In over 24 hours since the lines for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament were released, we have already seen plenty of line moves in several of the matchups taking place this week. I’ll be highlighting several of those moves in this week’s “Inside the Lines” column and providing a look at what bettors are seeing in terms of moving the lines the way they have in early trading.
In the two First Four games taking place on Wednesday, we have seen heavy line movement in both games. NC Central opened a 2 point favorite against UC Davis and is now as high as -4 – a clear opinion move against a UC Davis team from a Big West conference that was a complete disaster area this season.
USC and Providence had their First Four game on Wednesday open pick ‘em but the Trojans are now laying -3 in several locations in what will be a revenge situation for USC after losing to Providence, 70-69, last year in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in a game Providence trailed most of the way but stole in the final minutes. There could also be some opinion in that line move among bettors that the Big East may be somewhat overvalued coming into the Big Dance.
On Thursday, the biggest line moves have occurred in the following games:
Money has flowed in against Florida, which opened -12 against Southern Conference champion East Tennessee State, and they are now anywhere from -9.5 to -10.5 across all sportsbooks. ETSU is one of the best shooting teams in the country, ranking 10th at 49.1% from the field while averaging 79.9 points per contes, and their offensive proficiency could prove to be a tough challenge for Florida’s stifling brand of defense.
Florida State opened a -14 favorite against Florida Gulf Coast and they’ve been bet down to -11.5 to -12 in most locations with FGCU money coming in. The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles made a Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament back in 2013 going all the way to the Sweet 16. I’m sure that resonates in the minds of many bettors going into this year’s tournament.
Purdue was -10 against Vermont and the Catamounts have taken money with the Boilermakers now -8.5 across the board. Vermont was undefeated in America East conference and is riding a 21-game win streak heading into the tournament.
Middle Tennessee State stunned the college basketball world with an upset win against Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans last year in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament as 16.5 point underdogs.
No doubt an adjustment has been made by the oddsmakers heading into this tournament. This year’s MTSU squad is just as dangerous having won 30 games including a 2-0 SU and ATS record against major conference foes (defeating Ole Miss and Vanderbilt) and they are slim underdogs against Minnesota.
The Blue Raiders opened as a 3 point underdog and have taken significant early money. They are now lined at a near pick ‘em in most locations against the Golden Gophers.
On Friday, North Carolina opened -24.5 against Texas Southern and we’ve seen the Tar Heels as huge favorites take some money. They are now up to -26.5 across the board.
Louisville opened -22 against Jacksonville State but we have seen some underdog money pushing the Cardinals down to a -20.5 point favorite in that game.
Bettors have been impressed with Michigan, which ended the season as one of the hottest teams in not just the Big Ten but the entire country. The Wolverines enjoyed a terrific 4-0 SU and ATS run to a Big Ten Tournament championship and the betting markets have fallen in love with them as they opened -1.5 against the Oklahoma State Cowboys and have been bet up to -2.5.
The Baylor Bears who didn’t play as well in the back half of the season have seen some money trickle in against them as they’ve been bet from -13 down to -12 against New Mexico State, the champions of the WAC. But they are a program that has gone just 1-3 ATS in their last four NCAA Tournament games since 2012.
Creighton opened a -3 favorite against Rhode Island but the red hot Rams, who played their way into the Big Dance for certain by winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship over the weekend, have taken plenty of money; the Bluejays are now just -1 in that game.
The last significant line move is UCLA, which opened -17 against MAC Tournament champion Kent State and has been bet up to -18 in what could play out to be a mismatch for the Bruins and a game where their offensive potency and balance could roll over the Golden Flashes and an opponent where the Bruins somewhat suspect defensive acumen may not be much of a factor.
Those are the early line moves that have taken place in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Next week, I’ll provide a betting recap of the first weekend of tournament action and talk about what we can use moving forward to help us produce profits here in March.