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Are Massive Underdogs the Best Bet in College Basketball?

Sometimes, Vegas can get carried away with its lines in lopsided NCAA basketball matchups. Mathematically, here’s where it tends to happen the most — and how bettors take advantage.

Have you ever been scrolling through the day’s college basketball slate and seen a line so big that it just didn’t seem right? Usually it happens early in the season when powerhouse teams fill out their home schedules with a few easy wins over no-name schools.

A few examples from earlier this year:

  • Defending men’s champion Baylor was -39 against Northwestern State
  • Last year’s men’s runner-up, Gonzaga, has been favored by 40 twice this season against Dixie State and Alcorn State
  • UConn, despite being down two starters, was a 35-point favorite over Maryland-Eastern Shore.

So, what do each of those games have in common?

The no-name school covered the spread.

And according to BestOdds.com, it happens often enough in men’s basketball that you should take notice.

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BestOdds went through 19 years worth of data and determined that betting on underdogs of more than 35 points blindly is actually a profitable strategy.

The underdogs become profitable at around +35.5 points, with their profitability peaking at +39.5 before dropping slightly. In the rare instance that a team is a 45-point underdog, the cover rate jumps right back up again.

See for yourself:

Graph courtesy of BestOdds.com

“Bettors are conditioned to back the superior team in a lopsided matchup, but the data shows bookmakers are forcing them to pay a premium on the favorite in those instances,” said Will Armitage, CEO of BestOdds.com. “Overcoming the house edge is a tall order across all forms of gambling, which speaks to why it’s imperative that bettors equip themselves with the best information available, and properly leverage it on the rare occasion that a window of opportunity presents itself.”

BestOdds aims to help bettors — wait for it! — find the best odds and therefore maximize the value of their bets. At a time when massive point spreads are becoming increasingly common in men’s college basketball (there were 26 such games in 2021), the available data suggest that betting on those underdogs exploits a bit of an inefficiency in the markets.

And if you’re wondering, no games on Saturday’s schedule featured a spread of 35 points or more at the FanDuel Sportsbook. The most lopsided spread on their board? Arizona at -20 over Utah. And if you’ve watched the Utes this year, that line might be a charitable one.

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