March Madness Trends: 3 To Trust and 3 To Avoid


Jason Logan
Clock Icon Mar 4, 2021 - 11:00 AM ET

March Madness betting trends are like breadcrumbs. Some lead you down the path of NCAA Tournament profits, and some are just garbage on the ground.

Heading into March Madness, you’ll be blasted with a fire hose of Big Dance trends, but the truth is most of them are useless when it comes to betting on tournament games. Even reputable sources and sharp betting minds (Covers among the guilty) will spout these intriguing – but empty - historical happenings.

More often than not, these trends are the betting equivalent of a chocolate Easter bunny: they look so sweet on the outside but once you peel back the wrapper and take a bite, you find out pretty quick that they’re hollow inside.

Not all March Madness betting trends are trash, however, and we’ll help you sort the recycling when it comes to deciphering which trends are worth a wager each year and which ones are a waste of time and, more importantly, money.

How sportsbooks treat March Madness trends

Perhaps the best way to gauge how useful March Madness betting trends are is to look at the folks setting the odds for NCAA Tournament games.

If you ask an oddsmaker if they’re factoring in the past against the spread (ATS) success of No. 15 seeds into this year’s No. 2-versus-No. 15 matchup odds, they’ll likely laugh in your face. Historic trends are largely ignored by bookmakers, especially when it comes to college sports as player and skill turnover differs greatly from year-to-year.

Oddsmakers base their numbers more on current form and data from that season, rather than historical hooha that pulls from random teams with random players led by random coaches from random conferences playing at random sites. You get the idea.

Three trends to trust

There are March Madness betting trends out there with teeth that you can put some trust into. The term “trend” should be used lightly as some are more stat-based, but they do hold water from year to year.

1

Coaching trends

If there is a constant in the madness of March it has to do with college hoops coaches. Coaches all have systems and playbooks and recruit players to fit those plans. While the names on the jerseys get swapped out, the skill sets and styles can remain similar.

So, any trends as it pertains to coaches – especially when dealing with the pace of play (fast or slow tempo) – can be weighed a little heavier than others when capping spreads and totals.

2

Adjusted defensive efficiency

Made popular by famed college hoops stats maven Ken Pomeroy, adjusted defensive efficiency (which is points allowed per 100 possessions multiplied by the national average defensive efficiency divided by the opponents’ offensive efficiency) is a telltale stat as it pertains to the Final Four.

Since the 2012 NCAA Tournament, only one Final Four team has ranked outside the Top 40 in adjusted defensive efficiency that season: Kansas (47th) in 2018. Sixteen of those 32 national semifinal programs ranked Top 10 in that metric and nine were in the Top 3.

The 2019 Final Four programs ranked as such in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom.com: Texas Tech (1), Virginia (5), Michigan State (9), and Auburn (36th).

So, as you’re sizing up the spreads, moneylines, and even the odds to win March Madness, keep an eye on programs among the elite in adjusted defensive efficiency.

3

No. 5 vs. No. 12 seeds

Most seed-versus-seed results should be taken with a grain of salt (and a shot of tequila followed by a lime wedge), but there’s no denying the No. 12 versus No. 5 March Madness trend. Despite the randomness, this pairing continues to produce profits for those picking the No. 12 seed – whether against the spread or in their bracket pools.

Since 2012, No. 5 seeds are 16-16 SU versus No. 12 seeds and 11-20-1 ATS in those opening-round matchups. Over the past four Big Dances (remembering we didn’t have one in 2020), No. 5 seeds are 10-6 SU and 5-10-1 ATS, including a 1-3 SU and 0-4 ATS record in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Don’t just blindly bet on No. 12 seeds over No. 5’s but until this comes back to earth, treat this trend with respect – like handling a cobra.

Three trends to fade

There’s a surplus of shallow March Madness betting trends out there that you should never blindly trail when placing your bets or building your bracket. Here’s the tip of the iceberg.

1

Conference trends

Certain conferences will have stronger historical ATS records in the NCAA Tournament, but the teams, opponents, players and spreads all vary when building out this bull crap. The overall strength of conferences sways every year, so don’t go chasing the SEC teams or fading ACC schools based solely on those conferences’ counts against the spread.

2

Seed vs. Seed trends

We’ve singled out the No. 5-versus-No. 12 trend, which has held its own in the past eight NCAA Tournaments with No. 12 seeds covering 64.5 percent of the time. However, bettors should tread lightly with that info and more so with other trends around seed-versus-seed. The level of parity in college basketball seems to be widening by the season, so don’t base a bet solely on the Selection Committee’s seeding.

3

Point spread and Over/Under trends

Brace yourself for some doozies when it comes to any historical NCAA Tournament trends powered by spreads and totals. You’ll get tantalizing trends around the Round of 64 underdogs between a certain point range and Over/Under tips based on past totals from certain seeding matchups.

As mentioned, some trends can lead you down the right handicapping road but many of these take you and your bankroll to a dead end. Be skeptical of these trends and look into the past results that powered them. If you can, try to spot a narrative behind them that could roll over into this year’s March Madness field.

The verdict on March Madness trends

Basketball bettors should be wary of many March Madness trends. While betting them blindly is bonkers, there are lessons to be learned from evaluating them and picking up on past patterns.

Covers Experts veteran handicapper Marc Lawrence has a massive sports betting database that pumps out multiple March Madness betting trends every year. And while he doesn’t jump on board all of those with his NCAA Tournament bets, he does see the value in what he calls “anticipating expectancy”.

“There is a reason that Winston Churchill said, ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,’” Lawrence says. “By learning failures and successes from the past and applying skills from today, we become better, well-rounded handicappers. Yes, teams change but strategies and patterns are highly predictive…By relying on past patterns, we can better anticipate expectancy.”

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