t everything. Point differential is proven as a more accurate predictor of future success than a team’s win/loss record. Overall top-seed Kentucky, by no surprise, leads the nation in outscoring opponents, by an average of 21 points per game. A pair of No. 2 seeds, Arizona and Gonzaga, are closely behind the Wildcats, however, each winning by 18 points per game.

TEAMS

More Wildcats. Arizona has emerged as one of the best postseason bets since the arrival of coach Sean Miller, going 15-5-1 against the spread in the NCAA Tournament. Miller’s team has also gone 9-2 versus the number during a current 11-game winning streak to end this season. Arizona is a scorching 22-12 against the spread on the year, but that’s still behind two other Wildcats in the dance—Villanova at 24-9 and Davidson at 22-6.

Road warriors. Teams that have demonstrated they can cash away from home are preferable for gamblers, since, obviously, no one has the luxury of a home court in the tournament. Northern Iowa is the best of the bunch in that regard this season—14-2-1 against the spread in neutral and away games.

TRENDS

Power of 12. No. 12 seeds have been the most profitable teams to bet on over the first weekend of March Madness recently, having gone 23-13-1 against the spread since 2009. Twelfth-seeded teams have even beaten their first-round foes, fifth-seeded teams, in eight of the past 12 matchups.

Peaking at the right time. The old cliché might actually grade out as accurate. Only one team in the past 10 years has won the national championship despite not making at least the finals of its own conference tournament. That’s bad news for a trio of perceived contenders—Duke, Virginia and Baylor.

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