March Madness Picks: Bracket Choices & Bets From BetMGM Data

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Morehead State guard Riley Minix (22) gets a basket on a dunk against Purdue during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. This 6-7 graduate student was the Ohio Valley Conference player of the year at Morehead State after transferring from NAIA program Southeastern (Florida).
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Chase Kiddy @chaseakiddy Mar 20, 2024, 1:19 PM
  • March Madness bracket advice can be derived from sports betting data.
  • Consider risk-reward principles when making upset picks in your bracket.
  • Samford is now a trendy pick with Kevin McCullar Jr. out for Kansas.
  • Vermont looks like a better Cinderella candidate than it actually is.

Millions of Americans are working on their 2024 NCAA Tournament brackets. Bettors everywhere are moving line by line through reams of data and college basketball betting odds

I fall into both camps. I’m still weighing the benefits of certain upset picks – six bracket pools and counting! – and finalizing my list of NCAA Tournament first-round best bets. 

Fortunately, I work for the BetMGM online sportsbook, which gives me lots of access to data on how users are betting and odds are changing.

March Madness Bracket Advice

Before I get into the actual line movement data, let me talk for just a moment to all the non-bettors. I love betting these NCAA Tournament games, and perhaps you would too! But if you’re only interested in brackets, there’s still a lot of interesting information you can glean from sportsbook data. 

Most commonly: If a point spread is moving toward an underdog, the market is hinting that there could be some value in advancing that underdog in your bracket. This can be especially true in cases where the line is moving in the opposite direction of the overall public ticket margin. (This is called reverse line movement.)

On the other hand, if a line is moving toward a favorite in the point spread market, that can often indicate that a higher seed is particularly insulated against upsets in that specific matchup.

Here’s a quick example to really hammer home what I’m aiming at in this article. Consider the Thursday game between No. 2 Tennessee and No. 15 Saint Peter’s – one of the great Cinderellas of recent memory. 

Unsurprisingly, more than 60% of tickets at BetMGM are backing Saint Peter’s plus the points; however, the number has moved toward Tennessee in a big way, sliding from -18.5 at open to -21.5 as of Wednesday morning. 

Not only is this major line movement in Tennessee’s favor, but it’s also reverse line movement – an odds change that directly contradicts where the majority of tickets are. This tells me that Tennessee is a very safe team to advance in my bracket.

Get the picture? Good. Here are a few more teams with interesting betting profiles, as well as the implications for your bracket. 

BYU vs. Duquesne

I’m starting off with a 6 vs 11 game, which true March Madness experts can tell you is what of the most chaotic dynamics anywhere in the bracket. No. 11 seeds generally have the strongest ATS performances in the tournament, and many of the famed historic NCAA runs have come from No. 11 seeds. Think of George Mason, VCU, and Loyola Chicago, just to name a few.

The sports betting market doesn’t see Duquesne in those terms at all. The Dukes were probably overseeded just as a matter of fact, as a mid-table Atlantic 10 team doesn’t really profile like a No. 11 seed. 

So rather than attacking with a seed that is historically profitable, the market is selling hard, moving BYU from a 7.5-point favorite to a 9.5-point favorite. Pretty telling.

Morehead State vs. Illinois

OVC champ and frequent tournament team, Morehead State is attracting about 70% of all spread tickets in this game. The point spread has moved from Morehead State +13.5 to +11.5, so some serious money appears to be coming in on the Eagles.

Personally, I don’t see it. Morehead is 0-4 against top 100 KenPom opponents this season and lost three of those by at least 20 points. Even if Illinois has had a spotty tournament history with Brad Underwood, it’s hard to pull the trigger here on a competitive game, let alone a first-round exit. That said, this game does fit the profile of what this article is looking for.

Colorado State vs. Texas

The Rams earned the Mountain West some credibility in their First Four game on Tuesday night, and now they’ve got a ticket to play Texas in the round of 64. The game was priced tight to begin with, as Texas opened as a 3.5-point favorite. The number has already pinched in to 2.5.

First Four teams have won a game in the round of 64 in three consecutive years, and Texas didn’t look sharp to end the year. This is an upset I’ll have circled on my bracket. 

Samford vs. Kansas

As the SoCon champion, Samford was already a trendy underdog target this week before Kansas announced that senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. would be unavailable for Thursday’s game. 

The announcement that the Jayhawks would continue to play short-handed drove the price further toward Samford, moving from Kansas -8.5 to -7.5. I think this could be a 6.5 by the time the game tips.

I’m not totally sold that Samford is an upset for my bracket, but risk-reward factors are the main consideration here. Kansas plays a short rotation to begin with. Hunter Dickinson will allegedly play but not be 100% for this game. McCullar Jr. is out. Given that setup, isn’t Kansas probably not long for this tournament, with the winner of Gonzaga vs. McNeese on deck for Saturday?

Smart bracketeers might as well advance Samford here, since the risk of being wrong may not be too damaging in the long term. Kansas doesn’t seem like a team primed for a deep run. 

Duke vs. Vermont

The Catamounts have been in four of the last six NCAA Tournaments, and they’re generally in this No. 13 seed zone. Every year, they’re a sharpshooting team that looks the part of a convincing upset pick.

One problem: It just hasn’t happened.

Vermont is 0-6 in the round of 64 in its last six appearances and hasn’t won a game in the main draw since 2005. This year, they’re once again drawing plenty of attention – half the spread tickets in this game are behind Vermont plus the points – yet the line is moving toward Duke. Currently, it’s Duke -12.5. I’ll stick with the favorite here, at least on my bracket sheet. 

Charleston vs. Alabama

Here’s another good example of risk-reward principles in play. Personally, I think Charleston is a good matchup for Nate Oats and Alabama. But I also think the Crimson Tide are pretty overrated and are unlikely to make it more than a round or two in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

WIth the line ticking toward the Cougars here – it’s moved from +10.5 to +9.5 – why not think about the outright 13-over-4 upset on your bracket? The risk of being wrong may not hurt too much, and the reward could be great for those in upset-friendly scoring competitions. 

Wisconsin vs. James Madison

This one hurts a little bit, because I’m a JMU alumnus, but I have to be honest about what the data says. 

JMU is garnering huge public support in betting markets. The Dukes lead Division I in wins and road wins and have the longest active winning streak entering the tournament. They’re good. They’re deep. They’re catching more than 80% of spread tickets in this game.

The line … hasn’t moved. At all. It’s been 5.5 since Sunday night. The sportsbook is completely fine with the liability. 

The profile here is that James Madison is becoming the annual upset pick that everyone obsesses over but that ultimately never materializes. 

Consider picking Wisconsin in your bracket. The Dukes look pretty doomed.

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About the Author

Chase Kiddy

Read More @chaseakiddy

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.