The full list can be found here, but I wanted to condense it down to my top 10 tips. Try to have a hyper-focus on these 10 tips and these listed below will help win you money! This will give you a leg up as these 10 tips are of the utmost importance.
Tip #1- Head Coaching Experience
You want to look at teams to target who have traditionally performed better with a head coach with experience and a good ATS record. Give this just as much weight as you do a team’s ATS trends this season. The tournament is different, from travel, to back to back games. etc. Also, look at teams whose head coaches have played in the tournament as a player or an assistant coach in the tournament, as this experience is invaluable. Here are a few coaches and their notable ATS records in the first two rounds. The first two rounds are where we will really focus our time and some of the numbers initially. Don’t solely bet on a team this tournament based off of head coaching alone but just make sure to consider it as you handicap this tournament.
- Bill Self (Kansas)– 7-3 ATS in last 10 games in first 2 rounds
- Rick Barnes (Tennessee)– 1-8 ATS in the dance since 2009 (1-1 with Tennessee)
- Matt Painter (Purdue)– is 13-5 ATS (72%) in the first two rounds, including 8-2 ATS in the first round. 6-2 ATS in the early rounds of the tournament when his team is a top-4 seed.
- Mark Few (Gonzaga)– hasn’t covered the spread in the tournament against an opponent outside the power conferences since the Bulldogs’ first-round win over Valparaiso in the 2004 Big Dance. 0-12 since 2014 against these teams, and not covering to UNCO Greensboro last year-
- Tony Bennett (Virginia)– 3-5 ATS in the first round, 7-11 ATS overall.
Tip #2- Pace of Play (1st half unders)
Pace of play or (Possessions Per Game) is something to really target at when taking a look at totals (over/unders) in the NCAA tournament. 71.5 possessions per game is essentially the average this year in the NCAA, but during the first two rounds of the tournament (and especially the first round), you can expect this to drop a bit. This is due to a few factors, mainly nerves, and a lack of comfort level playing in a different environment. Offensive performance always seems to take more of shots in the first 2 rounds of the tournament than the defensive performance will. The only issue with this angle is that the market and lines will already be adjusted for this, so there is less of an edge.
The best strategy is to target first half unders. Another angle as well is to target unders with very good offensive teams/high possession rates. Sometimes there will be an over-adjustment for these high scoring teams, and you can find an edge here. The only thing you want to be aware of is teams in the NCAA tournament typically will play down to the very last second. For example, if a team is down 11 points headed into the last min, you can expect them to stretch out the game until the very end, which will lead to a lot of free throw shooting (which we will cover on day 13) and additional points down the stretch. Teams favored 17 and up shouldn’t have this issue too much, but then you have to consider benchwarmer seniors trying to get their last crack at points near the end. This is why the best angle is unders in the first half, and also look to live bet the over at half time or even in the first 5-10 mins of the game.
Teams that will be in the big dance with some of the lowest pace of play are Virginia, Virginia Tech, Kansas State, Wisconsin & Michigan. Make sure to key your eyes on these teams and this are great teams to target for unders, especially if they play sounds defense, which most of these teams listed do. There is definitely a correlation here. Teams with high possession rates include Buffalo, Duke, NC State, Arizona State (bubble team) and St. Johns. Do note, that when a team is up big, their POP will decrease. So the best angle here speaking to pace of play, is to bet unders or first half unders of teams who have a low possession rate vs high possession rates and overs.
Tip #3- Rebounding (ORB)
Look for teams that have good rebounding numbers, but let’s look at offensive rebounding percentages vs total rebounds or rebounds a game, and here’s why. Total rebounds per game is misleading because this includes all rebounds, and this could include teams facing opponents that shoot more or have a higher pace of play, which leads to more rebounds. Most bettors look at the number of rebounds and rebounding margin. However, these two statistics are very misleading.
Offensive rebound percentage is a key metric and a more critical number. For one, it is a %, so it is more adjusted of a statistic. Two, offensive rebounds lead to a second possession, which usually is a second shot, which ultimately leads to additional points. Also, a lot of offensive rebounds happen inside the paint, so those are easy second-chance points.
