Tom Gable, Director of Race & Sports at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, provides our readers with insider tips and strategies for making the most of their sports betting ventures. This week, Tom is providing his expert advice on the College Basketball National Tournament and how to get a leg up on your office bracket pool.
One of the most exciting sports events of the year is upon us: March Matchups. The multi-week college basketball betting bonanza kicks off on Thursday, March 18 with the play-in games and the first round starts on Friday, March 20 with the national champion being crowned on April 5. With so many teams in the field and games to be played, there is truly an opportunity to make some money with some smart plays. So whether you are wagering on the games or just filling out a bracket, we are going to look at some teams to keep an eye on and that may give you a leg up on the sportsbook or your office bracket pool.
Favorites: The number 1 seeds are always double-digit point spread favorites in the first round, and this year won’t be any different with the Gonzaga Bulldogs (2/1 to win the national title), the Illinois Illini (6/1 to win the national title), the Baylor Bears (5/1 to win the national title) and the Michigan Wolverines (7/1 to win the national title) rounding out the top 4 teams in the field. Gonzaga has the highest power rating of the 4 but also plays in the weakest conference from that group. Gonzaga did receive the best draw in their bracket as they have beaten some of the top seeds in their region already. Michigan lost their second-best scorer in the Big 10 Conference Tournament, which will certainly hurt their chances here. Baylor appeared to be on par with Gonzaga through most of the season until COVID-19 put their season on pause. There is no question that since they have come back they are not the same team and are not playing at the same high level game in and game out. That leaves us with Illinois, who I feel is playing the best basketball right now and have the key pieces you need to make a run at the title. They are led by junior guard, Ayo Dosunmu, who is averaging over 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists per game.
Teams to Keep an Eye On: Besides the four #1 seeds, there are a number of teams that are capable of making a run to the Final Four and beyond. SEC Champions and #2 seed, Alabama, have the athleticism and the scoring ability to play with any team in the country. At 16/1 odds to win the championship, they may be worth a play and if they make it to the Final Four, you can always hedge off your position to lock in a profit. Oklahoma State (16/1 odds to win the national title) is another dangerous team. They had 10 Quad 1 wins during the regular season (the second most in the country behind Illinois) and have one of, if not the best player in all of college basketball: freshman, Cade Cunningham. While they may not be power rated as high as Alabama or Houston, with Cunningham, anything is possible. However, the selection committee did not do them any favors as they match up in the first round against a live underdog in Liberty and have a touch bracket to get through. A mid-major school, Loyola-Chicago (40/1 odds to win the national championship), won their conference tournament (Missouri Valley Conference) after finishing first in the regular season as well. You may remember them from their Cinderella Final Four run in 2018 (with their biggest fan, then 98 year old nun Sister Jean cheering them on from their bench as the team chaplain). Sister Jean hasn’t attended any games this season due to the pandemic but still leads the team in prayer before each game over the phone and has said she wants to attend March Madness in person this year at 101 years old. This is a school that I have power rated as high as #3 seed Arkansas and yet the committee has them in a tough opening round 8 vs 9 seed match up against Georgia Tech.
Long-shots: It’s always fun to predict which teams, which aren’t necessarily among the favorites, can make a deep run in the tournament. For these, we will look at schools that are seeded 12th or higher for the tournament but may still have a chance to win a few games and wreck some brackets. Let’s start with the Georgetown Hoyas. They are a 12 seed and will face #5 seed Colorado in the first round. The Hoyas are 100/1 to win the tournament but have been very hot lately, winning the Big East Conference tournament in convincing fashion and have really stepped up their defensive intensity and are playing under control on the offensive end while limiting the turnovers that plagued them in the first half of the season. Another long shot to look at is UC Santa Barbara. They are also a 12 seed and will play Creighton in the first round. Creighton is a team that comes limping into the tournament, having been routed by Georgetown in the Big East final and UC Santa Barbara is fresh off winning the Big West Conference Tournament. They had the longest winning streak in school history this year and shoot fantastic from beyond the arc. If they can knock off Creighton, they would face the winner of Virginia/Ohio, and are capable of beating both of those schools as well. Finally, we will look at a #14 seed: Colgate. They have an extremely tough match-up in the first round against Arkansas. Expect a lot of scoring in the game (the over/under for the total points in the game has already moved up 5 points from where we opened it) as Arkansas likes to get up and down the floor and Colgate can score with any team in the country. If Colgate can pull off the upset (they are currently a 9 point underdog) they would advance to play the winner of Texas Tech and Utah State and again would be a tough match up for either of those schools.
March Madness is one of the best events to experience live in a sportsbook. We hope you can join us at Borgata as we will be the only Atlantic City casino to offer 3 different venues to wager on and view the games: the BetMGM Sportsbook and Bar, the Race and Sportsbook and the Borgata Event Center where you can view all of the games on 10 foot tall screens and have the ability to make wagers with our staff from the venue. If you can’t join us in person this year, you can still join in the wagering excitement via the Borgata Sports mobile app.