As Wild NCAA Tournament Continues, Sportsbooks Wary Of Public Dogs

Written By Matt Schoch on March 25, 2021
Cinderella NCAA Tournament Loyola Chicago 2021

Only a few years back, big  upsets and Cinderellas in the NCAA Tournament pretty much assured nice outputs for sportsbooks.

When a higher seed fell early, parlays were busted and future bet tickets trashed.

That thinking has changed in the last five-plus years, according to Nick Bogdanovich, the director of trading for William Hill US Sportsbook. There are more public underdogs than before, meaning bettors have rallied behind certain high-profile teams or value picks with impressive advanced statistical outputs.

“In the old days, for sure, it was always that way,” Bogdanovich said Thursday of dogs helping the house. “But the last five, eight, 10 years, you better win the right dogs. Because there are some public dogs that we had some huge decisions on.

“It’s not blindly anymore that when a dog wins, it’s necessarily good. In fact, some of our bigger decisions was when we needed a favorite. It just depends on which one.”

That’s the case again this weekend, as Bogdanovich eyes a March Madness slate where five double-digit seeds are still dancing.

According to the numbers, this is the wackiest NCAA Sweet 16 ever, with the 5.88 average seed remaining the highest in history.

William Hill did still win, despite some ‘public dogs’ winning

Fortunately for William Hill, an upset-heavy first weekend translated into wins for the book, Bogdanovich said.

“We won three out of the four days,” he said. “But it’s just huge to have the tournament back. Last year we missed it, so it’s a pretty sizable dent in us. Week 1 was good.”

Some of the Cinderella stories have now turned to liabilities though, as Bogdanovich and sportsbooks hope a winning formula emerges from this weekend’s results.

Sister Jean, Loyola-Chicago come up big for William Hill

The Loyola Ramblers are again one of the biggest stories this March.

Sister Jean and crew advanced to the Final Four in 2018 and are two wins away from repeating that feat.

Loyola’s 71-58 upset Sunday of top-seeded Illinois to advance to the Sweet 16 was the best result of the weekend for the book, Bogdanovich said.

“That was our biggest win of the tournament,” he said. “There was a ton of Illinois money: Moneyline parlays, parlays and straight bets. That was the single biggest win of the first four days.”

William Hill wasn’t alone. According to PlayIllinois, 89% of handle for DraftKings was on Illinois for that game, with FanDuel and PointsBet approaching that number.

On the other hand, Bogdanovich said, No. 13 seed Ohio upsetting defending champion Virginia and No. 12 seed UC-Santa Barbara covering the spread with a one-point loss against 5-seed Creighton were big first-round losses for William Hill.

William Hill wary of Syracuse, long Oregon State run

What about this weekend for sports bettors?

Bogdanovich said William Hill could use good results from Creighton against Gonzaga, along with Villanova against Baylor.

However, the book would benefit from favorites knocking off public underdogs such as 11th-seeded Syracuse and No. 12 Oregon State.

Bogdanovich said William Hill in Nevada has a nearly seven-figure liability on Oregon State to win the whole tournament.

Although that’s certainly unlikely for the 12 seed, the Beavers advancing deep also brings chances for bettors to hedge off that win.

Even Oral Roberts, a No. 15 seed getting 11 points against Arkansas, qualifies as a public dog on Saturday, Bogdanovich said.

Michigan liability has cooled since start of tournament

Before the brackets were announced, Michigan was hailed by several books as the No. 1 liability of the tournament.

Although the top-seed Wolverines have advanced to the Sweet 16, that liability has cooled at William Hill.

“Once the tournament field is set, a ton of future bets come in,” Bogdanovich said. “We’re off the hook with Michigan, but for the longest time they were our biggest liability.”

Furthermore, Bogdanovich said Florida State on Sunday could end up being a public dog against the Wolverines. Professional bettors moved the line from 3 points in Michigan’s favor down to 2.5 early on.

Bogdanovich said he eventually expects Sunday’s game to have equal action and wouldn’t mind seeing Michigan win, adding that he’s a fan of Wolverines coach Juwan Howard.

According to FanDuel on Wednesday, Michigan was getting 18% of the championship outright handle at +700, still the largest liability there. PointsBet also still had Michigan (+700) as its biggest championship liability on Thursday.

Spartans falling in First Four was good for William Hill

Meanwhile, UCLA topping Michigan State in overtime on the tourney’s first night was big for William Hill.

“(MSU) going down was a shock,” Bogdanovich said. “But I guess UCLA has proven that (Michigan State) got beat by a good team, if that gives Michigan State fanbase any solace that UCLA has won three games and they’re playing their best basketball. At least they didn’t get beat by a dud.”

William Hill wouldn’t mind splitting weekend results

Bogdanovich said it’s a myth that each game generally has equal action and the sportsbook wins the juice.

Although that scenario would ideal for the books, in reality, outcomes swing the book output from night to night.

“It just depends on how big it is,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s nice to split out the big decisions, and then we’ll grab our 4 or 5% and run for the hills.”

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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He’s also the former host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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