College Basketball
2024 March Madness betting recap: 'Saturday was our worst day of the year'
College Basketball

2024 March Madness betting recap: 'Saturday was our worst day of the year'

Published Mar. 25, 2024 12:39 p.m. ET

Most of the first two days of the NCAA Tournament went well for the sportsbooks and not quite so well for the public betting masses.

But once James Madison — a very popular underdog — notched its 72-61 upset of Wisconsin on Friday night, the tide began to turn in the March Madness odds market.

"Saturday was our worst day of the year," said Zachary Lucas, TwinSpires Sportsbook director of retail sports.

The customers’ good fortunes continued into Sunday, as favorites ran roughshod and public bettors banked a bundle of winnings.


Multiple oddsmakers chimed in Sunday night to recap the first weekend of betting on March Madness.

Favorites Feast

Across the 16 second-round games — eight Saturday, eight Sunday — favorites went 15-1 straight up (SU) and a solid 11-5 against the spread (ATS). That was a boon particularly for moneyline parlay players, who stacked up favorites on their tickets and cashed out each day.

Defending national champion UConn was a key component to bettors’ success. After drubbing No. 16 seed Stetson 91-52 as 27.5-point first-round favorites, the Huskies put the wood to Northwestern in Sunday’s second round.

UConn led 40-18 at halftime and coasted to a 73-58 victory to cover as 13-point favorites.

"We got crushed on UConn. We were up for the day until then, but we gave away every penny on UConn," BetMGM Nevada’s Scott Shelton said.

No. 1 seed Purdue helped parlay/moneyline parlay bettors, too. The Boilermakers, who were 11.5-point favorites, blistered No. 9 seed Utah State 106-67.

"We got off to a solid start both Thursday and Friday. But that didn’t last, with all the favorites winning the weekend," Shelton said. "A disastrous Saturday rolled into another chalky Sunday that kept the parlays rolling."

One ‘Dog Has Its Day

The only second-round underdog that won outright was No. 6 seed Clemson. The Tigers were getting 4.5 points against No. 3 seed Baylor and posted a 72-64 victory on Sunday.

Otherwise, it was all favorites, which proved a recipe for success for public bettors and a major headache for bookmakers.

"This is the worst opening weekend I can recall seeing for us. It felt like every favorite won," Lucas said. "The only positive was Kentucky losing, which already feels like ages ago."

Indeed, the No. 3 seed Wildcats — a popular bet to win the national championship — bowed out in Thursday’s first round. Kentucky was a 13.5-point favorite vs. No. 14 seed Oakland and lost 80-76.

Put Up Your Dukes

James Madison was a 5.5-point underdog to No. 5 seed Wisconsin, but everybody and their mother was on the Dukes — on the point spread and to pull the outright moneyline upset.

Which, as noted above, JMU did with a 72-61 win in Friday night’s final game. The upset came in the wake of No. 13 seed Yale’s shocking 78-76 victory over No. 4 seed Auburn, a 13.5-point favorite. Those two results were a dichotomy of BetMGM Nevada’s Friday.

"If the Yale win was the book’s best game of the day, then the J Mad moneyline win was the best game for the public. We got crushed," Shelton said.

On Sunday against Duke, James Madison was again a very popular play to pull an outright upset. JMU was a 6.5-point underdog and was in the +225 range on the moneyline, meaning a $100 bet would profit $225 — for a $325 total payout — if James Madison beat the Blue Devils.

But Duke was having none of it. The Blue Devils led 47-25 at halftime on the way to a 93-55 rout. It was the rare instance in which bookmakers welcomed a blowout win by a favorite.

"This is big. We needed Duke. That was the only favorite we needed this weekend," Shelton said.

However, it wasn’t enough to stop the public freight train on the rest of the favorites Saturday and Sunday.

On the Bright Side …

With so many favorites — or chalk, as oddsmakers and bettors call them — advancing through the first weekend, there are some tremendous Sweet 16 matchups. That includes a rematch of last season’s national title game, with UConn taking on No. 5 seed San Diego State in the East Region semifinals on Thursday.

Other notable matchups: No. 2 seed Iowa vs. No. 3 seed Illinois, also in the East; No. 2 seed Tennessee vs. No. 3 seed Creighton in the Midwest; and No. 1 seed Purdue vs. No. 5 seed Gonzaga in the Midwest.

John Murray, executive director of The SuperBook, expects those and other high-profile games to attract plenty of betting action. And perhaps take some of the sting off opening weekend.

"Thursday was great. Saturday not so much. Too much chalk," Murray said. "I will say the good thing about all this chalk winning is that we get great regional matchups. We are already getting booked up for next weekend. It’s going to be great."

Patrick Everson is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and senior reporter for He is a distinguished journalist in the national sports betting space. He’s based in Las Vegas, where he enjoys golfing in 110-degree heat. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickE_Vegas.


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