March Madness 2019 Betting Trends

March Madness 2019 Betting Trends

March Madness is almost here, so before you hit submit on your bracket, check out this quick guide of tournament tips and betting advice.

Don’t Make Futures Bets

You will hear this advice often, but it’s worth repeating: a mechanical parlay will pay out more than a straight futures wager. The books love futures bets because they're almost always a positive proposition, and the public loves futures bets because everyone wants to bet a little to win a lot. If you like Duke to win it all, don’t take the +250 that’s on the board. Instead, bet on their money line in the first game, and roll it over to round two for another money line bet. If you roll over your winnings on each consecutive bet, you are going to win a lot more money and at a better value than if you took the +250 wager.

When to use a Contrarian Bracket

A “favorites bracket” is your best bet to win a small pool but using a contrarian bracket is your best chance to win medium to large sized pools. According to Ed Feng of, in a 10-person pool, a bracket of favorites will give you a 38.3% chance to win. On the other hand, for a 50-person pool, the favorites bracket has a 10% chance to win. Compare that to the Contrarian Bracket which now has a 15% chance to win the tournament. The time to shift to a contrarian bracket from a favorites bracket is in a pool of 20 or more. To pull off the contrarian strategy, find a team that has a good chance to win it all, but who the public is overlooking as your champion. Advance the favorite as far as the championship game.

Picking the Championship Game

Thanks to RJ Bell, I found some nuggets on each round of the tournament, and here are a couple that I liked concerning the championship game:

  • In the past 30 years, there has only been one champion seeded worse than #4.
  • In the past 33 years, there have only been two championship games with a team seeded lower than #6.
  • In the past 40 years, there have only been eight championship games featuring two #1 seeds.

When to Predict Upsets

Everyone loves to predict upsets in the NCAA tournament because that’s what makes the games so much fun to watch. While that epic upset is taking place, you want to be the guy in the room smiling knowing you called that shit! While predicting an upset is fun, it’s not necessary to win your bracket. Here are some numbers to think about before predicting upsets.

Don’t Predict a 15-seed to Upset a 2-seed

We can skip over the #16 vs. #1 game, just don’t do it. While a #16 finally beat a #1 for the first time in tournament history last year with UMBC taking down Virginia, I’m willing to wager a large sum that it doesn’t happen again this year. In the #15 vs. #2 matchup, you may be wanting to look like the smartest guy in the room and are considering a #15-seed upset. Before pulling the trigger, know that in the past 56 matchups the #2-seed has won 52 games, hitting at a 93-percent clip.

Think Twice Before Predicting a 14-seed over a 3-seed

Over the past 14 years, the 3-seed has won straight up over the 14-seed just eight times in 56 games. So, predicting a 14-seed to upset a 3-seed has not been a valuable proposition. However, there is one game on the board that has a lot of bettors on the underdog, and that is with Yale vs. LSU. Yale is currently +7 after opening at +8. Every other 14-seed is at least a double-digit favorite.

Everyone’s Favorite Upset Spot: The #12 vs. #5 Game

This game is everyone’s favorite spot for an upset for good reason: according to ESPN, there have only been five years since 1985 in which a 12-seed did not upset a 5-seed. However, twice in the past four years all four #5 seeds prevailed.

The #8 vs. #9 Game

The 8/9 game is technically an upset by seeding if the #9 team wins, but what you want to look for here is a juicy money line. In the past 136 games played since 1985, the #8 vs. #9 game has been a 50-50 proposition. So, if you see a juicy money line out there, it may be worth a sprinkle on a coin-flip game.

Should You Avoid Teams That Rely on the 3?

Some may give the advice that you should watch out for 3-point shooting teams in the tournament, citing the adage “live by the three, die by the three.” While these teams can get hot and go on a run, depending on the three can be dangerous. As soon as that team goes cold, their season could be over in a single-elimination tournament. According to Ed Feng from 2002 to 2014 this was sound advice as no tournament champion scored a significant percentage of their points from three. The average in college basketball at that time was right around 33-percent. Only Florida, at 34-percent, had a higher portion of their points come from 3-point land since 2002.Last year, however, of the final four teams, three of them took three-pointers on more than 40-percent of their shots. Villanova, who won the tournament, attempted three’s on 45-percent of their shots.

When in Doubt, Trust the Preseason Polls

Another Ed Feng note: The pre-season AP poll is a fantastic predictor of tournament success. Feng looked at the preseason polls from 2002 to 2018 and ordered them for the top 50 vote-receiving teams. How often did the higher ranked team in the preseason poll win a game? From 2002 to 2018 the higher ranked team has won in 71.3-percent of games Which teams will make a deep run? 34% of final four teams have been ranked top 4 in AP preseason poll, and 9 of past 17 champions have been in the top four of the preseason poll.

Final Thoughts

Fade Duke. They will be the most popular choice as champion by a landslide. If you can’t bear to fade Zion and Coach K, I’d suggest having an alternative bracket if your pool allows for more than one, with a contrarian champion. Does a coach’s previous record in tournament games matter? I believe experience matters, not the record of the coach in such a small sample size, against randomly generated teams. Just because Tom Izzo has failed in the tournament recently, doesn’t suddenly make him a bad coach when the calendar turns to March. Lastly, trust teams that rely on defense more than those that rely on offense. An offense can go cold, while defense is more of a mindset and is system-based. In a tournament game when effort is already at a maximum, expect defensive teams to continue to shine.