Bettors counting on upsets as they put money on long shots this March Madness

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Given the numerous upsets that led to last year's unusual Final Four and the many bids stolen in this season's conference tournaments, bettors aren't inclined to go chalk when laying wagers for the NCAA Tournament.

“People are loving some (under)dogs,” BetMGM trading manager Seamus Magee said. “We've taken all this money on some long shots to win these conference tournaments. Lots of people like taking a flier on some of these double-digit seeds.”

The First Four is Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, and the tournament begins in full Thursday.

As recent history has shown, some of those fliers can turn into big money.

Saint Peter's made the Sweet 16 two years ago as a No. 15 seed. Last year's Final Four included a very un-blue-blooded San Diego State, Florida Atlantic and Miami.

The madness this year came to March before the NCAA Tournament, with underdogs sweeping through conference tourneys and taking bids from teams that otherwise would've been in line to make the Big Dance. Only 11 of the 32 conference tournaments ended with the No. 1 seed as champion.

“I think the (NCAA transfer) portal is helping a lot of these mid-major teams,” Magee said. “There are a lot of players at power programs that want to play more, and they're willing to go to some smaller teams just to play. I think people are starting to see the gap is kind of starting to shrink a little bit between a lot of these really good mid-majors and maybe a bit overrated power-conference teams.”


Six Mountain West teams made the tournament, but the NCAA selection committee did the conference little favor in the seedings.

Aside from San Diego State, which was fifth, Mountain West teams were put in tough spots. Boise State and Colorado State will compete in the First Four. New Mexico would not have made the field if it hadn't won the conference tournament.

“You can't argue the committee hated the Mountain West this year," Magee said. “But the seeding with some of them, it was almost like, ‘Hey, go prove it.’ Utah State winning the Mountain West regular season and getting an eight-seed, nuts. New Mexico getting an 11-seed, being on the same line as Duquesne, is a whole story altogether.”


Sheldon Jacobson, who operates the site BracketOdds, said the committee did a good job putting together the top four seed lines, but struggled after that.

“There were a lot of teams that seemed to be spread all over the place, either under-seeded or over-seeded,” Jacobson said. “(Tenth-seeded) Nevada, people expected to go much higher. Florida Atlantic got a late seed (No. 8), and that was a head-scratcher.”

Jacobson said to keep an eye on those seeded 11th and 12th.

“If you look at the five-line and the six-line, there are some mid-majors in there,” he said. “As a result, it's going to create a lot of matchups that you would not have expected. Often, the tournament is filled with power conferences versus mid-major games. We're seeing mid-major versus mid-major way across the board this time.”


Most of the BetMGM tickets have been on Virginia to beat Colorado State. The Cavaliers also were the most-bet underdog to win on the money line.

But the professionals aren't buying it.

Even with the public going heavy on Virginia, Colorado State went from a 1 1/2-point favorite to 2 1/2 because the so-called sharps sided with the Rams and they're the ones who move the lines.

“The opinion on (Virginia) was so low from so many people after selection Sunday, you wouldn't expect all this money to be coming in,” Magee said. “It's definitely noticeable and definitely something I didn't expect, and this is coming from a Virginia Cavalier fan.”


— Bettors believe UConn will become the first team since Florida in 2006-07 to repeat. The Huskies have received the most money (18.3%) and tickets (10.8%) at BetMGM.

— UConn went from plus-1,200 to plus-400 to win it all at BetMGM. That means a bettor who lays $100 would make $400 if UConn wins. Other notable moves were Houston going from plus-2,200 to plus-600 and Purdue from plus-1,800 to plus-650.

— At FanDuel Sportsbook, the following lower-seeded teams are favored: No. 10 Drake 1 1/2 over No. 7 Washington State; No. 9 Michigan State 1 1/2 over No. 8 Mississippi State; No. 10 Nevada 1 1/2 over No. 7 Dayton; No. 11 New Mexico 2 1/2 over No. 6 Clemson; and No. 9 TCU 2 1/2 over No. 8 Utah State.


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