College Basketball Trends as March Madness Approaches

You may have noticed something strange on Sunday: there was no football to watch or wager on. While some people view February as a relatively dry month on the sports calendar, between the NBA, NHL, and MLB Spring Training, there is plenty of action in the pros to keep your attention.

For my money, the best action right now is in the amateur ranks. College basketball is approaching Championship Week, with the NCAA Tournament following right behind. The year has been fascinating so far, with Duke hosting its own soap opera of sorts, the Big Ten resembling the Big Sky, and the bubble looking softer than ever.

Before March Madness rolls around, let’s look at what’s going on in college hoops, from a betting perspective, to get you up to speed. You don’t want to go into your office pool blind, after all, even though it seems to work for Mary from accounting every year.

Dramatic Comebacks

Louisville beat Syracuse 76-72 in OT on the road on Monday night, but they also blew a seven-point lead with just over two minutes to go in regulation. Following that game, Kansas trailed West Virginia 64-50 with less than three minutes remaining, and fans were exiting Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks rallied, sent the game to OT, and won 84-80, but not before building an eight-point advantage and seeing it shrink to two. Last week, Oregon led at UCLA by 19 points late in the first half, only to see the Bruins rally for an 82-79 win.

With good teams blowing big leads, taking points when you can get them is advisable. Nobody is setting themselves apart.

Fragile Rankings

While somebody had to lose when no. 3 Kansas faced no. 9 West Virginia, the Mountaineers were not the only highly ranked team to go down recently. No. 4 Baylor fell at Texas Tech, 84-78, last night. On Sunday, no. 7 Wisconsin lost at home to Northwestern, and no. 12 Virginia dropped a double-overtime test with Virginia Tech.

Roughly a third of the ranked teams have been falling on a weekly basis this year; a couple weeks ago, the majority of the top 10 went down.

Aside from Villanova (24-2) and Gonzaga (26-0), which benefits from playing in the relatively weak West Coast Conference, it is hard to be confident in the rankings. Again, when in doubt, play the dog. So called “elite” teams are not winning as consistently as you’d expect.

Look to the Little Guys

While some big-name programs (Gonzaga, SMU, Louisville) are consistently covering spreads, lesser schools are providing better value, overall. Vegas has only put lines on three games apiece for Bucknell, Grand Canyon, and North Carolina Central, but all three well-coached teams are 3-0 against the number.

Harvard, Furman, Wofford, South Dakota, and St. Peter’s are all covering more than 70-percent of the time in at least 15 chances.

Also keep your eye on Creighton (16-7 ATS), Marshall (15-7 ATS), Dayton (14-7-1 ATS), and Middle Tennessee State (17-8 ATS), too. Most of these programs dominate smaller leagues, have had sustained success, and know how to find a way in big games. This year, they’re proving to be much better bets than the teams casual fans tend to ride, like Duke (10-14 ATS), Arizona (12-12-2 ATS), and Kansas (7-16-1 ATS).


Photo credit: Dirk Hansen. (http://flickr.com/photos/dirkhansen/2614424191) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.