If you’re betting on March Madness odds, you’re far from alone. Earlier this week, the American Gaming Association released research showing that 68 million American adults (26% of the adult population) plan to participate in NCAA Tournament betting. The total expected bet is 15.5 billion dollars.
Much of this, of course, will take the form of the ever-popular bracket contests. But with the continued expansion of legal sports betting in the United States, more and more bettors are taking that route, roughly 31 million this year.
So where do those first-round matchup bets go in the March Madness championship odds market?
We dive into several NCAA tournament bets, with insights from WynnBet Senior Trader Motoi Pearson and college basketball expert Andy Molitor, among others.
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Pearson pointed to a few first-round games where bettors, including crafty players, have taken an interest in WynnBet. That includes No. 13 Louisiana vs. No. 4 Tennessee in the Midwest Regional and No. 12 Charleston vs. No. 5 seed San Diego State in the South Region.
“Tennessee started at -10 and is now at -11, and San Diego State started at -4.5 and is now at -5,” Pearson said. “These saw immediate action as the lines fell from our end.”
Both matches are on Thursday. Pearson also pointed to a couple of eye-catching underdogs.
“Montana State, which started at +9 and is now +8.5, and Missouri, which started at +2 and is now +1.5, have been [among] a few dogs that moved by us,” Pearson said.
Missouri, the No. 7 seed in the South, meets No. 10 Utah State on Thursday. Montana State, the No. 14 seed in the East, faces No. 3 Kansas State on Friday.
And the pro bettors are at the No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region.
“Texas A&M -3 and on the money line has been the sharper side, but we’ve seen buybacks in Penn State at +3.5,” Pearson said of Thursday night’s matchup.
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More sharp sides
With all the anticipation for March Madness, there’s nothing like when the first game is tipped, especially at a Las Vegas sportsbook. It’s exciting.
In the case of West Virginia vs. Maryland, the No. 9 vs. No. 8 matchup in the South Region, Molitor is especially excited. The Mountaineers and Terrapins lift the lid on the Big Dance in a meeting at 12:15 pm ET on Thursday.
“I’m excited to see Maryland-West Virginia right away,” Molitor said. “It’s 8-on-9 that looks close on paper, but it may be an early indicator of how tough the Big 12 season was. West Virginia had a much tougher strength of schedule, both in and out of conference . If senior guard Erik Stevenson gets going for the Mountaineers, they can win and cover him pretty easily and start the annual conversation about how quickly all of the Big 10 teams are coming home.”
The four matchups pitting No. 12 seeds against No. 5 seeds are also getting a lot of attention from bettors. Each year, these contests look to provide a modest upset or two.
Among this year’s 12-5 crop is No. 12 VCU against No. 5 St. Mary’s in the West Region, even though the game is played in Albany, NY Virginia Commonwealth is certainly a hot play on the March Madness odds board, but Molitor likes the favorite.
“The St. Mary’s-VCU game is very interesting, with two very good defenses taking the floor. It looks like an Ivy League Friday night game, with its minuscule total, now up to 122.5 in some stores Molitor said. “The Gaels had a very nice season, but the last thing we saw was Gonzaga strangling them in the [West Coast Conference] title game.”
In fact, St. Mary’s was defeated by Gonzaga 77-51 on March 7. For Friday’s meeting with VCU, St. Mary’s was as low as a 3.5 point favorite, but is now up to -4 and even -4.5 at some sportsbooks. .
“The money is driving the Gaels up as the week has gone on, and I agree,” Molitor said. “We saw what VCU was like against high-end defenses in some early losses against Memphis and Arizona State.”
Built for the future?
Before Selection Sunday, Molitor thought Creighton, San Diego State and TCU would be good under-the-radar plays in the March Madness championship futures market. He still likes Bluejays, Aztecs and Horned Frogs, though not so much after seeing the road ahead.
“I still like Creighton, especially in some of the longer numbers earlier in the year. But they ended up in the Alabama/Baylor/Arizona regional, and I don’t have high hopes for them right now,” Molitor said. “The same goes for San Diego State, which would play Alabama in the Sweet 16.
“TCU finished in a region with a more susceptible seed in Kansas, but would probably have to get past a Gonzaga and UCLA team as well.”
Since Selection Sunday, Molitor added one team to his portfolio of March Madness titles.
“Even though the number has gotten a little shorter, I still like the Texas Longhorns, and they can be found at 15/1,” Molitor said. “It’s a decent draw for them as a two-seed, after a great run that saw them defeat Kansas twice and win the Big 12 Tournament. Honestly, I think their path to the regional final is easier than top seed Houston in the Midwest region.
“The Longhorns are playing hard for Rodney Terry. They score in different ways and have seen the defense come together over the last few weeks.”
I like high stakes and I can’t lie
As many people already know, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale has a handful of high-dollar bets in Houston to win the national championship. The sportsbooks that took Mack’s action are definitely underwater on the Cougars and it looks like any other team will win the championship.
But there are other big bets for March Madness futures odds. Caesars Sports reported the following plays:
$10,000 in St. Mary’s +8000 ($800,000 potential win)
$50,000 at Tennessee +1500/$15,000 at Tennessee +1600, from same bettor ($990,000 potential win)
BetMGM noted the following championship bets:
$10,000 to Gonzaga + 2500 ($250,000 potential win)
$10,000 in Kansas + 900 ($90,000 potential earnings)
$1,000 on Texas A&M 125/1 ($125,000 potential win)
Then there’s this action at Caesars, which would be very entertaining if it even survives this weekend: A customer from Virginia bet a total of $1,127 on Oral Roberts to lift the trophy. The bookie put $917 on the Golden Eagles at 1500/1, $200 at 750/1 and a very modest $10 at 1000/1.
If Oral Roberts makes a crazy Cinderella run from the No. 12 seed in the East, that bettor’s payoff would be a whopping $1,535,500.
“With Oral Roberts, people remember a few years ago when they made the run to the Sweet 16, so they know how to play tournament basketball,” Caesars assistant director of commerce Adam Pullen said. “A lot of punters will be looking for a long way out, especially after St. Peter’s last year. And Oral Roberts’ record stands out as they went undefeated in the conference.”
In fact, the 12th-seeded Golden Eagles (30-4) went 18-0 in Summit League regular-season play, then swept the three-game conference tournament. Still, there’s a long way to go until April 3, starting with a Thursday night game against fifth-seeded Duke, a perennial national championship contender.
However, it’s one of those 12-on-5 games. So maybe Oral Roberts keeps this ticket alive with an early upset. We’ll all be watching. Enjoy the craziness of the first weekend!
Patrick Everson is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and a senior reporter for VegasInsider.com. He is a distinguished journalist in the national sports betting space. He is based in Las Vegas, where he enjoys playing golf in 110-degree heat. Follow him on Twitter: @Patrick E_Vegas.
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