According to an American Gaming Association survey, 47 million Americans will wager $8.5 billion on the NCAA tournament this year, and while more than half of that astounding sum will be wagered via bracket pools, $3.9 billion will be bet on the games themselves via a sportsbook (either in person or online), through a bookie or with a friend.
It’s that latter group – in which point spreads come into play – that concerns us here. Before you step up to the window for this week’s first-round games, here are some things to keep in mind.
Keep in mind that these trends should not be considered predictive and that basing your picks solely on them is far from advisable. Instead, add them to your overall knowledge base. All point spreads referenced below were taken Monday morning from the consensus lines at VegasInsider.com. Historical spread information is from Covers.com.
No. 1 vs. No. 16: Top-seeded teams are 10-14 against the spread (ATS) in the first round over the past six tournaments (2-2 ATS in each of the past two years). But since 1985, No. 1 seeds are 15-6 ATS in the opening round when the spread is 19.5 points or lower, including 8-2 over the past 12 seasons (1-1 last year). Neither of this year’s No. 1 seeds that know their first-round opponents (Virginia and North Carolina) are below that threshold, however, and it’s unlikely either Duke or Gonzaga will be anything less than massive favorites, either.
No. 2 vs. No. 15: Second-seeded teams are 22-21-1 ATS in the first round since 2008. Over that span, No. 15 seeds that are getting at least 18 points are on a 11-3-1 ATS streak (2-1 last year). Bradley (+18 vs. Michigan State) and Abilene Christian (+22 vs. Kentucky) fit the bill this year.
No. 3 vs. No. 14: Over the past five seasons, No. 14 seeds that are underdogs of at least 12 points are 9-3 ATS in the first round (1-0 last year). Northern Kentucky (+14 vs. Texas Tech), Georgia State (+12 vs. Houston) and Old Dominion (+12 vs. Purdue) all qualify.
No. 4. vs. No. 13: From 1990 to 2013, favorites in this matchup were 54-41-1 ATS. But since then, they’ve gone just 8-12 ATS, including 0-4 last year, when two No. 4 seeds – Wichita State and Arizona – lost outright in the first round.
No. 5 vs. No. 12: Underdog No. 12 seeds have gone 24-14-1 ATS in the first round since 2009 (though only 1-2-1 ATS last year).
No. 6 vs. No. 11: Since 2009, No. 11 seeds are 25-15 ATS against No. 6 seeds, going 6-2 ATS and 5-3 outright over the past two years. Plus, the last six times a No. 11 seed was favored over a No. 6 seed, it has gone 5-1 ATS. The two No. 6 seeds that know their opponents (Iowa State and Villanova) are both favored, however.
No. 7 vs. No. 10: No. 7 seeds that were favored over No. 10 seeds have gone 11-5 ATS in the first round since 2013 (2-0 last year and 4-1 over the past two years). No. 7s Louisville (-5 vs. Minnesota), Nevada (-2 vs. Florida), Wofford (-3 vs. Seton Hall) and Cincinnati (-3.5 vs. Iowa) are all favored this year.
No. 8 vs. No. 9: Underdogs have gone 24-12-3 ATS in these matchups since 2009, and when the line is within three points, the underdog has covered the spread in 14 of the past 15 8-9 games. Keep tabs on Central Florida (+1 vs. VCU), Baylor (+2 vs. Syracuse), Washington (+2.5 vs. Utah State) and Oklahoma (+2 vs. Ole Miss).
Top NCAA tournament teams ATS this season:
Ole Miss 23-9
Michigan State 24-10
North Carolina 21-10-2
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Worst NCAA tournament teams ATS this season
Northern Kentucky 12-20
Ohio State 14-19
Top over teams
Kansas 21-12 to the over
Prairie View 20-13-1
North Dakota State 19-11-2
Murray State 17-12
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Top under teams
Oregon 24-11 to the under
Saint Louis 20-14-1
Old Dominion 20-13
Kansas State 20-13-1