A mostly thrilling NCAA Tournament ended Monday night when the University of Connecticut lopsidedly completed a coronation with its sixth double-digit victory in six tournament games.
UConn thrashed San Diego State 76-59, finishing the tournament with an average scoring margin of 20 points per game, the highest by a national champion since Villanova in 2018. At one point, the Huskies held the Aztecs without a field goal for more than 11 minutes of the first half before heading to the locker room with a 12-point lead.
While a late scoring flurry rewarded holders of tickets on the game to go over 132.5 points, point totals trended toward the under for the vast majority of March Madness. For the 67 games over the three-week span, ESPN reported that the under cashed 40 times — an impressive clip of 59.7%.
Favorites went 32-32-1 against the spread in the NCAA tournament (two games closed at pick 'em), per @ESPNStatsInfo database.
There were 27 overs and 40 unders.
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) April 4, 2023
Go low with the under
Through the opening weekend of the tournament, the under ruled the roost. Of the first 44 games in March Madness, the under prevailed a remarkable 33 times at BetMGM, as rugged teams such as San Diego State and Tennessee flexed their muscles on defense. For customers who wagered $100 per game, betting on the over would have resulted in a return on investment (ROI) of minus-52.3%, or a loss of more than $2,500.
During the last 37 seasons, the over has gone 17-20 in NCAA title games, according to Vegas Insider, including 4-9 since 2010. When evaluating totals for all tournament games, bettors taking the over have returned a negative ROI in five consecutive tournaments. Over that span, the ROI averaged minus-21.0%.
While it is difficult to pinpoint a single factor, there appears to be a litany of reasons on why the under continues to hit at a fairly high rate. Some wonder if there is a talent drain in college basketball with the introduction of new minor league teams that allow prospects to bypass college without entering the NBA directly from high school.
Overtime Elite, an Atlanta-based league launched in 2021, offers players a minimum guaranteed salary of $100,000 a year, along with a salary bonus, and the possibility of shares in the company’s larger business. G-League Ignite, an NBA G League team that features high school and foreign prospects, offers salaries of up to $500,000 per prospect.
Heralded NBA draft prospect Scoot Henderson left a lasting impression with G League Ignite. “He’s a better person than a basketball player. That’s incredible to say about a 19-year-old.” @andscape #nba #nbadraft https://t.co/W1pZZJ5l01
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) March 29, 2023
Rated as the No. 1 high school prospect by ESPN, Jalen Green spent the 2020-21 season with G-League Ignite before the Houston Rockets selected him with the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. For this year’s draft, NBADraft.net projects three players from the teams to be selected among the top six picks.
With elite prospects bypassing college, several top defensive squads prospered in March Madness. In the week leading to the Final Four, former Villanova coach Steve Lappas questioned the physicality of the game on an appearance on SiriusXM College Sports Radio. There is a tendency among some referees to ignore the “initial point of contact,” involving physical play in the low post, in Lappas’ estimation. Instead, referees will allow the physical play to continue before whistling a foul on “third contact,” or even later.
My issue is with the way the game is officiated. Nothing wrong with taking advantage when you’re allowed to take the game into the mud. It’s what the Aztecs should do.
But it ain’t fun to watch when the game is allowed to be played like that. It just isn’t. I’m sorry.
— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 28, 2023
Reputed for its defensive prowess, Tennessee allowed 56.3 points per game in three tournament contests. San Diego State, meanwhile, gave up 57.3 points per game en route to the Final Four, before allowing 70-plus points in each of its two games in Houston.
By comparison, UNLV set an NCAA record for points in a tournament with 571 over six games in 1990 (95.2 ppg).
Opting for cash bets, rather than the office pool
Bettors dealt with an unprecedented opening weekend, rife with upsets throughout. Princeton, the No. 15 seed in the South Region, shocked South No. 2 Arizona. A day later, East No. 16 Fairleigh Dickson eliminated No. 1 Purdue, representing only the second time a 16 seed defeated a 1 seed in tournament history. It also marked the first time that a No. 15 seed and No. 16 seed advanced to the Round of 32 in the same tournament.
Over the first week of the tournament, 59% of bettors who wagered on the event did not fill out a bracket, according to a National Research Group (NRG) Sports survey. The findings are in line with data from last year’s tournament, when 60% of bettors bypassed a bracket, according to Jay Kaufman, who serves as executive vice president, head of sports at NRG.
“There is a definitely a social aspect to brackets, and the fact that people haven’t been in the office as much has certainly had an impact on interest,” Kaufman told Sports Handle. “People who were previously interested in sports betting often had to rely on brackets to get their fix. Now, with legalized online gambling, there are many more options.”
Since brackets can become useless when a contestant’s champion is eliminated early, people still want a reason to engage in the tournament throughout March Madness. Online sports betting provides an outlet. Its online survey was conducted among 1,001 American sports fans ages 18-64 on March 19-20, according to NRG Sports.
Player protections from unruly bettors
As young players including teenagers are thrust into the spotlight during March Madness, the issue of robust safeguards from overzealous bettors remains in focus. In recent weeks, NBA players Bradley Beal and Chris Boucher, have aired concerns about unruly bettors taking out their anger against players for losing props. Beal, a three-time NBA All-Star, got into an altercation with a fan last month after the spectator claimed that Beal caused him to lose $1,300.
Earlier in the season, Dayton coach Anthony Grant excoriated those who had attacked his college players on social media. Shortly after, Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan confirmed that several players were targeted by angry bettors in the first month of legal sports betting in Ohio. Since the historic PASPA decision in 2018, one of the most disturbing patterns of behavior came from Benjamin “Parlay” Patz, a professional bettor. In June 2021, Patz was sentenced to 36 months of probation in connection with a series of menacing threats to athletes.
While politicians and regulators are overreacting to NYT hit pieces and freaking out about advertising and such, the REAL existential threat to sports betting lies in the toxic combination of social media and problematic gamblers:https://t.co/3cC33ljRuo
— Eric Raskin + (@EricRaskin) April 4, 2023
In relation to the college game, Patz reportedly told an unidentified Pepperdine player via Instagram that he would sever his throat “with a dull knife” while burning and beheading his family alive. Patz allegedly sent 18 messages from his Instagram account to pro football, college football, and college basketball athletes, according to a federal complaint. On another occasion, Patz contacted a University of Arizona basketball player with the following note after a 2019 defeat to St. John’s: “Your worthlessness costed me over $100,000$ tonight! Sad!”
In terms of student-athlete welfare issues related to sports betting, the NCAA has created a two-pronged approach for managing challenging issues on sports wagering. The first is split into two categories: safeguards for player harassment and problem gambling, with the second bucket focused on integrity.
“I have nothing but confidence that we’re going to continue to find ways to lead in this area and support student-athletes,” said Mark Hicks, NCAA managing director on enforcement and development, in an interview with Sports Handle. “Anything we do, the strategies will fit into those two buckets.”