The top teams this year have a percentage of around 35-38%, the average is about 26-27%, and the low end is 13% to 20%. Some of the teams that will be in the tournament who have a very high offensive rebounding percentage include Baylor, LSU, New Mexico State, Kentucky, and Cincinnati. Look closer at these teams and no surprise, the bottom 50 ranked in offensive rebounding are very bad teams. There are only 1-2 teams in the bottom 70 that will be in the tournament.
Tip #4- Travel
Teams that have a short travel time and are closer to home will help them in the first two rounds. Not only will the travel time be limited, but there usually will be more of a home crowd advantage, especially in the other team is far away from the first/second round location. A bad spot for travel is Wisconsin having to play in San Jose, and Oregon faces them, which is a short flight from Eugene. Also, if Tennessee & Cinncinati advances to the next round, they would face each other in Columbus, which is a bad draw for the number 2 seeded Vols.
Tip #5- How is the team performing as of late (but beware of recency bias)
Is a team slumming at a bad time? Did they just have a big injury to a starter? These are questions to consider when handicapping in the tournament. It goes both ways though. Did a team have a great offensive performance last game of the conference tournament to inflate their spread for the first round tournament game?
A term you need to learn is regress to the mean. Teams will have outlier types performances here and there, but over time they will end up playing like the team they actually are. The hard part is trying to predict when a team will do this and this is a conversation for another day.
A take away from this will be- look to target teams that have been consistent (for the most part) all season and had a fluke outing in their conference tournament. This would be a team that shoots 41% from the field, but shot 25% in the conference tournament, missing a lot of wide open shots. What will happen is this team will maybe be favored only by 4 instead of 5. Not only that, but the public will look at the last game they played, and form their bet off of that.
Also, take a look at a team’s ATS record in the second half of the season vs the first have as a whole. This will give you a better idea of how the team is performing since January. If you see a discrepancy between the two, try to identify why this is.
Tip #6- Take regular season ATS record with a grain of salt, important but not as much.
ATS numbers from the regular season are decent to use when handicapping if used the correct way. I like to take a look at a teams ATS record in their neutral court games, conference tournament games and away games as well. This will give you the best representation of how a team will perform in the tournament since tournament games are played on neutral floors and away from home and also multiple games in a few days. How a team played and covered games at home really isn’t as significant.
Tip #7- Altitude!
Salt Lake City has an elevation of 4,300 ft, which is one of the first round locations. You can watch this video on altitude and how it affects athletes. As far as over/unders go, look to target unders in this location. Also, NMSU plays Auburn in the first round in Salt Lake City. Las Cruces has an elevation of 4,000 , and Auburn has an elevation of 900 ft. This is an angle that you should take advantage of!
Tip #8-Live Betting
This is why the best angle are the unders in the first half, and also look to live bet the over at half time or even in the first 5-10 mins of the game. More specifically, look to live bet the over if there was a high total to start the game. For example, if the total is 150, and the game starts with missed shots and turnovers and the score is 6-2 with 4 mins in, the live line will probably be around 144-146. That is when you want to jump on it and you basically received 4 points for free.
Tip #9- First Tournament?
There are a lot of nerves for a team making their first tournament appearance and a team will come out slow. Gardner-Webb & Abilene Christain are making their first tournament appearance this year. Abilene Christian plays Kentucky Thursday and are 21.5 point underdogs. Gardner-Webb plays Virginia Friday and are 24.5 point underdogs. Might want to look more into these two match-ups and going against these teams.
Tip #10- Level of competition-
How did teams perform against better competition? Were they challenge in the conference and/or out of conference. How did they play on the road against the top teams in the conference?
Look at those ATS numbers as well answering those 3 questions. The top team in a conference will get an underdog’s best shot, especially at home. Take a look at the ATS record for a team who is in a smaller conference, and how they performed ATS against teams on the road, specifically the upper half of a conference on the road.