It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned sports bettor or just being introduced to the “Big Dance” for the first time, millions of people with varying experience fill out brackets each March.
The wagering wiseguys, however, have much better knowledge of the field of 68 than your average Joes, knowing which teams have been building their bankroll all year. But is that information helpful when trying to pick out a Cinderella or penciling in your Final Four?
More simply put, can ATS success translate into a good tournament team?
Let’s look at the Top 5 ATS bets among this season’s field of 68.
Southern Methodist, the No. 6 seed in the East Region, leads the way at 22-6-1 ATS (78.6 percent), followed closely by Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the West, at 22-7-1 ATS (75.8 percent). Middle Tennessee State, the South’s No. 13 seed went 23-10 ATS (69.7 percent), while Nevada, No. 12 in the Midwest, went 23-10-1 ATS (69.7 percent). Northern Kentucky, the No. 15 seed in the South, went 20-9-1 ATS (68.9 percent).
The first thing you’ll notice is that none of those teams are from a “Power 5” conference. And while the Bulldogs and Mustangs have received more national recognition this season, a case can be made that sportsbooks still don’t pay as much attention to the mid-major leagues as they do the major basketball conferences.
The best bets from the Power 5 dancing this month are Notre Dame at 18-9-1 (66.7 percent), Vanderbilt at 20-12 ATS (62.5 percent) and Purdue at 17-10-2 ATS (62.9 percent). Once again, it can be noted while these teams play in major conferences, they’re still not among college hoops blue bloods.
So what does that mean for this year? Let’s take a look back to see how good ATS bets have done in the Big Dance over the years.
There have been 24 programs that have headed into the NCAA tournament while cashing in at 70 percent or greater clip since 1997-98 (as far back as our records go) and had at least 25 games in which a line was posted.
As you can see, of those 24 programs, only five were able to make it past the first weekend of the tournament and just two made it as far as the Elite Eight: Tulsa in 2000 and Kent State in 2002. None have ever made it to the Final Four. And, not to beat a dead horse here, but just three of the 24 teams come from a Power 5 conference. Additionally, 13 of the 24 teams were a No. 10 seed or larger with the average seed for the 24 teams at 8.7, more evidence that better basketball bets often come from smaller conferences or, in the eyes of the selection committee, weaker conferences.
The two teams that fall into this category this year are Southern Methodist and Gonzaga.
When it comes to Final Four teams, most have had at least a winning record against the spread over the last 10 years, with 32 of 40 teams cashing more often than not. In fact, just two teams in the last five years have advanced to the Final Four with a losing record against the spread: Oklahoma last season at 14-21 ATS and Kentucky at 16-22-1 ATS in 2012.
The teams with best ATS records which made it all the way to the Final Four over the last 10 years have been Georgetown in 2007 at 21-10-2 (67.7 percent), North Carolina in 2008 at 24-12 (66.7 percent) and Connecticut in 2011 at 23-12 (65.7 percent).
Anyone filling out a bracket – basketball bettor or not – should exercise caution when
selecting good ATS teams to go far in your bracket. They can definitely win a
game or two, but history isn’t on their side if you plan to ride them all the way to Phoenix.