March Madness is all about moments. The NCAA tournament burns these snippets into the brains of basketball fans every year: game-winning buzzer beaters, Cinderella runs, remarkable comebacks.
And on Thursday, the opening day of the NCAA Round of 64, I added another clip to my long list of unforgettable March Madness memories.
The No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers were getting trucked by No. 12 Middle Tennessee in their opening game of the tournament – a result many bettors and bracketeers had predicted, forcing MTU to move from +1 to -1.5 before tipoff.
The Blue Raiders held a 60-46 lead with about 9:30 left in the game when Gophers guard Amir Coffey buried a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to 11 points and forced a timeout from MTU head coach Kermit Davis. It was in this underwhelming moment of tournament play that I knew momentum was swinging toward Minnesota.
At the very same time, my wife and I are at our local pub taking in the NCAA action while also trying to feed our young kids a combination of three suppers (mine, hers, and the one we bought them that they refused to eat). In between sharing bites of my quesadilla with my daughter, I was able to pull out my phone and grab Minnesota +10.5 (-109) for a modest wager just before the broadcast returned to the TV above our heads.
From there, the Gophers would get as close as eight points thanks to a 15-9 run sparked by that 3-pointer and eventually lose the game 81-72, covering the +10.5 in-game spread with a meaningless jumper from Dupree McBrayer in the dying seconds. As a bonus, my kids ate and kept their shit together for a good two hours, allowing us to enjoy our first meal out as a family in months.
All in all, a very good March Madness moment - one that couldn’t have been possible without in-game wagering. In fact, my best wagers (those being my winning wagers) Thursday were mostly either in-game or halftime bets.
Events like the NCAA tournament are perfect for live betting, especially in the opening rounds. The chaotic mishmash of college basketball’s elite facing off with unknown and upset-driven mid-majors make for some whack results. If you aren’t in love with live betting already, here are some things to look for when watching and wagering:
Basketball is a game of runs, as shown from the example above. Knowing when these runs are about to take place comes with hours and hours of watching hoops. Even from your living room, you can feel the air get sucked out of a gymnasium after a crucial and-1 or smell fear on the favorite when the underdog buries a timely 3-ball to cut into their lead.
When looking for a solid line for live betting. know the situation. During the first two rounds of the NCAA, you’ll see the lower seeds come out firing against a name-brand programs and that can slim the in-game spread far beyond what the pre-game line closed at. You may be able to get the better team at a discount spread – depending on the vig.
Pay attention to things like foul trouble and possible injuries as well. You can get great value going against a team whose star player is sitting with three first-half fouls or jump on the Over when teams get into bonus early – meaning more points with the clock stopped. An injury to a key contributor can also provide value to the in-game line, be it a standout scorer or defensive stalwart. Recognize how their absence impacts the game and bet accordingly.
Now, live betting has much lower bet limits than pre-game wagering. But if you’re a casual bettor like me, you should be able to stay within your wheelhouse in terms of wager size.
First half anomalies
While halftime odds are nothing new to most sports bettors, and not officially live betting, it does fall into the in-game category. You can get great value betting second half totals when a good team performed poorly or a slower-paced offense put up big numbers in the first 20 minutes.
Twice on Thursday, I took advantage of an uncharacteristic bad half of ball, playing the second half Over in both Villanova vs. Mount Saint Mary’s and Florida vs. East Tennessee State.
The Gators, who closed as 9.5-point favorites, were ahead just 33-32 at the break and missed all but one of their 10 3-point attempts. In the same vein, the Wildcats, 25-point chalk in the Round of 64, were up 30-29 at the half after going 1 for 9 from distance.
Putting faith in those teams to turn it around offensively in the second half led me to grab Over 77.5 points in the final 20 minutes of Florida vs. ETSU and Over 70 in Villanova vs. MSMU. That trust paid off with the Gators winning the second half 47-33 and the Wildcats boasting a 46-27 effort in the second frame.
You can also find value on the Under in the second half when the opposite happens, and a mediocre offense has a hot start or a methodical-paced team plays at a higher gear in the initial 20 minutes. Knowing what a team is and isn’t capable of and its season-long production is a great first step to capping second half totals.
You should always measure those halftime scores against the overall game total. Oddsmakers are usually spot on with their Over/Under numbers (to the point that you’ll sweat more close O/U results than you’d like) and if you see a halftime score on pace to finish well above or below the full-game total, take a deeper look into why the point production is way off the mark and if it can correct itself in the closing 1,200 seconds.
We’re talking specifically NCAA tournament live betting here, but let me pull an example from the other biggest event on the sports betting calendar: Super Bowl.
We’re all familiar with what happened in Houston this past February. The New England Patriots battled back from a 28-3 hole in the third quarter to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime in Super Bowl LI.
Well, when the Pats were shockingly down 25 points, a number of sports bettors took a flyer on New England’s in-game moneyline (odds to win outright) with some Vegas books offering it as high as 16/1. And when Brady & Co. completed the comeback, those live betting payouts wiped out any profits made off the game’s other 800-plus offerings for those operators that stuck their neck out with a hefty Pats moneyline.
Back to the NCAA, a similar opportunity presented itself in the opening Thursday (not on the scale of Super Bowl or in terms of sheer improbability) when No. 5 Virginia got left in the dust by No. 12 UNC-Wilmington, which jumped out to a 26-11 lead during the first half of their Round of 64 meeting.
The Cavaliers, who closed as 7.5-point favorites and were priced around -350 on the moneyline, looked lost in those first 13 minutes and many fans quickly counted out Virginia knowing it doesn’t have much in the way of offensive firepower to dig itself out of these types of holes.
Seeing a bargain, I tossed a flyer on the Cavs +140 to win outright and soon after that bet receipt reached my inbox, Virginia caught fire with a 19-3 run to finish the half and would go on to win the game 76-71, cashing in my tasty in-game moneyline bet but falling short for those who bet the original spread.
We’ve watched situations like this every March. The heavyweight fave gets smacked in the mouth, all the Cinderella talk starts up, then – POOF! – pumpkin. Good teams find a way to win, and good in-game bettors find a way to maximize those situations.
Mind the middle
The Holy Grail of sports betting is middling a game. That’s when you place wagers on both sides of a contest at different odds and have the final result land right in the middle, paying out both bets.
As an example, you may have grabbed a NCAA underdog at +12 before tipoff and watched that team battle the fave closely through 30 minutes of basketball. Then, jumping into the live betting action, you see the favorite has an adjusted spread of -9.5 and bang on that number hoping that the final score wraps with a difference of 10 or 11 points. The final comes in with the favorite winning 82-71 and you just gave your bookie the "middle" finger by winning both bets.
In-game middling is not for everyone or every game. Like most of the bets mentioned above, you want to actually be watching the action and have a feel for the flow and momentum shifts. If your initial wager is looking good and you’re just getting greedy and middling any old thing, you could be erasing any profits made from your original bet. It’s almost like splitting 10’s in blackjack: you’ve got a winning hand. Don’t F with it.
And I would suggest you keep you middle wager size the same as your original bet, that way if you win your original bet but lose your in-game play, you’re almost breaking even depending on the juice.
Got any tips or tactics for live and in-game wagering? Share them in the comment box below. Good luck!