NCAA Tournament betting: Looking back at a weekend of madness
As is the case every year during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, there were plenty of notable betting moments. If I were on deadline, like a beat writer sitting in an arena building my story to be sent as close to the final buzzer as possible, my submission would be ready, and all that would be left to do would be to cross some t's and dot some i's before Gonzaga and TCU put a bow on the weekend. Then, I'd CTRL+SHIFT+SELECT ALL+DEL the whole thing when this happened:
In terms of betting-centric moments, the Horned Frogs covering +4.5 and putting the game over with one unguarded shot after Gonzaga was up seven with 15 seconds left and inbounding the ball is the definition of a bad beat.
So with that late-arriving pinnacle of the first two rounds and with the benefit of hindsight, let's look back at the rest of the best bets and bad beats of March Madness.
Best bet: Anything involving Princeton
We'd collectively gotten away from picking Ivy League teams, as they hadn't won a tourney game since 2010, but 15-seed Princeton was a 15-point underdog to Arizona, winning outright at +750. Then, the Tigers followed their New Jersey brethren - Saint Peter's from 2022 - by winning their second-round game. It was clear almost instantly that Princeton was beating its fellow Tigers - Missouri. While they were only 6.5-point underdogs, a sweat-free winner is a bettor's dream.
Worst beat: Charleston (+5.5) vs. San Diego State
Somewhere out there, someone had both Charleston +5.5 and Alabama -22.5. That person would be better suited to say which beat was worse, but we'll give the Cougars the nod.
The tiebreaker is that Charleston was inside the number for the vast majority of the game. Also, those without the sound up might not have heard the whistle on a foul that was multiple hacks in the making. The clock ran out, but the referee was staunch in his belief that he called the foul - not with enough time left for it to matter to Charleston, but enough for it to matter to everyone else. After a review put less than a second on the clock, up four points - pushing the line for those of us with San Diego State -4 - the Aztecs' Micah Parrish went to the line and hit both to cover all numbers.
Best bet: Fairleigh Dickinson
If I was more vindictive, I would have given this nod to "fading Purdue," but we didn't even get a chance to bet against the Boilermakers in the second round as they became the second (and first fully healthy) team to lose to a 16-seed. That No. 16 was Fairleigh Dickinson, who finished the tournament 3-0 against the spread and, by the way, pulled off the biggest upset in March Madness history as 24-point underdogs and as high as 20-1 on the moneyline.
Worst beat: Kentucky vs. Kansas State Under 142
During a week when the under was hitting at a historic rate, it would stand to reason that the worst beat in the East Region was a game that actually went over. Kentucky and Kansas State combined for 129 points with just 37 seconds left.
They proceeded to trade K-State free throws for Kentucky buckets - one of which was a largely meaningless 3-pointer from Antonio Reeves with eight seconds left, particularly galling considering he missed his previous 14 shots.
Best bet: Pittsburgh vs. Iowa State Under 131.5
Technically, Arizona-Princeton went under their total by more points, but none of the many unders this weekend got home easier than Pittsburgh-Iowa State. For an over ticket to cash, you need both teams to contribute points, but 10 minutes in, Iowa State only had two. There was little threat of a dreaded overtime to help the scoring as Pittsburgh maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half, cruising to a 59-41 win.
Worst beat: Drake (+4) vs. Miami
Drake at any number was a tough one for those looking to bet on the Bulldogs, and since they opened +4 and were bet down to +2, there were a few of them. The Bulldogs led Miami by eight and had the ball with under five minutes to go. After turnovers and misses of all varieties, Drake was outscored 15-1 the rest of the way, and the Hurricanes covered all numbers.
Best bet: Arkansas
UConn, TCU, and Northwestern also went 2-0 ATS this weekend, but none of them combined winning relatively easily in a pick'em game with a moneyline upset as well. Arkansas took care of Illinois early and fought back to knock off Kansas. Now the Hogs' 19-1 payout to win the West Region is live, as they're only 3.5-point underdogs to UConn in the Sweet 16. Only Princeton and Florida Atlantic were longer shots for the Final Four and beyond, but they don't have a handful of NBA prospects on their roster like Arkansas does.
Worst beat: St. Mary's vs. UConn Over 125.5
Since Gonzaga-TCU was the headliner, we'll add in an under-the-radar beat. With 2:02 left, Adama Sanogo scored to make it 70-52, and 15 seconds later, he fouled Saint Mary's Augustas Marciulionis, sending him to the line. Three points away from sending the game over the total, Marciulionis made one of two free throws. The next 107 seconds featured five turnovers and a missed 3-pointer, layup, and free throw each. The total fell one short at 70-55, befitting a tournament where the under has gone 35-17.
Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.
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