26 Sep

The 11 March Madness Betting First-Round Trends You Need to Know

Any experienced NCAAB bettor knows March Madness’ reputation for upsets, buzzer-beaters, and more havoc than a Shaka Smart defense on amphetamines. But is there really as much chaos to the tournament as there appears, or are have we all fallen victim to YouTube bias? Even though you’ve watched the highlights of #15 Lehigh beating #2 Duke 35 times, it still only happened once.

To get a more accurate sense of how March Madness tends to play out, eschew the videos and look to the trends. Below are 11 of the best, strangest, and most-bankable trends for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

1. Only one #1 seed has ever lost in the first round.

Alonzo Mourning as a Hoya
Alonzo Mourning’s Hoyas nearly fell as a #1 seed in 1989 … but they didn’t.

We will get to stats you haven’t already heard a thousand times in short order, but every March Madness trends article has to start here. In 2018, when #16 UMBC beat #1 Virginia, it was the first time a #1 seed had ever lost in the first round.

Prior to that, only two #16 seeds had ever lost by less than a bucket:

#1 Georgetown 50-49 #16 Princeton
#1 Oklahoma 72-71 #16 East Tennessee State

Top seeds are now 135-1 against #16 seeds.

2. The #1 seeds win at least two games 86% of the time.

After feasting on lowly #16 seeds, the top dogs still have room for dessert: #1 seeds are 116-19 (85.9% win-rate) in the second round since 1985. That’s significantly better than #2 seeds, which are just 85-43 (66.4% win-rate).

3. The #1 seeds cover the spread if it’s less than 20 points.

After the 2018 tournament, #1 seeds are 8-2 in their last 10 games when the point spread is less than 20.

4. The #7 seeds crush the #10 seeds.

Mo Wagner of the Michigan Wolverines
Mo Wagner and the #7 Wolverines beat #10 OK State in 2017.

That’s overstating it a bit, but given the NCAA Tournament’s reputation for upsets, a lot of amateur bracketologists assume that the #7 vs #10 matchups are basically toss-ups, and that’s not the least bit true. The #7 seeds have won at a 61.7% clip and are 84-52 all-time.

5. But the #10 seeds have staying power.

[When #10 seeds] survive the Round of 64, they’re batting nearly .500 in the Round of 32.

The history of #10 seeds in the first round isn’t great (see above). Yet, when they do survive the Round of 64, they’re batting nearly .500 in the Round of 32, going 24-29 all-time (45.2% win-rate). If there’s a #10 seed you love in the first round, take a hard look at their matchup in the second round and don’t assume they’ll be one-and-done.

6. The First-Four are primed for more!

Chimezi Metu of the USC Trojans
Chimezi Metu and the Trojans went from the First Four to the Round of 32 in 2017,

Ever since the tournament expanded to 68 teams and implemented the “First Four” (2011), one of the teams to advance from that preliminary section of the bracket has won its Round of 64 game, as well. Since 2013 (when LaSalle won three games as a #13), that’s meant a #11 seed upsetting a #6 in the first round.

In 2017, #11 USC knocked off #6 SMU. Last year, #11 Syracuse beat #6 TCU.

7. The #9 seeds are one-hit wonders.

The #8 vs #9 games are true coin-flips (70-66 since 1985), and the selection committee has long said that the eight teams grouped in the #8-9 range are treated as equals. That makes the discrepancy in their second-round success really strange: #8 seeds are 13-55 (19.1% win-rate), while #9 seeds are an atrocious 7-61 (10.3% win-rate).

#8 51.5% 19.5%
#9 48.5% 8%

8. Underdogs have covered 23 of the last 40 games between #8 & #9 seeds.

Again, #8 and #9 seeds are almost in a dead-heat over the last 33 years, and the parity has translated to the betting realm. Taking the points has been the wise move 57.5% of the time.

9. The #11 seeds are first-round phenoms.

Going back to the 2011 tournament, #11 seeds are … 19-17 [against #6 seeds].

Going back to the 2011 tournament, #11 seeds are over .500 against #6 seeds in the first round, going 19-17 in that span. In the 2017 tournament, Xavier, USC, and Rhode Island all won as #11 seeds, and Xavier advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.

Last season, both #11 Syracuse and #11 Loyola-Chicago won multiple games.

10. The #13 line is the parity cut-off.

Every year, talking-heads (and, to some extent, computer algorithms) detail the increased parity in the college game. It’s also well documented that #12 seeds (47-89 all-time; 34.5% win-rate) are basically as good as #11 seeds (51-85 all-time; 37.5% win-rate) in the Round of 64.

When you get to #13 seeds, though, David runs out of rocks and Goliath pulverizes the word parity between his heartless hands. What I’m trying to say is that #13 seeds are a dismal 28-108 (20.5% win-rate) in the Round of 64.

11. Some teams just can’t get off the schneid.

Nebraska facing Purdue in 2017
History indicates that Nebraska won’t win in the NCAA Tournament.

Neither Boise State (0-7), Nebraska (0-7), Belmont (0-7), nor Eastern Kentucky (0-8) has ever won a tournament game.

Contrast that with perennial mid-major power Gonzaga, which is 10-0 in the Round of 64 since 2009.

Looking for More March Madness Trend Analysis?

If you want to take your March Madness bets to the next level, you’ve come to the right place. Once the first round is in the rear-view mirror, check out our guide to perennial betting trends in the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8, as well as the 7 key attributes of March Madness winners.

If you’re in the market for sports betting strategy that you can apply to whichever sports you elect to bet on, we’ve got you covered as well. Get out there and grow your bankroll!

Meet the authors

Matt McEwan
Dave F.
Sports Writer
William Hill
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