The headlines for the first round of the NCAA tournament always revolve around the Cinderella stories, and there have been plenty of those this year.
For bettors, they're in a mood to celebrate the underdog too.
If you are a fan of taking the points, Saturday was a dream.
🏀 Saturday’s #MarchMadness recap:
— Yahoo Sportsbook (@YahooSportsbook) March 21, 2021
Underdogs and unders have been the theme of the betting side of March Madness this year. Saturday's action brought the records for the first round and First Four games to 13-22 for the underdogs, 13-22 for the under. There were some juicy underdog moneyline winners along the way as well.
Trends aren't always predictive. Just because underdogs won big for three days and a lot of unders hit doesn't mean that won't change as we move down to the final 32 teams in the tournament. But if you lean toward the under and the underdog, you're well on your way to a very profitable tournament.
COVID-19 issues affect betting too
We know by now that VCU and Oregon's no contest due to a COVID-19 issue led to all game bets being refunded, and the same went for the few VCU futures to win the region or tournament.
COVID-19 affected another high-profile game on Saturday. Virginia, which had to withdraw from the ACC tournament, didn't practice all week under quarantine and flew to Indiana the day before Saturday's game, looked very unlike Virginia in a loss to 13-seed Ohio. Perhaps the Bobcats would have beaten a Virginia team that had a normal week, and we shouldn't dismiss what Ohio did on Saturday night. But it's also fair to note that Virginia was in a tough spot.
This is unlikely to influence the rest of the tournament in the way it influenced Virginia. If a team has to pause due to COVID-19 the rest of the way, they're likely to be out of the tournament like VCU. But all season we saw teams struggle after COVID-19 quarantines and layoffs, and the many who bet Ohio in the first round were smart to see an upset coming.
The Pac-12 doesn't get the attention of the other major conferences, and maybe that led to some value on first round point spreads.
Colorado's cover over Georgetown was never in doubt after the Buffaloes started raining 3s in the first few minutes. USC cruised by Drake for an easy cover. UCLA has already won and covered twice, in the First Four and then on Saturday against BYU. Oregon State was an underdog and blew out Tennessee on Thursday. Oregon also is in the second round, though not for a reason anyone wanted.
Oregon State is up first for the Pac-12 in the second round, as a 5.5-point underdog against Oklahoma State at BetMGM. Given how Pac-12 schools looked in the first round, perhaps it's time to give them some respect moving forward.
Gonzaga is every bit as good as advertised
Gonzaga's 32.5-point spread was the first spread of 30 or more in the NCAA tournament since Kentucky against against Hampton in 2015. The Wildcats did not cover that spread in 2015. Gonzaga covered its 30-point spread, and it was really never in doubt.
The Bulldogs won 98-55, covering its once-a-decade line by more than 10 points. The Zags are 14-point favorites at BetMGM over Oklahoma in the second round, the only double-digit favorite for the entire second round. Gonzaga even got a minor bump when Virginia lost. The Cavaliers, because of their stellar defensive scheme and Tony Bennett, were one of the few teams in the West region that someone could talk themselves into giving Gonzaga an upset scare. Nothing against Ohio, but the Bobcats probably aren't the team to knock off the sport's last undefeated team.
Gonzaga is rolling, and it might be the Final Four until they get tested. Gonzaga is +200 to win the tournament at BetMGM. No other team is less than +500.
Saturday's worst beat
This is the typical first-round bad beat: A favorite is up big, but the underdog won't give up and hits a late shot that they don't know just won bettors a ton of money. They were just playing their NCAA tournament experience out to the end.
Eastern Washington, a 10.5-point underdog against Kansas, put an upset scare into the Jayhawks. But Kansas pulled away late and had an 11-point lead in the final seconds when Eastern Washington got an uncontested floater with a few seconds left for the cover.
🚨 BAD BEAT ALERT 🚨
Eastern Washington backdoor covers +10.5 on this floater with 6.3 seconds. pic.twitter.com/1iNYcA4Ytg
— BroBible (@BroBible) March 20, 2021
Ouch. And let's throw in an honorable mention for the UC Santa Barbara moneyline bettors out there, because this shot should have won the money.
Christian Bishop (@chris_bishop13), who is only a 57% free throw shooter on the season, gets the offensive rebound and drains BOTH of the 1-and-1 free throws for 5 Creighton and after a close 12 UCSB miss, 5 Creighton walks out with the W by a hair. pic.twitter.com/EQ0aLZEDCQ
— NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) March 20, 2021
You have to love the NCAA tournament. Unless you're on the wrong side of some of these brutal beats.