March Madness Odds: Betting 16s Against Top Seeds

Ethan Miller

Top seeds beating lowly 16 seeds is a sure thing in the March Madness tournament bracket. But beating the odds and covering the spread is a whole different story.

A No. 16 seed has never beaten a top seed, but they have covered plenty of points spreads over the year.

So while racket pickers simply select the top seed in these matchups, how do bettors treat these Round of 64 games?

No. 1 seeds are 112-0 SU since 1985. But the situation at the sportsbook is not a very profitable one, so bettors thinking about blindly playing Louisville, Kansas, Gonzaga and/or Indiana this week might want to reconsider. [ History of 1 vs 16 seeds wagering ]

Over the last dozen NCAA tournaments, No. 1 seeds are 26-22 against the spread. Now, while that is a winning record, when you factor in sportsbook commissions, the profit dwindles to less than two units over 48 plays, a rate of return too low to be considered a consistent winner.

One bad Thursday-Friday would wipe that black ink off the books. So sharp bettors are looking for better angles than that to play as they scan the March Madness odds menus.

Last year, No. 1 seeds went 2-2 ATS versus No. 16 seeds. Michigan State covered 19 points over LIU-Brooklyn and North Carolina covered 16 points over Vermont, but eventual champion Kentucky couldn't cover 26 points against Western Kentucky and Syracuse couldn't cover 15 points against UNC-Asheville.

Two tournaments ago, top seeds Ohio State, Duke, Kansas and Pittsburgh combined to go 3-1 ATS versus the 16 seeds. The Panthers covered 17 points against Asheville, the Buckeyes covered 24 points against UT-San Antonio and the Blue Devils covered 25 points against Hampton, while the Jayhawks came up short in trying to cover 23 points against Boston U.

And three Dances ago top seeds Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky and Duke also combined to go 3-1 ATS. The Orange covered 15 points against Vermont, the Wildcats covered 18 points against East Tennessee State and the Dukies covered 24 points against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, while the Jayhawks (once again) couldn't cover 25 points against Lehigh.

But that just means that, over the course of the previous nine NCAA Tournaments, the top seeds had gone 18-18 ATS versus the supposed creampuffs during opening-round play.

For this year's tournament, Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the West, was an early 22-point favorite over 16th-seeded Southern, and Kansas, the top seed in the South, was favored by 20 points over Western Kentucky. Kansas comes in riding a 10-1 ATS streak and 9-1 ATS as a favorite. [ March Madness trends ]

The other No. 1 seeds, Louisville and Indiana, aren't sure yet who they'll be playing later this week.

Eventually, a 16 seed will pull this upset. But in the meantime, betting No. 1 seeds in the opening round of the tournament is no sure thing.

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