March Madness Betting Starts Early At NJ Sportsbooks With Upset-Filled Weekend

Boom, now that was an explosion.

New Jersey gamblers are still buzzing over the college basketball underdogs who rattled off a betting version of a 21-gun salute last weekend.

It was unprecedented.

In a March Madness dress rehearsal like no other, underdogs reeled off six moneyline triumphs against the nation’s top six men’s basketball teams.

New Jersey dog bettors and NJ sportsbooks rejoiced at the outburst.

“This really bodes well for the house,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told NJGS. “People start looking at the college basketball landscape and realizing that this is more wide open than they thought and we’re starting to see action pick up a bit on teams in the 20-1-30-1 range.”

“As for the weekend itself, Gonzaga really worked out well. That was our top game of the day, revenue-wise.”

For gamblers who missed the upheaval, the boom parade went like this:

  • 1 Gonzaga lost 67-57 to No. 23 St. Mary’s
  • 2 Arizona was beaten 79-63 by Colorado
  • 3 Auburn lost 67-62 to No. 17 Tennessee
  • 4 Purdue was defeated 68-65 by Michigan State
  • 5 Kansas came up short 80-70 to No. 10 Baylor
  • 6 Kentucky lost 75-73 to No. 18 Arkansas

These were the biggest surprises. No. 9 Texas Tech concluded the lost favorites for the weekend with a 69-66 setback to TCU.

March Madness Odds At NJ Sportsbooks

Suddenly, many long shots look like good shots. And how much can gamblers trust the favorites?

There is value all over this board.

Here are the latest DraftKings futures for the NCAA National Championship:

Gonzaga is still the chalk +350, while Arizona and Kentucky are +700.

Purdue comes in at +900, compared to Duke and Auburn at +1200.

Kansas and defending National Champion Baylor are +1400.

Villanova, a long-time favorite of New Jersey bettors, is +2500, along with UCLA and Texas Tech.

Giant killer St. Mary’s is +12000. Few bettors expect an encore, but this is a huge price on a club that just toyed with the nation’s reigning top team.

College basketball betting patterns

One charm to the college basketball season is the vulnerability of teams ranked from 11-25. A couple of teams in that group usually lose every week.

There are teams who will scuffle, getting from 25th to 10th, and lose without getting further.

But the chalk was always reliable. Moneyline bettors could count on Gonzaga, Kansas, or Kentucky.

Not this past weekend.

The development dramatized how difficult it is for a team to dominate a circuit all winter.

Avello noted that this past weekend was a perfect betting storm. The spreads were not large enough to be considered utter shockers. And the dogs stepped up.

Gonzaga, for instance, actually looked like a team that should have lost by 10 points. St. Mary’s was on fire, playing with the expectation of toppling Gonzaga.

“You look at those West Coast Conference standings and it’s easy to think it’s always going to be about Gonzaga,” Avello said. “What’s easy to miss is the fact that St. Mary’s is usually second.”

“If you see Gonzaga at 24-5, St. Mary’s is usually around 22-7. That team is always pretty good. St. Mary’s doesn’t have that type of caliber in which it is going to be top notch, in and out, but when that Gonzaga team plays St. Mary’s, it knows that game is not going to be a cakewalk.”

To his point, Gonzaga had beaten St. Mary’s 74-58 two weeks earlier in one of its lowest-scoring contests of the season. Gonzaga usually surpasses 90 points and cleared 100 on three straight occasions. But St. Mary’s stayed with the Bulldogs in that game and then beat them two weeks later.

St. Mary’s, 24-6, was rewarded for the triumph, jumping to No. 19 in the latest AP poll.

Analyzing College Basketball’s Top 10

The AP rankings did not change at the top, however.

Gonzaga retained the No. 1 spot and Arizona stayed second.

Baylor surged to third after toppling Kansas. The Bears were careful not to undo their good fortune, capturing a 68-61 road victory against No. 21 Texas two days later.

Duke, which throttled Pittsburgh 86-56, comfortably slid into the fourth spot.

Auburn rounds out the top five, despite losing to Tennessee.

Kansas, Kentucky, Purdue, Providence, and Wisconsin comprise the next five and there’s already movement guaranteed in that pack this week.

Villanova, ranked 11th and supported closely by New Jersey bettors, slipped past Providence 76-74 Tuesday night and will likely vault into the top 10 next week.

For the nation’s top teams, the rankings look like a group-disaster mulligan. Start all over again this week.

“Just because a team loses a game, you don’t have to drop them out of the rankings if they play a formidable team,” Avello said. “Look at everybody else above or below them.”

“By this time of the year, you have a lot of games already in and a track record has been established. The rankings would have changed a lot more had this happened earlier in the year.”

The competitive balance of the nation’s top teams has sportsbooks salivating. Not only can bettors pick off futures value, but major conference tournaments loom next week.

Those matchups may not produce the crazy upsets of March Madness, but they hold their own regarding the betting.

The parity among tournament contenders becomes keener in the semifinal and final rounds.

“We write a ton of business in the conference tournaments.” Avello said. “We love it. Think about it, all those conferences like the Big East, the ACC, the SEC, all with teams capable of beating each other at any time.”

“That’s especially true in the SEC, four teams can win that conference.”

Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas should indeed have a tremendous battle in the SEC tournament, which begins next week.

Betting On NCAA Conference Tournaments

Bettors can also await another potential Villanova-Providence showdown in the Big East tournament next week. Villanova owns two tight triumphs in this battle.

Some tournaments are already underway.

Gamblers who can tie into the Ohio Valley, Sun Belt, Horizon League, and Mountain West tournaments will find chalks that don’t look too prohibitive, in many of them.

But there’s one number that sticks out.

Gonzaga is -400 to win the West Coast Conference at DraftKings. St. Mary’s is +400, still a big underdog, but at a far lower number than one would have expected a week ago. But now that St. Mary’s beat Gonzaga, the odds are less lopsided.

That’s just one more remnant of the weekend in which dogs told the chalk to take a walk.


(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

About the Author

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.