NCAA Tournament Pointspreads Expose Seeding Errors
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
NCAA TOURNAMENT POINTSPREADS EXPOSE SEEDING ERRORS
One of the first things we do after seeing the lines come up for the opening round of the NCAA college basketball tournament is compare and contrast the numbers within the seed structure.
What stories are the legal betting lines telling? Have they exposed some big mistakes from the seeding committee? Are they suggesting which conferences might be overrated or underrated? Do they speak to the parity of the sport, or the "dis-parity" between the have's and the have not's.
Obviously handicapping involves much more in-depth processes than that. We'll go over some of what we look at Thursday and Friday here in the NOTEBOOK when we preview all of the opening round games with an emphasis on our key indicator numbers. This is a great starting point though. You need to see the forest before you start handicapping the trees. Some of the easiest winners we've every uncovered for our clients involved big picture analysis that pointed us in the right direction from the get-go.
Here are the most recent Vegas pointspreads for all of this week's first round games. Instead of presenting them in rotation order, or bracket order, or based on your TV starting times, we're presenting them within each seed grouping. Look at how some of the differences jump out...
8 VERSUS 9
Texas -4 vs. Wake Forest
UNLV -1 vs. Northern Iowa
California +1 vs. Louisville
Gonzaga +1½ vs. Florida State
It's fitting that Wake Forest starts us off in a "forest versus trees" analysis. The eight/nine games are supposed to be virtual coin flips. Texas, a team that's struggled very badly in recent weeks against quality opposition is a whopping four-point favorite over Wake Forest. That suggests Wake was badly overseeded, and is seen by the market as being more the quality of a 11 or 12 seed.
The other games here are within a bucket of pick-em. But, isn't it interesting that two of the nine's are favored? Clearly Vegas would have made Louisville and Florida State eight's rather than nine's in those matchups.
7 VERSUS 10
BYU -5 vs. Florida
Richmond -2 vs. St. Mary's
Oklahoma State -1½ vs. Georgia Tech
Clemson -1½ vs. Missouri
Similar outline here, with one game that jumps out while the others are within a bucket. The market clearly things that either BYU is better than a 7th seed...which makes sense given how high they've been in the rankings most of the year; or that Florida is overseeded at 10th. Since many thought Florida was a bubble team at best, that could also be true. BOTH could be true considering how many tight lines you're about to look over in this event. The level of parity based on market prices is so tight that a line of -5 is a virtual blowout!
We'd have to agree with the thought that there's not much difference between the 7-10 and 8-9 spots in the bracket these days. Those are basically the "middle" eight teams in the tournament. You'd expect them to be tightly bunched. As handicappers, we'll consider the possibility that Florida and Wake Forest are in over their heads in this group, and potentially prone for disasters. Remember that weaknesses are magnified in playoff style basketball because quality opponents pound your weaknesses!
6 VERSUS 11
Tennessee -3 versus San Diego State
Notre Dame -2 vs. Old Dominion
Marquette -1½ vs. Washington
Xavier +1 vs. Minnesota
You might expect to see the lines start to spread out in the 6-11 range. That's five spots afterall. Instead, we're still seeing very tight numbers. In fact, three of the lines are within a bucket...and all four are within a trey of pick-em. Amazingly, there's an 11th seed that's a small favorite over a six! Are these seeding errors? Or, are we just looking at a season of extreme parity in the middle of the pack?
Probably both. There has to be a seeding error if an 11 is favored over a 6. Though, we know that Minnesota is a TIRED eleven after their dramatic weekend in Indianapolis. Our own set of indicators suggest San Diego State and Old Dominion should have received better seeds (sitting at least where Florida and Wake Forest are). Marquette's poor defense suggests to us they're overseeded as a 6. This is a very volatile spot on the ladder. Normally an 11 over a 6 is considered an upset. We can't say that ANY of the 11's beating a 6 would surprise us this week. And, if you jumbled them, THAT wouldn't create any surprise wins either. SDSU is capable of beating all the 6's. So is ODU.
