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Trends Heading Into Sweet 16

March 23, 2021
NCAA basketball trends heading into the Sweet 16

Without a tournament in 2020 due to the coronavirus, this year’s March Madness seems amplified. The madness has been insane and savvy bettors have had plenty to cheer about. In Round 1 of the NCAA tournament, every single seed – minus the No. 16s – won a game.

The madness started with No. 15 Oral Roberts knocking off No. 2 Ohio State. It was just the ninth time in NCAA tournament history that a No. 2 seed lost in the first round. No. 14 seed Abilene Christian used the nation’s best defense to beat Texas. North Texas and Ohio both won as No. 13 seeds, Oregon State advanced as a No. 12 and UCLA and Syracuse both won as No. 11 seeds.

It was absolute madness in the tournament’s first weekend and it is likely not over yet. Here’s a look at the trends heading into the Sweet Sixteen.

Look to Back the Dogs
The tournament started with the First Four, which laid the groundwork for what was to come in the first weekend of March Madness. Three of the four underdogs in the play-in games won outright and all four covered for a 4-0 ATS record.

That trend would continue in the Round of 64 games. Higher seeds did go 21-10 straight up, but underdogs went 17-14 ATS. There were only 31 games played due to the coronavirus which eliminated VCU. Oregon automatically advanced to the second round.

A number of those underdogs didn’t just cover the spread; they won outright and that would continue into Round 2. Counting the First Four, there have now been 51 games played in this year’s tournament. In those 51 games, underdogs are 28-23 ATS. As March Madness enters its second weekend of play, look for the right dogs to back. They are out there.

The Under trend also started with the First Four. Three of those play-in games saw their totals go Under and that continued into Round 1. In the 31 games played, the Under was a very profitable 19-11-1. Abilene Christian’s upset over Texas was a great example of a strong Under play. The Wildcats have the best defense in the nation and it showed against the Longhorns. The result was a 53-52 win and a victory for anyone holding an Under ticket.

Through all 51 games played so far, the Under is 28-21-2. It will be interesting to see if this trend can continue. Of the 16 teams remaining in the tournament, 12 have records more favorable to the Over. Only Loyola (15-13), Creighton (16-13-1), Michigan (15-11), and Alabama (17-15) have records that trend toward the Under.

The Pac-12
Wasn’t it supposed to be the Big Ten that would dominate the tournament field? On Selection Sunday, nine Big Ten teams were chosen to represent what was thought to be the nation’s toughest conference. Eight days later, eight of those teams are no longer in the tournament field and just one remains.

The East Region’s No. 1 seed, Michigan, is the only Big Ten team still alive. The Wolverines had to overcome an early LSU lead in the second round to ward off the upset and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Big Ten had two No. 1 seeds – Michigan and Illinois – and two No. 2 seeds – Iowa and Ohio State. The Buckeyes, of course, fell victim to Oral Roberts and Iowa got embarrassed in a second-round loss to Oregon. Illinois was taken out by Loyola, which advances to the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in the past three tournaments.

This year’s best conference in March Madness? The Pac-12. Yes, that same Pac-12 that was an afterthought for most of the 2020-21 season. The conference had exactly two teams in the last AP Top 25 poll. Colorado was ranked No. 22 and USC tied with BYU at No. 23. That’s it.

Heading into the Sweet Sixteen, the Pac-12 is represented by four teams – Oregon, Oregon State, USC, and UCLA. The Trojans were the highest-seeded Pac-12 team coming in as a No. 6. Oregon is a No. 7 and UCLA and Oregon State were 11th and 12th seeds. Oregon will face USC in a West Region semifinal giving the conference the opportunity to have at least three teams make the Elite Eight.

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