The Seven Undervalued Teams of March Madness: Betting the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

Nate Silver’s Grantland-esque website FiveThirtyEight debuted today. It includes an interactive graphic (utilizing seven different predictor variables) featuring every team’s chances to reach every round of March Madness, including their odds of winning it all. How do those odds stack up to the current (as of 11:59 pm Eastern Time) odds given by Sportsbook.com? Best of all, which teams make for the best bets, even if they are unlikely to win the championship, because Vegas is giving them even longer odds than they deserve? Find out below!

Positive Expected Value Bets to Win the NCAA MB Tournament

Team Sportsbook Odds-to-One Break Even Percentage FiveThirtyEight Percent Chance to Win Bet Expected Value
Arizona 8 11.11% 13.00% 1.89%
Villanova 30 3.23% 4.00% 0.77%
Ohio St 75 1.32% 2.00% 0.68%
Creighton 40 2.44% 3.00% 0.56%
Duke 20 4.76% 5.00% 0.24%
Michigan 35 2.78% 3.00% 0.22%
Kentucky 50 1.96% 2.00% 0.04%

For a bet of Arizona’s odds to be profitable (in the long run), it needs to cash 11.11 percent of the time; Nate Silver and his team estimate that the Wildcats’ true odds lie at 13 percent. That gap produces the largest positive expected value in the field. Which teams should you avoid putting money on to go all the way?

Worst Expected Value Bets to Win the NCAA MB Tournament

Michigan St 5.5 15.38% 6.00% -9.38%
Syracuse 18 5.26% 1.00% -4.26%
Iowa St 30 3.23% 1.00% -2.23%
UCLA 35 2.78% 1.00% -1.78%
Florida 5.5 15.38% 14.00% -1.38%
Wisconsin 22 4.35% 3.00% -1.35%
Wichita St 15 6.25% 5.00% -1.25%
Kansas 13 7.14% 6.00% -1.14%

Everyone loves Michigan St, and that is precisely why they are overvalued. The Spartans are good, and it is entirely possible they could win; it is even possible that Silver’s methodology has sold them short, perhaps by not accounting for Tom Izzo. But it is also true that at the five-and-a-half-to-one odds currently offered, the Spartans have to win 15.38 percent of the time for this bet to be profitable. Even if their true probability of a championship is around ten percent, or even 12 percent, it would still not be a good idea to put money on Michigan St. With the fabled winning streaks, Syracuse and Wichita St also make appearances on this list of worst bets in the tournament.

This is not to say that these teams are guaranteed to lose. But if you place bets with a negative expected value, while you may win one or two, over time you are guaranteed not only to lose, but to lose money.

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