5 VERSUS 12
Michigan State -13 vs. New Mexico State
Temple -4 vs. Cornell
Texas A&M -3 vs. Utah State
Butler -3 vs. UTEP
This has become a classic "upset" line in recent years. It's not a surprise any more when a 12 beats a 5. That was an early warning sign for parity in the sport a few years ago. Michigan State clearly jumps out here, with the highest spread we've seen so far. The market may have thought they should have been a four instead of Purdue. More likely, New Mexico State is badly seeded as a 13. They were a surprise winner of the WAC tournament this past Saturday Night, and are seen as more of a 13 or 14 seed by the betting market.
Note how close the spreads are in the other games. It used to mean something to call for an upset with a 12 over a 5. Now you're asking a three-point dog to win. Big deal!
Actually, we think the lines are lower than normal because Cornell, Utah State, and UTEP represent VERY strong 12 seeds. They all won regular season championships with impressive performances. None would have seemed out of place as a 10th seed. It's a crime they have to share a line with New Mexico State in terms of overall performance for the year.
Clearly, the stage is set so far for a very exciting tournament. We've looked at 16 games already, with very few projected to be one-sided. That also speaks to the difficulty of filling out your brackets in office pools. If any game with a spread of 3 or less is basically a coin flip in terms of the straight up winner...you're going to have to pick a lot of coin flips correctly!
4 VERSUS 13
Wisconsin -10 vs. Wofford
Maryland -9 vs. Houston
Purdue -4 vs. Siena
Vanderbilt -3 vs. Murray State
Big discrepancy here. Wisconsin and Maryland are priced in the area you'd expect for this range. Numbers used to be even higher back in the old days. Purdue and Vandy are seen as pretenders at the 4 spot. Everyone knows Robbie Hummel is out for the Boilermakers. An upset loss there wouldn't be a shocker. Vandy joins the list of SEC teams who aren't being priced normally for their seed (with Florida and Tennessee).
We should also mention the respect for Murray State and Siena as potential Cinderella's. Prices that low in the 4-13 range are so rare, that they HAVE to mean oddsmakers and early bettors are impressed with the talent on both teams.
3 VERSUS 14
Georgetown -13 vs. Ohio
Baylor -11 vs. Sam Houston State
Pittsburgh -10 vs. Oakland
New Mexico -9 vs. Montana
Lines are mostly within a reasonable range here, though there seems to be some skepticism about Steve Alford's New Mexico squad (you'll see more on that in our previews), and respect for Montana.
2 VERSUS 15
Kansas State -16 vs. North Texas
Ohio State -17 vs. Cal Santa Barbara
West Virginia -17½ vs. Morgan State
Villanova -19 vs. Robert Morris
Upsets involving a two beating a 15 are rare, and this week's prices aren't suggesting one is imminent. Now, it may turn out that some of these favorites are seen as overseeded or underseeded...but it won't show up until the next round. If a 2 is in a near pick-em with a 7, THEN you can say the market things the 2 should have been lower. Right now, it's a tough call.
1 VERSUS 16
Kansas -26 vs. Lehigh
Kentucky -20 vs. East Tennessee State
Syracuse -18 vs. Vermont
We're leaving out Duke versus the Tuesday Night "play-in" winner because of publication deadlines. You can assume the Blue Devils will be pricey. We'll also go out on a limb and assume they WON'T be priced like a normal #1 seed in the rest of their brackets. There are some dangerous foes awaiting the Dukies. And, really, NONE of the top seeds have an easy path considering the kind of quality we were looking at in the 8-9 slots. Everybody gets a virtual bye in the opener as long as they show up mentally. They'll have work to do to reach the Sweet 16 given their weekend opponents.
We hope that exercise gave you some big picture insights for the coming week. We'll talk more about individual games (emphasizing two-point defense and conference strengths) in our Thursday and Friday reports. You regulars know we can't release official selections here in the NOTEBOOK. That information is for paying customers.
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