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NCAA Tournament Over/Under Betting: The Art of Playing the Point Total During March Madness

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As most FanDuel readers are aware, the 2020 NCAA tourney has been cancelled due to fears of the spreading Coronavirus. But if the sadly-shortened college hoops season has you pining for the hardwood, it’s not too early to get a jump on 2021.

Scroll ahead for a primer on betting the Final Four in April.

The line between gambling on a team’s odds and cheering for cheering’s sake can be blurry. Perhaps an NCAA Tournament speculator puts her money on the home team, making the rooting-for-alma-mater experience even more intense. Others have been known to bet against their local university in the big dance. The idea is to charm the team with a “hex” from a ne’er-do-well prognosticator, and if they happen to lose anyway, the sting of hometown defeat comes with a “consolation prize” of sportsbook winnings. 

Long-shot odds on the springtime college basketball March Madness tournament create brand-new fans of Division 1 programs. Somewhere out there, there’s a dedicated Loyola-Chicago Ramblers or Wichita State Shockers mark who got to know the school – and the team – while betting on their long-shot futures odds and watching with delight as Cinderella danced in the Final Four. 

Loyola-Chicago’s odds to reach the Final Four were as long as 100-to-1 during the 2018 season. With a payoff of $100 on every $1 gambled, that’s a lot of gratitude for the ’18 Ramblers. 

You can always tell when a point spread is “wide,” or handicapped with a large margin-of-victory, in an NCAA basketball game. A sports bar’s clientele will remain interested in the action long after a winner has been determined. Did you really think that lady yelling for garbage-time treys would be cheering for St. John’s to lose while wearing red? She could care less about St. John’s. But she’s got 3 units on Georgetown to cover (-14) points. 

There’s 1 kind of NCAA Tournament betting market that comes with no such misunderstandings, no school pennants, and no having to choose seats carefully in a restaurant filled with Auburn and Alabama boosters. Gamblers on Over/Under basketball markets need no long odds Cinderella run, and do not require Ws or Ls to satisfy their Saturday nights. For the O/U expert, the odds on college hardwood are all about science – pure prediction-making without any team preference or allegiance. 

To be sure, there is profit to be made in O/U gambling on the NCAA Tournament. But there are pitfalls too. Let’s take a closer look at the ups and downs (and dos and don’ts) of Over/Under betting on the madness of March.

Basics of O/U Betting on the NCAA Tournament

Over/Under betting is the simplest and easiest-to-understand genre of markets found at FanDuel Sportsbook

Basketball lines are set to a round number like (120) or halved fractions like (135.5), representing the number of points that the bookmaker (or the gambling public) expects both teams to combine to score in the game. Gamblers then select “Over” (120) or “Under” (120) points and observe the contest, winning if the final score tallies over or under 120 points in accordance with their Over or Under wager. 

If a basketball game with a round “(120)”-style Over/Under line finishes with a score that matches the expected point tally exactly, such as a final score of 64-56, then all bets are returned in an outcome known as a “push.” 

The March Madness betting odds on Over/Under wagers are separate from the O/U line (the number of points). Odds will promise something close to a 1-to-1 payoff on either side of the O/U market, for instance (-110) (or $100 winner’s payout per $110 risk) on the Over and (-110) odds on the Under as well. Occasionally, a bookmaker will choose to offer fatter odds on a side of the action, offering (+105) (or $105 payout per $100 risk) odds on winning Under bets, for instance. But when that occurs, the Over can be expected to fall at odds of (-125) or (-130) odds to balance-out the numbers and the risk for the sportsbook.

Why Do NCAA Tournament Gamblers Bet on the O/U?

Over/Under betting on college basketball becomes more popular at “tourney time” because NCAA hoops has such an explosion of early-spring interest. Elimination games are watched more on TV, so all odds on March match-ups will receive more action than usual. 

But the O/U bet becomes a hotter ticket in March for another reason – because the consistent tactics of coaches give the gambler the upper hand. 

Random chance works against the handicapper and in favor of the Sin City odds-maker. After all, if all wagers at (-105) odds worked against a coin-flip’s chances forever, no millionaire sports-betting tycoons would exist. Why are traditional NHL puck lines set to 1 and ½ goals with (-105) odds or (-110) payoffs? Because the likelihood of empty-net goals serves to turn 1-goal games into 2-goal wins and spoil the best handicapping. 

