March Madness: Figuring out a chalky Sweet 16 from an odds and betting perspective

By | March 27, 2024

The betting story from the first week of the NCAA men’s tournament was easy to recognize: Favorites were the way to go.

It has been a poor tournament. Favorites are 30-22 against the spread, and double-digit favorites are 14-3 ATS according to John Ewing of BetMGM. The favorites tied 15-1 in the second round. Teams getting more than 50% of the bets are a remarkable 38-13 against the spread, according to Bet Labs via Ewing.

In other words, casual bettors had a much better first week of the tournament than they’re used to.

It’s a Sweet 16 with all No. 1 and No. 2 seeds still alive for the fifth time since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985. The madness of this March has been that almost everything has gone as expected, except for the John Calipari-led teams. .

Let’s take a fresh look at the NCAA Tournament with Yahoo Sports’ Frank Schwab and Scott Pianowski, with all the odds from BetMGM:

What do we think of the fact that all the favorites win? Is this a sign for this week?

Frank Schwab: Favorites dominated the first week of the NCAA Tournament, and I believe all the chaos of the conference championship week was a big factor. Would Indiana State, the No. 1 seed in the Missouri Valley that lost in the conference tournament, have been more competitive than Drake? Or a lower seed like UC Irvine (No. 1 in the Big West, was upset in the conference tournament) instead of Long Beach State? Probably.

It’s fine though. Cinderellas are fun and it would be nice to see a few more, but if you have all the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds and two of the four No. 3 seeds, you can make good matchups. I expect even more unrest this week. It’s hard to imagine all four No. 1 seeds reaching Arizona. I would put the number at two (UConn and Purdue).

Donovan Clingan and the Connecticut Huskies were among the many favorites to advance to the Sweet 16. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Scott Pianowski: I felt a little cheated from the weekend, when the favorites were 12-4 ATS and 15-1 tied (Clemson was the only upset, and it was a small one). I’d like more chaos and entropy, please. We saw three classic overtime matches in Round 2, but in both cases the favorite righted the ship and held serve. There’s no real Cinderella in the field anymore, unless you count NC State (borderline; the Pack keeps winning elimination games, but it’s not like they’re a one-and-done mid-major, and they were favored over Oakland in Round 2).

But the lack of upsets means we’ll get better matchups in the future. That’s the reward. Connecticut is the only double-digit favorite for the Sweet 16. I suspect the earth will shake if the Huskies get upset somehow, even by a good San Diego State team, but for the rest of the list you can tell yourself anything. This is a feature, not a bug.

Which team that is still alive changed your mind the most, in a positive way?

F.S.: I might say NC State, because I wasn’t sure a good week at the ACC tournament meant they’d make a Sweet 16, but I don’t assume the Wolfpack will be around much longer. I’m going with Purdue on my answer. They were already respected, but I think they cleared up a lot of the questions about their failures in the tournament. Utah State wasn’t a bad team and Purdue beat the Aggies by 39 in the second round. I picked Purdue to win it all in our Yahoo expert pool, and yet I now have more confidence in their ability to win the championship. This is a team that can take down UConn if they meet.

SP: Duke moved the needle for me. The losses to North Carolina and NC State at the end of the season feel more excusable now. The Blue Devils played a very good James Madison team in Round 2 and destroyed them. I’ve long suspected that Jared McCain could be the sneaky key to Duke’s offense, and while everyone looks better when his shot is falling, McCain rarely makes a bad decision. He has decent size for a guard, can create his own shot and will chip when he rebounds. I’d selfishly like to see him stick around for a while, but I know he’s already expected to be a first-round pick.

When your team is young but filled with top talent, you often wonder if it’s a slowly developing Polaroid, something that could blossom during the tournament. I had suspected that Kentucky could be such a team; dear lord, what a horrible decision. But Duke beat Houston all along on the Yahoo staff, and that wouldn’t even feel like much of a shock anymore.

Which team that is still alive are you lower on after last week?

F.S.: It’s hard to criticize any team in the Sweet 16. Many teams would love to win ugly and make it to the second weekend. I guess my answer here is Marquette. Houston could be too, after narrowly escaping a Texas A&M team that underperformed in the regular season, but I think the Cougars are doing just fine. Marquette led Western Kentucky by just four with about eight minutes left in the first round, and they narrowly escaped in the second round against a Colorado team that was in the First Four. Marquette is good, but hasn’t looked like a strong No. 2 seed.

SP: The Alabama-Grand Canyon game made my eyes bleed. Poor ball management, poor decisions, a lot of rocks – the game finished 40 points below the posted total. It’s very difficult to score just 62 points against Alabama; These guys can’t stop anyone. North Carolina entered the tournament with a new focus — sometimes I think it’s actually a good thing to lose in your conference tournament, assuming your place or seeding isn’t on the line — and earned two easy, sharp wins. My guess is the Heels will bury the Tide on Thursday.

I like Marquette more than you. The only two teams to beat the Golden Eagles in the last twenty games are Connecticut (America’s slaughterhouse five) and Creighton. Given Marquette’s lack of depth, Tyler Kolek was needed to come back healthy. He looked great the first week. I expect Marquette to finally end the Wolfpack’s magic carpet ride.

Which Sweet 16 game are you most looking forward to?

F.S.: I think Duke vs. Houston is going to be very good. The Blue Devils looked like potentially the best team in the sport before the season started, and while that didn’t happen during the regular season, the talent is in abundance. How does that compare to Houston’s band, which has virtually no name and is extremely well coached and a fantastic college team? I think Duke can make a Final Four and make good on that preseason promise, but the Houston game will be a brawl.

SP: I support your choice, but you also know I can’t wait to see Rick Barnes fade away. The Volunteers held off Texas in part because the moment felt too big for the Longhorns and coach Rodney Terry. Now Tennessee is likely in trouble against Creighton, an experienced team, a super-efficient offense, a defense that contests and harasses but rarely makes mistakes. It was a joke that the Big East only got three bids – this was a very good conference, except for two punching bags at the bottom of the league. Creighton has been tested.

Greg McDermott is also a great coach; it was a pleasure to see him play chess against Dana Altman last week. I guess Barnes didn’t eat The Queen’s Gambit. This won’t be an embarrassing exit if Tennessee loses, but I think the wrong team is favored.

What do you think of the updated title odds?

F.S.: Let’s quickly reset the board for all 16 teams:

UConn +200

Houston +550

Purdue +600

Arizona +800

North Carolina +1100

Tennessee +1300

Marquette +1800

Iowa State +2000

Duke +2500

Gonzaga +2500

Creighton +2500

Illinois +3500

Alabama +4000

San Diego State +8000

NC State +10000

Clemson +10000

UConn is really good, but +200 is way too short for my taste. Especially in a field where all eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are still alive. Purdue stands out because I think they have left the ghosts of previous tournament failures behind them. The Boilermakers looked confident.

But let’s be honest: The value here, based on talent, upside and maybe even path, is… Duke. Yeah, sorry Blue Devils haters. I think they should be closer to Tennessee in terms of odds than they are along with Gonzaga and Creighton. Duke has the fifth-highest KenPom Rating among surviving teams, and the top four are all shorter than 10 to 1. I’d like to see Duke beat Marquette or NC State in the Elite Eight. If they can get past Houston on Friday, we might be looking at Duke next week as well.

SP: I still expect Connecticut to win it all, not that you can win them at that price. If you have to play one of the top four picks, the most reasonable number is Purdue. But Duke, Creighton and Marquette are all interesting mid-level values. I don’t hate North Carolina for that price either.

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