Only the biggest of the big NCAA betting favorites cover the spread

The Arizona Wildcats are 23-point favorites versus Texas Southern in the Round of 64, and are 3-1 ATS as 20-plus NCAA favorites since 1998.

NCAA tournament bettors are used to tangling with towering piles of chalk in the Round of 64, and this year’s Big Dance is no exception.

Oddsmakers have pegged the Arizona Wildcats as 23-point favorites versus Texas Southern, set Villanova as a 22.5-point fave against Lafayette, and are now dealing Wisconsin -20 versus Coastal Carolina in its tournament opener.

On top of those big spreads, the No. 1 overall seed, Kentucky Wildcats, will undoubtedly face a monstrous number of points when its Round of 64 opponent (either Manhattan or Hampton) is decided in the play-in game Tuesday.

Going back to 1998, teams favored by 20 points or more in the NCAA tournament are 74-1 SU and 36-37-2 ATS. That lone upset came in 2012 at the hands of No. 15 seed Norfolk State, which knocked off No. 2 Missouri 86-84 as a 21-point underdog in the Round of 64.

Breaking down those big favorites, teams giving between 20 and 23 points – like those three mentioned above – are just 10-15-1 (40%) ATS since 1998. NCAA favorites between 23.5 points and 28 points are 17-18-1 (48%) ATS in that same span. It’s been the biggest favorites, however, that have handled their business on the court and at the sports book during tournament tilts, with faves between 28.5 points and higher going 9-4 ATS (69%) since 1998.

The loftiest point spread in that 16-year stretch were the 1999 Duke Blue Devils, who were pegged as 47-point favorites versus Florida A&M in the Round of 64, falling short of that cover with a 99-58 win. In fact, six of the seven biggest tournament spreads in that time belong to Duke. The Blue Devils have been NCAA favorites of 20 or more points 14 times, going 8-6 ATS in those contests.

Arizona is facing a 20-plus spread for the fifth time in the past 17 tournaments, going 3-1 ATS in those previous games. The lone ATS loss came as 27.5-point chalk against Jackson State in 2000, with the Wildcats winning 71-47.

Note: Those 75 NCAA tournament games with spreads of 20 points or more since 1998 have produced a 35-40 Over/Under record, with spreads between 20 and 24 points going 13-18 Over/Under (58% Under).


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