We’ve gone over the hilarity and horror of regular-season Over/Under betting on college basketball in some other NCAA Tournament blog posts already. Goofy decision-making by a head coach can turn a 55-48 final score into 72-61, or vice-versa during the season. Teams that normally take down the throttle in garbage-time start popping 3-pointers left and right when you’ve got the Under. Fast-break teams suddenly bust out a new half-court offense look 9 minutes into the 1st half…when you’ve got the Over, that is. 

In the NCAA Tournament, things settle down somewhat from a final-score prediction POV. We can expect schools that are losing late in the 2nd half to play a fouling game, to try to force missed free throws and subsequent fast-break points. It can run-up a final-score total by 10 or 20 points in the final 1:30. But at least we know what’s coming in advance. 

It’s also easier to tell when games are likely to be lopsided. Contenders find ways to “coast” against lowly conference foes during the winter, escaping rival arenas with 10 or 12-point victories. The same isn’t likely to happen when a #1 seed has a chance to put-away a #16 seed early-on in the NCAA Tournament. That’s good news for O/U bettors who prefer to pick the “Under” when they can, because the threat of OT lurks otherwise. 

Overtime is a killer for Under bets, almost always taking the final score well over the Over/Under betting total. But it’s a blessing for occasional Over bettors who got everything wrong and were saved by Lady Luck. OT is a pitfall that the Under-market gambler can’t always help, since some of the best low-side handicaps occur in the biggest games.

Factors in NCAA Tournament Over/Under Outcomes

Basic things that make an NCAA Tournament game high or low scoring, such as shooting %, average tempo of the teams on offense, and interior size and strength are already factored-into a sportsbook’s opening Over/Under line and payout odds for that particular contest. What O/U gamblers must figure out is when the prognostication is likely to fail – when is a high Over/Under total too high? And when will a pair of staid, defensive teams let loose on the hardwood and produce a big point total that blows-out a tiny O/U line? 

High-powered #1 and #2 seeds tend to come with healthy O/U totals as elite NBA prospects take on overmatched defenses. But at some point, during the grind of an NCAA Tournament, every school has to slow its offense down a notch. #12 seed Liberty scored 80 points in a high-flying 2019 upset of #5 Mississippi State, but was summarily trounced by Virginia Tech in a slower-paced 67-58 outcome. Gonzaga’s offense was a house-on-fire in the ’19 tourney until the Bulldogs ran into Florida State. 

Injury problems at the big dance cause coaches to call for measured-tempo offense and lock-down defense even when an early-round opponent is vulnerable. More than anything, the time-honored correlation between the Over/Under outcome and favorite vs underdog betting odds is being challenged by a new era of defense-oriented basketball. 

Old-time handicappers have always found a connection between “Over” outcomes (or high-scoring games) and the favorite’s thin odds paying-off on the moneyline. Ever since NBA teams tried to stall the ball against George Mikan’s L.A. Lakers, the basic idea has been that a super-athletic favorite prefers a high-scoring game while a lowly underdog benefits from a low-scoring game. Bookmakers took care to ban “correlated parlays” in basketball and other sporting events that included wagers on the Under (total points) and also the underdog’s fat payout odds. 

That’s not always the case these days, as NBA and NCAA winners are showing that defense can control the game for the team with shorter odds too. 

Virginia took heated criticism for allowing too many ‘dogs to stay in the fight after losing to UMBC 74-54 in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Pundits felt that with UVA engaged in so many tight, low-scoring games without explosive offense from either side, the Cavaliers were asking to be upset in the big dance. But head coach Tony Bennett stuck defiantly to the system, and Virginia’s offense began to produce exactly as many points as its amazing defense needed to carry the day. UVA did not win a game by more than 15 points at the 2019 tourney, and won its last 4 contests by a combined 18 – scoring just 68 regulation points in the final vs Texas Tech before another OT period rocked the airwaves and gave Over gamblers a cherry on their Mondays.

