The first round of the NCAA Tournament begins this Friday, March 19 and will be the biggest sporting event of month. We reached out to the experts at Doc’s Sports ( ) for some tips and advice on what people should be looking at when filling out their brackets and how to navigate the 68-team field.

Doc’s Sports is celebrating its 50 th  year anniversary this year, and with a team of former Las Vegas Sportsbook directors (Raphael Esparza) and members of the Pro Basketball Writers Association (Robert Ferringo) they are uniquely qualified to provide tips and advice for the NCAA Tournament.

How should you approach betting in the NCAA Tournament?

RAPHAEL ESPARZA:  This question right here is probably the one is here the most. My number one tip is don’t blow all your betting cash on the first big day of the tournament. Remember the NCAA Tournament is almost a month-long event so approach it smart and look for value. Also look for early line movement because the early line movement usually is the right line movement.

What is the most challenging thing about betting on the NCAA Tournament?

ROBERT FERRINGO:  I think most difficult part for professionals betting the NCAA Tournament is the impact of public money on the lines. During the regular season lines and line movements are generally more predictable and easier to read. The sharp, or professional money, generally has a big influence on the way the numbers move. However, with so much square, or newbie, money flooding into the market for the NCAA Tournament it can be more challenging to tell why a line is moving and whether or not that movement has any significance. Beyond that, even where the lines open is influenced more by the public during March. The public falls in love with certain favorites and underdogs and the books are forced to either inflate or deflate spreads because of it.  Do your research.  We publish daily preview articles on most college basketball games  so that is a good place to start early in the process before game time.    

What kind of advantages do bettors have in the NCAA Tournament?

ROBERT FERRINGO : March basketball is generally chaos. But the best kind of chaos. It starts in the conference tournaments and peaks during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The biggest edge that the players have is that the books don’t know many of the matchups ahead of time. There are quick turnarounds – less than 24 hours in the conference tournaments and less than 48 hours in the NCAA Tournament – and the oddsmakers don’t have a lot of time to study and make sure they are releasing pinpoint spreads. There are also a lot of random matchups, different styles and teams from various conferences, that can be tough for the oddsmakers to handicap. There is a lot going on in a short amount of time and it can be tough for the books and oddsmakers to stay ahead of the players. Remember: they have to be sharp on all of their lines. The bettors only have to find one or two weak spots to take advantage of. Of course, bettors lose that advantage the deeper into the tournament that you go. But for the first two or three weeks of March there are a lot of opportunities.

What are some of the things that you look for in a high-value tournament matchup?

TONY GEORGE : Teams with good backcourts thrive in the post season. Always look for good 3-point shooting teams and teams with a high efficiency rating on offense from beyond the arc. Teams whose top two scorers are guards are always worth a look and if their best player off the bench is a shooting guard with a high point production, that is a huge plus. Also, teams with good perimeter defenses always do well, even those who are lesser seeds but can matchup on the outside against the big boys. If you have a team with a strong defensive efficiency rating that is also a heavy underdog that is a side that you should consider.

So what is more important for NCAA Tournament wagering; offense or defense?

DOUG UPSTONE : Though it seems like a tired cliché it is true: defense wins championships. Offense can be a fickle component and from game to game and any team can shoot 50 percent one game and 40 percent the next. However, if you hold the opposing team to around 40% shooting on average for the season and down the stretch (last four games) then your team has a chance to cover the spread. A key statistical edge to look for is a team with a defensive shooting percentage three points or fewer than their opponent’s offensive shooting percentage. Also, if you see a matchup with a defensive efficiency rating difference of 12 or more between the two teams that is a matchup you want to keep an eye on, backing the stronger defense.  

What is one thing a lot of novice bettors overlook in NCAA Tournament matchups?

TONY GEORGE : Look at road records and even neutral court records.  Many teams can dominate people at home. But they won’t have that advantage in the postseason. Instead, teams that can win in hostile environments and on neutral sites have an advantage. If one team is .500 or better on the road and facing off against one that is not, that's a huge advantage.

What are characteristics of a possible champion for futures bets?

DOUG UPSTONE : While bettors are always intrigued about upsets in the Big Dance, to win futures bets, talent rules more than anything in picking a winner. Start with looking at teams that have the most NBA caliber players. That means finding teams with big guards (6-foot-3 or taller) and at least one forward/center type who is at least 6-8 and can score in the paint and defend the basket. Next, you want to look at teams that finished first or second in their conference during the regular season or a team that won its conference tournament, giving them the momentum to move forward and ideally they finished first or second in their conference in the regular season. Also, look for teams that have a winning streak of 10 or more during the season. To win a title teams have to win at least six in a row. It helps if they have done that in the regular season. Over the past 20 years these indicators were correct at least 62% percent of time, making them the building blocks of a champion.

We often hear that March Madness and the NCAA Tournament is a windfall for the sportsbooks. If so, why would someone bet on a sporting event where the public generally loses?


ROBERT FERRINGO : Yes and no. Yes, March college basketball and the NCAA Tournament is a profit driver for the sportsbooks. It generates a ton of excitement in Vegas and in sportsbooks and that drives a lot of other action, such as at the poker tables. It also has offshoots and impacts things like NBA betting and MLB futures bets, both of which rise during March. Finally, a good portion of the sportsbooks’ profits during March come from things like parlays and futures bets on the tournament. Those are typical square wagers where the books have a much higher hold percentage on. That said, there are advantages for the bettors during this time as well. And just because the sportsbooks make money on the whole that doesn’t mean that certain individual gamblers don’t bank a healthy profit on the tournament.