Final Four Betting Action Report: Are Tight Lines Keeping Sharp Bettors Away?
The NCAA Tournament is the most bet on sporting event in the United States and after three weeks of action, we’re down to the Final Four. The Elite 8 produced four entertaining games that went own to the wire for fans and bettors. Can we expect more heart-pounding action in the Final Four? We spoke to oddsmakers to find out how bettors are wagering on the Final Four.
Sportsbooks win again
The phrase “The house always wins” isn’t completely accurate. Sportsbooks do lose from time to time but that hasn’t been the case in the NCAA Tournament, according to the oddsmakers we spoke to this week. The Westgate LV SuperBook and William Hill are both having good tournaments with bettors coming out ahead on just one of the eight days heading into Saturday.
“Outside of the first weekend where we lost a little bit on that last game Sunday, it’s been as good a tournament as I can remember” said Westgate sportsbook manager Ed Salmons. “Last weekend we won all four days. That’s hard to do when you only have a couple games a day. We did really well.”
“It’s been good. Not great, but good,” added Nick Bogdanovich, Director of Trading at William Hill. “We’ve won seven of the eight days. The first Sunday of the tournament we got whacked pretty good. Overall though, I’m very satisfied with the handle.”
The trend was the same in New Jersey where sportsbooks took bets on the NCAA Tournament for the first time this year. Ron Shell, VP of customer and insights at PointsBet, said the book exceeded expectations on the NCAA Tournament with three games left to play.
“It’s been fantastic. We’ve exceeded our lofty expectations in terms activity and handle,” said Shell. “Overall, it’s been very successful, especially with Gonzaga and Duke no longer in the tournament. Those were our biggest liabilities, so that has worked out well. We couldn’t be happier.”
Tight lines keeping sharp bettors away?
One thing a few oddsmakers noted is there is little value in lines once we get to the Final Four. The numbers are so tight, it even drives away some sharp bettors who make a living by exploiting soft lines.
“Sharps aren’t betting this time of year,” Salmons said. “There’s zero value for them. The only guys betting now are number guys who are trying to take even money on the money line and +1 the other way. They’re not really sharp guys. Sharps don’t find enough value in these numbers.”
While bets are coming in on the Final Four, a majority of the wagers, especially the large ones, will be placed on Saturday before tip-off. Most of that will be public money.
“We took one big bet on Michigan State but overall it’s been quiet,” said Bogdanovich. “It’s typical though. Come Saturday, we’ll have big, big money in the pot. There’s no doubt about it.”
Here is a look at Saturday’s Final Four matchups:
Virginia (-5.5, 131) vs. Auburn
Auburn enters the Final Four as the hottest team in the country. The Tigers have won 12 straight games and are 3-1 ATS in the NCAA Tournament with wins over New Mexico State, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.
The Cavaliers advanced to the Final Four after a thrilling overtime win over Purdue. Virginia covered as 4.5-point favorites thanks to late free throws, winning 80-75. (A pretty heartbreaking and stunning beat for Purdue backers, overall.) The Cavaliers are 2-2 ATS in the NCAA Tournament but come into the game ranked second in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency by KenPom.
Auburn set an SEC record for most three pointers attempted and made this season. They face a tough test versus a Virginia defense that holds teams to just 28.7 percent from beyond the arc. Auburn is deep but will be without F Chuma Okeke (12.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg), who injured his knee in the win over North Carolina.
The line opened 5.5 at most books and it hasn’t moved off that number as of Thursday. At William Hill, bettors are taking the points with over 70 percent of the tickets and money on Auburn +5.5. At DraftKings Sportsbook, 79 percent of the money was on Auburn as of Thursday evening.
“I think the public likes to take underdogs more in the NCAA Tournament than during the season,” said Bogdanovich. “That’s been the trend throughout he tournament and early on, it’s continuing into the Final Four.”
The oddsmakers we talked to say the early betting handle was bigger on the Texas Tech-Michigan State game as of Thursday. At PointsBet, the ticket count was 2-1 in favor of the late game on Saturday but they still took some large wagers on Virginia -5.5.
“We’ve taken some big bets on Virginia from our sharp and regular customers,” said Shell. “It’s not generating as much interest as the Texas Tech game but early bettors are taking Virginia.”
Different sportsbooks have different liabilities on certain teams depending on odds and customer base. At the MGM, Virginia is the one team the sportsbook doesn’t want to see cut the nets down Monday night.
“Our biggest problem is with Virginia,” MGM’s vice president of race and sports, Jay Rood, told RotoGrinders. “We had some fairly big play on Virginia at 12/1 a couple of months ago. That’s basically the one team we want to avoid.”
Michigan State (-2.5, 132.5) vs. Texas Tech
Auburn may be the hottest team in the country but an argument can be made that Michigan State and Texas Tech are playing the best basketball heading into the Final Four. Michigan State is coming of a blowout of LSU and a thrilling last-second win over overall No. 1 seed Duke. The Spartans are 3-1 ATS in the NCAA Tournament after failing to cover as 18.5-point favorites in a 76-65 opening round win over Bradley. Michigan State ranks in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
No team is playing better than the Red Raiders. After getting upset by West Virginia in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament, Texas Tech has defeated Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, Michigan and Gonzaga, going 4-0 ATS the spread. The Red Raiders rank No. 1 in defensive efficiency by KenPom.
While the defense gets all the headlines, Texas Tech’s offense has been just as good over the last two months. Since losing to Kansas on Feb. 2, the Red Raiders rank No. 1 in offensive efficiency as well, and Texas Tech has topped 70 points in three of its four NCAA Tournament games.
The number opened Michigan State -3 at most sportsbooks but quickly went down to 2.5. Bettors could still get Texas Tech +3 at DraftKings Sportsbook as of Wednesday but by Thursday morning that number was down to 2.5 as well.
“We were surprised how high the Texas Tech-Michigan State opened,” said Salmons. “We were thinking -2. It came in at 2.5 and the market moved right to -3 and even 3.5 at some places. We were quick to get it back down to 2.5 because we thought that number is as high as that game should be.”
At PointsBet, bettors are not just taking the points with the Red Raiders, many are backing Texas Tech to win outright by betting the moneyline.
“We have 99 percent of our money line bets and 64 percent of our point spread bets on Texas Tech,” said Shell. “Right now, Texas Tech is the team everyone seems to be backing.”
One sportsbook rooting for Texas Tech is the Golden Nugget. Sportsbook director Tony Miller told us before the tournament that Michigan State was easily their biggest liability.
“We took a large bet on Michigan State to win it all earlier in the year,” said Miller. “We lose in the six-figure range on them.”