Tips for Betting the O/U on NCAA Tournament Games

A tactic for postseason Over/Under betting success is watching for teams’ shooting % to stray far from their average numbers in the 1st round. That can produce O/U lines on the 2nd round that are either too high, anticipating a consistent NBA-like production level from an NCAA offense and transition game, or too low, anticipating a team that got through the 1st round on spit and vinegar will continue to shoot ice-cold and rely on defense. 

For example, Minnesota scored 86 points in a 2019 1st Round upset of Louisville, leading pundits to think that a shoot-out might occur between the Golden Gophers and 2nd-round opponent Michigan State…which had played a reasonably high-scoring opener against Bradley. But Minnesota’s field goal % vs Louisville was 50%, and the Gophers went better than 40% from beyond the arc while beating the Cardinals. Both of those statistics were far more positive than the Gophers’ season-averages of 43.5% and 31.7% respectively, but that didn’t stop the O/U from pushing (135) points. 

Minnesota went a terrible 2-of-22 from 3-point range in the 2nd Round as Michigan State prevailed 70-50, an outcome that won on the Under as easily as Michigan State had won the Round of 32.

NCAA Tournament Over/Under Live Betting Tip

Betting on “reversion” can be an even-better tactic with the information provided to the live, in-play gambler. After all, you’re watching the 2 teams play and basing a prediction off of the teams’ form and current injury status. No pregame analysis can beat that. 

First, make sure you’re live-betting on an NCAA game with enough action that bookmakers won’t simply put software in charge. They’ll have to keep the betting action balanced instead. That’s not a problem when it comes to the NCAA Tournament in March, in which FanDuel Sportsbook and other legal sports betting providers are always busy during halftime adjusting lines and odds based on a furious 1st-half of gambling action.

Watch for the live O/U total to plummet on a 1st-round NCAA Tournament game with ice-cold shooting in the 1st half. Chances are, the betting public is giving the defenses too much credit, and allowing the “bummer” of a low point total to discourage Over bets. That’s when the Over is usually a solid bet. If a pair of typically low-scoring teams come out red-hot in the opening minutes, the O/U total will rise quickly due to the exciting vibe. Wait for the number to peak, and then bet the Under, trusting that the basket-bonanza will end. 

It’s true that fouls are a wild-card that can thwart such a system. Fouls can put a cold team on the charity stripe and thus improve its odds of finding a shooting rhythm, or put a top scorer in foul trouble just as a starting lineup gets rolling. 

However, the in-play basketball gambler has a leg-up on the fouling scenario too. Pay attention to the referee’s worst episodes during the game, if there are any. How are the teams and their coaches reacting to a tight or loose whistle? 

So long as fouls are called in a manner that each school’s coach expects ahead of time, fouls taken by no-name players are likely to be “strategic” and worked-into a team’s overall game plan for keeping a tourney opponent’s point total down. But when an NBA blue-chipper takes 3 fouls in the 1st 15:00, or (alternatively) is allowed to strong-arm opposing centers in the paint with nary a whistle, live-bettors should be on their toes with notepad in hand. 

The Over/Under might be more about science than team colors or gut feelings. But following gut feelings – and betting on that trusty hometown mascot – can be dangerous when games follow games in a crazy March setting. It’s impossible to pick every winner at the NCAA Tournament. With the O/U, you can have fun without trying to.

Alternative Betting Odds on the Big Dance

Variety is the name of the game in NCAA Tournament bids, and there’s plenty of variety at FanDuel Sportsbook on the college hoops side of the action. 

Click around our blog to check on the latest NCAA Men’s National Championship futures odds, and discover tips on how to carefully pick a solid bracket

To explore individual-game betting odds other than Over/Under lines, check out our tutorials and tips on moneyline, point spread, and prop betting on the annual big dance. 

Be sure to sign up at FanDuel well ahead of time – the NCAA Tournament may occur in March (and April) but odds on the greatest hoops squads are changing year ‘round.

FanDuel Inc is not affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA®) or March Madness Athletic Association, neither of which has supplied, reviewed, approved or endorsed the material on this site. FanDuel Inc is solely responsible for this site but makes no guarantee about the accuracy or completeness of the information herein.

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