Using Sharp Lines to Gain an Edge in your March Madness Bracket Pool

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Pinnacle Pulse


The Pinnacle Pulse The Inside Wagering Line From Pinnacle Sports Book By Simon Noble

With March Madness upon us, millions will be completing Tournament brackets for entertainment or profit. The first 32 Games are the easiest of the batch to analyze. Knowing nothing at all about the teams, you can look at the spreads for each Game at to get an idea of the likely outcome of each Game.

Occasionally you’ll find a lower seed that is favored to beat a higher seed, giving you a clear advantage over others in your office pool that are not considering the spreads. For example, #7 California is a 1.5 point underdog to #10 N.C. State. Players who are unaware of the spread are more likely to select California than N.C. State because of the seeding, despite the market’s confidence in N.C. State.

While we have written about the “Pinnacle Lean” in the past, using the spreads at Pinnacle Sportsbook can help you get a feel for the strength of each team in the NCAA Tournament. One way to use these is to identify “vulnerable” teams – ones that are favored to win by less than 2 points or are an outright underdog. If you’re competing in a pool, you generally do not want to select the winner of that Game to advance past the next round.

For example, in the Atlanta region, #5 Syracuse is a 1-point favorite over #12 Texas A&M. The winner of that matchup plays the winner of #4 LSU (-6.5) vs. #13 Iona. Regardless of whether you think Syracuse or Texas A&M will win, either team has a substantial chance of being eliminated. If you pick LSU to beat Iona, it makes sense to go with LSU again against the Syracuse/A&M winner, since LSU is considered more likely to advance to the next round based on their odds to win the Tournament. At the time of writing, LSU is 36/1, Syracuse is 70/1 and Texas A&M is a 200/1 long shot to win the Tourney at Pinnacle Sportsbetting.

Which teams are most likely to under-perform in the first several rounds? In the Atlanta region, #7 California faces a very real chance of being eliminated in the first round. If the first round Games are worth 1 point (as in many office pools), you can determine the expected value (EV) of each selection by looking at the Pinnacle Sports Betting moneyline on that Game. In the N.C. State/California Game, N.C. State is a -123 favorite, while California is a +113 underdog. since Pinnacle Sports only uses a 10-cent line, the no-vig line on this Game is N.C. State -118. These markets are deadly accurate and can be used to estimate the chances of each team winning.

For a favorite, the chance of it winning is (ML/ML-100). In this case, it would be (-118/-118-100) = (-118/-218) = 54.1%. If you select N.C. State, your bracket EV is 0.54 points for that selection. Cal would be worth 0.46 points. In this case, using spreads and moneylines to help you make your bracket picks added 0.08 points of EV. If you felt lucky and picked California anyway, you would certainly want to fade them in the next match-up, as each subsequent round you picked them would cost EV in your bracket.

The key to being successful in an office pool or bracket contest is to find “bargain” teams to back advancing to the Sweet 16 or further. Considered by many as a potential sleeper in this year’s Tournament is Kansas who is a current 6.5-point favorite in its match-up against Bradley. While no one will be surprised by a first round Kansas win, the real value of Kansas comes from its likely second round Game against the winner of #5 Pittsburgh vs. #12 Kent State. The most likely match-up is Kansas-Pittsburgh and both teams finished with similar records at 25-7 and 24-7, respectively. A differentiator between the two teams is that Kansas found its form towards the end of the season, winning 9 of its last 10 regular season Games. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has headed in the opposite direction, losing 5 of its last 10 Games. While many people won’t be surprised by a #4 seed advancing to the Sweet 16 (after all, every #4 would make it if there are no upsets), understanding this match-up helps you avoid picking the ‘upset’.

Another bargain team to take a close look at is North Carolina – an 11.5-point favorite in their opener against Murray State. The victor will advance to face the winner of the Michigan State-George Mason Game. One method of estimating lines for subsequent Games is to compare Sagarin ratings. North Carolina’s rating is a full 7 points higher than either possible opponent, suggesting they have a very good chance of making the Sweet 16. North Carolina is another prime example of a team you likely don’t want to fade in the first two rounds.

Going one round further, North Carolina’s most likely opponent in the third round would be Tennessee (although early action at Pinnacle Sports suggests they could struggle in their opening Game against Winthrop). Even in this hypothetical match-up, the Tar Heels would be a 5-point favorite. While no Game outcome is certain, successful bracket players are always looking for ways to gain small advantages. Understanding North Carolina’s match-ups might help to give you the edge.

While you consider these tips for completing your NCAA Tournament bracket, you may want to consider how the players been betting on the NCAA Tournament to help you pick your national champion.

Xavier (+5 -106) vs. Gonzaga

This Game looked like it had the potential to be a classic Sharps vs. the public battle and it hasn’t disappointed. At the Pinnacle Sportsbook we opened the Game at Gonzaga -3 where it was fiercely and ferociously bet up to Gonzaga -6 ½ by the public. since then, we have seen opposition from sharp money which has steadily pushed the line on the Game back down to Gonzaga -5 where it has now settled. If early indications are anything to go by, we fully anticipate this match-up to be the most heavily bet Game in the entire first round.

Davidson (+9.5 -105) vs. Ohio St.

We opened the line on this Game Ohio State -13 and it was quickly bet down to -11.5. since then we have seen the number steadily fall with unopposed sharp money facing little resistance from the public as the line now sits at -9 1/2. We anticipate public money will come in on Ohio St. in single digits as post draws nearer. Thus far however, the Buckeye’s Game has seen the most powerful wave of one way money and suggests that professionals feel #15 Davidson has a legitimate shot against the Big Ten regular season champions.

NC State (-1.5 -103) vs. California

In what could be considered a metaphor for what a traditional March Madness Game is all about, this Game has flip-flopped a half dozen times already. We opened California as a 1.5 point favorite which quickly shortened to 1. since then there has been a prolonged duel with favoritism changing amid heavy wiseguy trading on both sides. It does look however that NC State has prevailed – for the time being at least – with the line settling with the Wolfpack as a 1.5 point favorite.

NCAA Tournament Winner Odds

UConn is a heavy public favorite. The Huskies initially opened at +315 and pre-selection trading drove them down to +250 to win the Tourney. After the selections were announced, UConn money dried up (possibly due to North Carolina also being in the Washington region) and the price drifted back to +294.

Kansas was also heavily traded, especially after selections were announced. We initially offered them at +3500, but post-selection action from sharps quickly drove it down to +1762.

Although Duke won the ACC Tournament, players have been slow to back them. The Blue Devils opened at +350 , drifting up to +412 before the Conference championships. After winning their Tournament, Duke continued to move up to +491. This might be in part to a strong #2 seed in Texas being placed with Duke in the Atlanta Region.

Villanova poses an unusual challenge for bettors with the uncertainty of Allan Ray, who averaged 18.8 points per Game for the Wildcats. In the Big East Tournament, Ray appeared to suffer a serious eye injury although it turned out to be much less serious. Players have been reluctant to back Villanova despite Ray being cleared to play. Villanova opened at +940 and has drifted to + 915 in moderate trading.

If you have any sports betting related questions that you would like answered in future columns, please feel free to write to me at [email protected]