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Will Favorites Rule Again in Sweet 16 & Elite 8?

   by Scott Spreitzer - 03/23/2009

Last year during the NCAA tournaments I discussed how college hoops had become top heavy. The elite teams were REALLY good…and had moved further ahead “of the packâ€쳌 than the betting markets had realized.

Ultimately, the top four seeds all advanced to the Final Four for the first time ever. They were able to do that by being absolutely DOMINANT in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds.

Let’s review what happened last year with the top seeds:


North Carolina (-8) beat Washington State 68-47 (up 35-21 at the half)

UCLA (-13) beat Western Kentucky 88-78 (up 41-20 at the half)

Memphis (-5) beat Michigan State 92-74 (up 50-20 at the half!)

Kansas (-12) beat Villanova 72-57 (up 41-22 at the half)


North Carolina (-5) beat Louisville 83-73 (up 44-32 at the half)

UCLA (-6) beat Xavier 76-57 (up 33-24 at the half)

Memphis (-3) beat Texas 85-67 (up 39-28 at the half)

Kansas (-9) beat Davidson 59-58 (up 30-28 at the half)

It was an amazing weekend for the powers needless to say. They went 6-2 ATS for the full games even though the lines were high because the public was betting them hand over fist. The public loves betting on big name teams, and particularly when the seedings confirm their greatness. I know several professional wagerers in Las Vegas who thought they would make a killing taking all of the points in these two rounds last year. They spent the weekend yelling at the TV!

If you bet first halves, which are available here in Las Vegas, the favorites went 7-1 ATS. So, that’s a combined 13-3 ATS for the top seeds, the obvious national powers that everyone knew was great before the tournament even started!

Note how dominant those first halves were in terms of the victory margins. All seven “first halfâ€쳌 covers actually covered the full game spread in the first 20 minutes! North Carolina was up 14 at the half over Washington State laying just eight for the full game. Memphis won a half by 30 points! It’s as if every game was following the same script (except for Kansas/Davidson).

The betting markets literally had no idea that the top seeds were THAT much better than the field. Ironically, the “smart moneyâ€쳌 kept the lines from going higher because professional wagerers love betting against the public. Those are the guys who play first halves too. That 3-13 record in these games left quite a bruise.

Will we something similar this year with the superior seeds left in the brackets?

The temptation is to say NO, 2008 was a one-time fluke. It’s not like what we saw last year was par for the course. Usually the public-betting favorites are a bit overrated rather than underrated. Remember it was the first time ever all four top seeds reached the final weekend.

That being said, this isn’t a year that saw a depth of super teams across the landscape. Only a handful of powers really set themselves apart during the regular season. You shouldn’t be that shocked if members of that handful go for the jugular early in their games and post some impressive pointspread results. Who’s going to stop them? Last year’s underdogs just got out of the way and went home dejectedly.

Keys to remember:

*Watch and learn as things develop. Some longtime pros TOOK A BATH last year because they were muttering “this can’t keep happeningâ€쳌 all weekend long. It could. It did. The powers really were that much better than everyone else. Be ready to take the dogs if things return to normal, but don’t be afraid to lay the points if the elite continues to blow and go. If you’re a dog-heavy player, at least PASS the danger spots rather than betting with your fingers crossed.

*Review regular season results to see how the underdogs performed on the road against the best other teams in their conferences. That will be the closest you can get to simulating the task at hand for them. If the dogs weren’t consistently competitive in their “challengeâ€쳌 games, be careful asking them to be heroes this time around.

*Remember that blowouts are keyed by aggression from the favorite. All four of last year’s top seeds just flew at the basket out of the gate and dared you to stop them. First weekend survivors who DON’T do that are less likely to post great results. Just like in poker, aggression is rewarded. Bet on aggression. Don’t stand in the way of it and hope the refs call a charging foul on the guy who busted your nose.

*Be sure to incorporate arena conditions into your handicapping. Two sites will be in football stadiums (Indianapolis and Phoenix), where shooting backdrops may be odd. You don’t want to bet on underdogs who rely on contributions from the perimeter. Flying at the basket is an even stronger approach for a favorite when the dog is trying to stay in the game launching bombs in a dome.

The NCAA Tournament has been very entertaining so far. You’ve reached a potential danger spot on the road to the championship. Don’t swerve off the road in a spinout that resembles something like that 3-13 underdog disaster from last year. Drive carefully and smart…and you’ll reach your destination in great shape!

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