It’s time to take a different approach to the college basketball futures market. That is to use a futures mindset to anticipate potential in-tournament plays before the field of 68 is announced.
Get ahead now on the NCAA Tournament first-round matchups that tend to get the most attention: the 5-12 and 8-9 games. A folklore quality surrounds the 5-12 game because it’s fertile territory for upsets, and 8-9 is theoretically the closest matchup.
Since the field expanded in 1985, the 12th seed has won 50 games straight up and fallen 90 times, a juicy 35.71 winning percentage. Of those 50 winners, 19 also won the next round’s game.
In the 2019 tournament, 12th seeds won three of the four games. Even in the lone win by a fifth seed, Auburn over New Mexico State, the underdog still covered.
From 2015-19, the variance of the spreads in those games ranged from -12 to -1, with the average spread being -6.95. Clearly, bookmakers value 12 seeds more than the selection committee does.
For the 8-9 game since 1985, the lower seed has a winning record at 72-68. Once again looking at what happened in the last tournament played, the eighth seed lost each game. The eighth seed was favored in all four games with a range of spreads of -3.5 to -1.5.
But make sure not to fall prey to recency and confirmation bias and just blindly bet 12 and 9. Of course, the lower seeds very well might be the play. That decision needs to come after using all the relevant data in the handicapping toolbox.
In the 5-12 and 8-9 games, pay attention to the coaches’ individual NCAA Tournament histories.
College basketball coaches’ decisions before the tournament, such as the travel schedule and scouting, as well as during games, tend to have the most significant ramifications of any decision-makers in sports. That is why previous tournament performance is a good variable to factor in during March handicapping.
So to start prepping for what awaits. Look at the bracketology sites, such as Bracketmatrix.com, and see which teams are currently slotted in these four seeding slots. These games might not take place because the seeding is still so fluid, but it provides an idea of how these coaches have done in the tournament. A coach’s tournament win-loss record has more value this year because it’s becoming trendy to make straight moneyline plays.
That information, regardless of seeding, should be used during any bracket analysis.
For instance, Texas Tech’s Chris Beard has a 9-3 record in the NCAA Tournament — including 3-0 in the first round, 4-0 as a higher seed and 5-3 as a lower seed.
Creighton’s Greg McDermott has seen largely the opposite results — going 3-8 in the tournament overall, 3-5 in the first round, 3-3 as the higher seed and 0-5 as the lower seed.
Legend Tom Izzo of Michigan State is 52-21 overall in the NCAAs. His teams have gone 17-5 in the first round, 38-10 as the higher seed and 14-11 as the lower seed. Keep that in mind if the Spartans end up seeded 11th or 12th.