The Madness of March: Unders and Upsets Dominate Early NCAA Tournament Betting Trends

March Madness has earned its nickname so far. When we think of the fabled NCAA Tournament, we think of upsets, buzzer-beaters, and elite performances from the first game right through to the championship game in April.

The 2023 NCAA Tournament has had everything you could ask for. That is unless you had an inkling for No. 1 seeds to advance deep into the tournament. The first two rounds of this year’s tournament have been very exciting to say the least.

In terms of betting trends, the tournament so far has seen lots of games go under, as well as a few big moneyline upsets. Let’s go further into what’s happened and where it may lead going into the Sweet 16.

Upset City underscores March Madness

Where do we even start with all of the upsets that have happened? Every year, the talk of the tournament is what could happen. Even with the 16 vs. 1 matchups, “you never know,” they say. Well, that mantra has come to life in full force this year.

It started early with 13-seed Furman (+200) toppling 4-seed Virginia on a last-second shot, winning 68-67 for the first upset of the tournament. When 1-seed Kansas (-10000) smoked 16-seed Howard 96-68, it seemed like all was right in the world again. But it was only the beginning.

Later on in the evening, 15-seed Princeton (+700) shocked the world by toppling 2-seed Arizona, 59-55. Arizona was a favourite of many and expected to make not only a run into the Final Four, but perhaps to a national championship. Tennessee, a No. 4 seed, would survive a scare and 10-seed Penn State would upset 7-seed Texas A&M to round out the day.

Day two

Those expecting things to calm down and revert back to normal on day two were sorely disappointed. No. 3 seed Xavier survived a scare from 14-seed Kennesaw State, setting the tone early. The upset train continued with 11-seed Pittsburgh (+185) romping over 6-seed Iowa State, holding the latter to just 41 points in yet another upset.

And then the big one happened. In the stunner of stunners, one-seed Purdue was sent packing in the first round by 16-seed FDU (+2100). Utter disarray seemed to overtake everyone’s bracket and chaos became the dominant factor.

Day three

That had to be it, right? Things would level out and return to the status quo? Hold on right there. After surviving its first game, Tennessee was thought to be about done. So, it certainly registered as a stunner when the Vols handily bounced Duke in their matchup, 65-52.

Oh, we also had another seismic upset. Arkansas (+160), an 8-seed, pulled out a nailbiter against one-seed Kansas, meaning two of the top four seeds are gone within the first three days of the tournament. No doubt many brackets had been completely busted with the losses of Purdue and Kansas.

Meanwhile, the Cinderella story continued for one major upset. Furman was handily bounced by five-seed San Diego State, 75-52, but the Paladins’ dream was the only one to end of the longshots. Princeton (+220) continued its run, taking care of seven-seed Missouri with a 78- 63 victory. The Tigers now have a Sweet 16 matchup with six-seed Creighton awaiting them on Friday.

Day four

The upsets were not done. Sure, higher seeds in Xavier, Kansas State, FAU, Gonzaga, and UConn all took care of business. But Indiana (four-seed), Baylor (three-seed), and Marquette (two-seed) all saw upsets befall them on Sunday.

The table has now been set for the Sweet 16 and there is not a single soul who knows what will happen. Through the first four days of the tournament, nearly all of the favourites have been upset or seriously challenged to the point where choosing a winner feels impossible.

Previewing the Sweet 16

So, what awaits us next? The Sweet 16 is here and some of the matchups are definitely going to attract a lot of interest from sports bettors. No. 7 seed Michigan State will take on 3-seed Kansas State in a battle of two very strong teams. Arkansas takes on UConn in an 8 vs. 4 battle. FAU and Tennessee will meet in a 9 vs. 4 battle. And two heavyweights tangle as 3-seed Gonzaga meets 2-seed UCLA.

On Friday, the second half of the Sweet 16 will happen. A pair of No. 1 seeds, Alabama and Houston, are alive and well. They will meet a pair of 5-seeds in San Diego State and Miami (FL), respectively. The big battle of the day will be 3-seed Xavier taking on 2-seed Texas. But the game everyone will be eyeing is the Princeton/Creighton matchup. Can the Tigers continue this unprecedented run?

All about the unders

While all of the focus and talk has been about the upsets, there is another trend to keep an eye on. Including the First Four, unders in the NCAA Tournament this year are clicking at a whopping 67%, to the tune of 35-17.

As a matter of fact, until the Sunday slate, things were even more lopsided. The unders hit 3-1 for the First four, 10-6 on the first day of the tournament, a whopping 14-2 last Friday, and 6-2 last Saturday. Only with a 6-2 run by the overs last Sunday do things even approach something resembling even.

Bettors that have been placing bets on the unders are counting their winnings right now. A blind $100 bet on every under would leave you well into the profit at the moment. The only question is if this is a strategy that can be repeated in the Sweet 16 and beyond?

Will the under trend continue through the Sweet 16?

At first blush, it isn’t impossible for the unders to continue producing at the rate they have. After all, just glancing at defensive efficiency rankings for the year, eight of the top 25 are still alive and well: Tennessee (1), Houston (2), UCLA (3), Alabama (4), UConn (13), San Diego State (15), FAU (18), and Texas (21).

With so many strong defensive teams left, plus the tightness and nerves that comes with being this deep in the tournament, sportsbooks will have their hands full with the over/under. Totals will likely be far lower than they have been through the first few days of the tournament and more difficult for bettors to predict. We saw the impact of the sportsbooks adjusting on Sunday as the overs went 6-2, meaning that perhaps the sportsbooks over-corrected slightly.

While it’s true that many of the teams left thrive on the defensive side of the ball, when we look at their season long over/under records, there’s actually more teams that favour the over. Gonzaga, Xavier, and Connecticut all have strong over tendencies.

TeamOver – Under – Push Record This Season
(1) Houston 14-16-1
(1) Alabama15-15-1
(2) UCLA15-16-0
(2) Texas16-13-2
(3) Gonzaga19-11-0
(3) Xavier20-10-1
(3) Kansas State16-15-0
(4) Tennessee13-17-1
(4) Connecticut 18-13-0
(5) San Diego St14-15-0
(5) Miami FL13-16-1
(6) Creighton14-16-1
(7) Michigan State 16-14-0
(8) Arkansas13-17-1
(9) Florida Atlantic16-12-1
(15) Princeton14-11-0

As the sportsbooks lower the over/under lines as an adjustment to the happenings of the opening two rounds, and as the lines are set lower to respect the defensive capabilities of these teams, we could actually see more overs. 

Thus, the Sweet 16 and onwards likely presents some good value opportunities to hit the over. The Xavier-Texas over of 147.5 is a good example of one that could go over in the Sweet 16.

No matter how you shake it, this has been a March Madness for the ages. We’ll find out whether the Cinderella stories continue, or if the pre-tournament favourites will finally separate themselves from the rest of the group. Every shot will make a difference from here on out.

All odds in this article are courtesy of bet365.