NCAA March Madness betting rundown: Are ACC, Big Ten failures on Friday a sign of things to come?

Frank Schwab
·5 min read

Lumping all conference teams together when analyzing the NCAA tournament can be dangerous. Michigan State losing as a No. 11 seed on Thursday doesn't really preclude Illinois from winning a championship, really.

But we like to track conferences as a whole in the NCAA tournament, and almost half of the Big Ten and ACC teams are gone already. We still have half of the first round to go.

The Big Ten was the best team in the regular season and suffered the two worst upsets of Friday's action. Ohio State became the ninth No. 2 seed to lose in the first round when No. 15 Oral Roberts beat them in overtime. Oral Roberts was a +1000 underdog all week. Spread bettors knew something was up: ORU opened at +17, were bet down to +16.5 almost immediately and made it down to +15 before tipoff. Bettors never sweated that side.

Purdue was also upset, as a No. 4 seed, by No. 13 seed North Texas, and the line move tipped that off too. Purdue opened as an 8-point favorite, that dipped to 7.5 right away and got down to -7 at one point. North Texas was a +250 moneyline bet most of the week at BetMGM. Those were the two biggest Friday upsets, by spread or seed.

The ACC is typically one of the two or three best conferences in basketball, and it had a rough Friday. The ACC is 1-4 so far this tournament with North Carolina being handled by Wisconsin, Clemson losing to Rutgers, a shorthanded Georgia Tech team losing to Loyola Chicago and Virginia Tech losing in overtime against Florida. The Big Ten is 3-3 so far and two of the wins came against the ACC.

This might not be predictive. Michigan shouldn't be on upset alert in a 1 vs. 16 game on Saturday because Ohio State couldn't handle business. Florida State and Virginia probably aren't any more or less likely to lose Saturday based on what has happened already. But if you believe in the fortunes of a conference being tied to all teams, maybe you should start backing the 4-0 Big 12 instead.

Not everyone was celebrating Friday's big upset of Oral Roberts over Ohio State. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Not everyone was celebrating Friday's big upset of Oral Roberts over Ohio State. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Favorites and unders win on Friday

One theme Friday was how many games seemed to start slowly and get stuck far below the under. Most notably, what was supposed to be a run-and-gun Clemson-Arkansas game with a fun over/under of 157.5 was 2-0 two minutes in, just 5-5 nearing the first media timeout and that was really bad for over bettors. It got to 153 points with a couple strong Arkansas runs but it was not enough for bettors to cash over tickets.

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West Virginia's 84-67 win over Morehead State made it 9-7 for favorites and unders. Not a crazy split but something worth noting. In the First Four on Thursday, favorites were 0-4 against the spread and the under was 1-3.

First-half unders have been the best bet of the tournament. The record for first-half unders is 15-4-1 through the first two days of the tournament, according to BetMGM data analyst John Ewing. 

Friday's worst beat

Liberty was +7.5 vs. Oklahoma State. Now just watch what happened at the end of the game, when Oklahoma State led by nine and Liberty had one of the most wide-open layups you'll see all tournament:

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Those are the kind of moments that have nothing to do with the outcome of the game but make March Madness an annual holiday for bettors. Even if some of the moments kick you in the gut.

The public does pretty well

Over at BetMGM, four teams were heavily bet among the public for Friday's games: Purdue, Texas Tech, Illinois and Rutgers. Purdue flamed out badly, but the other three teams covered. Texas Tech and Illinois did so fairly easily.

The biggest liability BetMGM had was on Tennessee due to some bigger bets, and that was never a concern. The Volunteers got run out by No. 12 seed Oregon State from the opening tip and lost by 14 points as an 8.5-point favorite.

We'll see how the public does on Saturday:

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Gonzaga's big line

The Bulldogs are the tournament favorites, and that's reflected in their first-round line.

There are some big lines in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but rarely this big. Gonzaga is a 33.5-point favorite over Norfolk State. The last time a tournament spread was more than 30 was 2015, when an undefeated Kentucky team opened as a 32.5-point favorite against Hampton, a line that rose to 34.5 and even 35 in some spots. Kentucky won 79-56, with Hampton comfortably covering the spread.

There were only three spreads that were 20 points or more in Friday's games. Illinois and Houston covered their huge spreads, while Baylor didn't cover -25 when Hartford got a layup with 22 seconds left to cover.

There's only one other spread of 20 or more in the first round: Michigan is a 25.5-point favorite over Texas Southern.

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