American football is made for Las Vegas. Lines for the Super Bowl are set 2 weeks in advance, with only a money line, point spread, and over/under point total for bookies to worry about. That gives odds-makers time to craft hundreds of fun props, or proposition-bets.
Betting markets for the NFL’s recent title tilt in New Orleans included props on whether Pink’s outfit would be modest or revealing, whether the NBC broadcast would mention President Trump by halftime, and whether New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis would gain more yards than the Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team would score points on the same Sunday. (Lewis lost, 67 to 39.)
March Madness is equally as big of a betting orgy as the Super Bowl. So why are the tourney’s proposition bets less colorful? Part of the reason is that there are so many games. Over 60 schools compete in the NCAA Tournament, giving sportsbooks well over 50 tip-offs and close to 1000 athletes to track. Creating good props takes imagination, and imagination is in short supply when a casino’s staff is busy updating odds for so many match-ups.
How could line-makers spice things up for future Big Dances? Here are 8 fantasy-prop bets which could make NCAA Tournament betting more entertaining in the years to come.
Worst Team Shooting Percentage
March Madness props are full of “best” this and “biggest” that. In which game will which school enjoy the biggest margin of victory? Which squad will score the most points in 40 minutes during the Round of 64? Which conference will be represented by the team destined to win the title?
Those odds are well and good. But it could be just as fun to wager on the worst that the tourney has to offer. Who will register the worst shooting percentage in a contest?
An early-round game would be the most likely target. If a Kansas or Villanova plays a woeful 16th seed, there is a chance that the small-conference school will not be able to find any good looks at all, and bottom-out with sub-30% field goal accuracy.
But bettors would need to be careful. Simply picking a 1st seed to crush a 16th seed isn’t the same as trying to peg the worst shooting day. A defensive team like Cincinnati, for instance, might have a better chance to totally shut down an opponent in its first game even if playing a 13th or 14th seed.
This one is simple. Which team will slam-dunk the rock most often in the tournament? It would be tempting for gamblers to pick high-flying transition teams such as the Xavier Musketeers. But the dunk-total proposition is for the entire tourney.
The longer a school stays alive, the more time it has to add to the tally. A tall, energetic roster could dunk several times in the Round of 64 but lose 100-99, eliminating their chance of winning the prop.
Duke University would be an interesting pick in 2018 as the Blue Devils are high-scoring, sound enough defensively to set up easy buckets, and likely to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
But Coach K’s team also isn’t usually the most-athletic on the block. Kentucky could register more dunks per game, but still get eliminated earlier in the tourney than Duke.
Most Re-Tweeted Highlight
Here’s a prop bet for the 21st century. Who will create the most-retweeted highlight clip of the NCAA Tournament?
Other ideas for social media props seem a little shaky. Most-popular trending team? It would be too tough to track or to agree on a method of determination. The number of retweets of a highlight clip is much easier to verify.
Would gamblers pick a team, or a player? Even if bookies offered dozens upon dozens of star performers to choose from in betting markets for the most-retweeted highlight, a relatively unknown kid from a mid-major school could steal the show on social media. A team-based futures market would result in less wagers ending in pushes.
Yes, this category could conceivably be gamed by Twitter bot-makers. But it would take a grand conspiracy of high-rollers to pull it off, as bots are almost strictly a political tool these days.
Will a Senior Score 15 or More Points in the Championship Game?
This proposition would create a philosophical choice for bettors to make, due to the weird state of college basketball in 2018. Some programs still think developing upperclassmen with big-game experience is the best path to a title. Others such as Kentucky recruit NBA prospects almost exclusively, knowing that the kids will be ready to leave campus after their freshman or sophomore seasons.
Duke’s roster includes only a lone senior, but his name is Grayson Allen. It’s not beyond imagination that Allen could score double-digits in San Antonio on April 2nd. Virginia, another top contender to advance to Texas, has 3 seniors on its roster.
Still, there are so many more underclassmen than seniors playing big minutes in modern college basketball that this prop would be a long-shot “yes” with plus-odds on “no.” At least until there’s a top seed with a bunch of tiny senior shooters, too short for the NBA but deadly on an NCAA court.
Longest Shot of the Tournament
Bruce Morris of Marshall University made the longest shot in NCAA basketball history in 1985, successfully launching an from his own baseline.
Morris’s shot involved a lot of luck. But a team-based, longest-shot-made proposition bet for the NCAA Tournament would pose a half-luck, half-skill scenario for bettors. Teams like Purdue and Michigan State have excellent rosters full of 3-point specialists and would top the betting board. But an answered-prayer such as Morris’s could always steal the mantle. If the lucky athlete played for a team not known for its shooting, a miracle heave-ho would flatten a lot of wallets too.
16th Seed’s Smallest Margin of Defeat
Every year, odds are placed on the likelihood of a 16th-seeded squad beating a 1st seed in the Round of 64. It’s the ultimate sucker bet. No 16th seed has ever beaten a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
So how about a wrinkle? A fantasy prop bet (which could easily become the real deal) would ask the gambler to choose which 16th seed came closest to beating their highly-ranked opponents in the opening game.
If this prop bet existed, bettors who went all-in on University of North Carolina-Asheville to beat Fab Melo-less Syracuse in the Round of 64 in 2012 would have had an alternative to getting . UNC-Asheville’s controversial loss would have won the smallest-losing-margin category among 16th seeds by a mile.
Of course, if a 16th seed happened to score an historic upset, it would count as the smallest losing margin, just as the bettor still wins ATS if their underdog pick beats both the spread and a favored opponent.
Furthermore, Virginia or Kansas versus a patsy could look like a murder at halftime but involve a lot of garbage time in the 2nd half for the 16th seed to catch up. Meanwhile a more closely-contested 1st vs 16th match-up could end with a huge rally from the contending team, and potentially a bigger margin of victory.
Most Chaotic Game
This would be a super-fun prop bet that takes place at the beginning of the tournament and between each round. Which pair of teams will have the sloppiest, most-chaotic basketball game for 2 halves?
Determining a winner would hinge on a trio of stats added together: total steals in the game, total fouls in the game, and the total number of offensive rebounds over 40 minutes. Handicappers would have fun analyzing which type of match-up would provide the most chaos on the court.
A school with a group of elite rebounders might rack up impressive numbers on the offensive glass, even in a regular half-court style contest. But that’s only 1 factor out of 3. A fast, scrappy team could spend an afternoon forcing turnovers while committing many of their own, or a desperate program up against a taller, stronger unit could foul and foul, adding to the chaos-total while hacking their way out of March Madness.
There’s also the chance of a double-OT game between fast-break teams winning this prop on the stat sheet thanks to the sheer number of possessions leading to inflated stats.
My final fantasy-prop is deceptively simple. Who will be the shortest team in the Final Four?
High-rollers would be forced into an interesting choice. The method of listing 9 or 10 contenders such as Villanova, Gonzaga and Duke, then picking the smallest roster, could easily bear fruit. But there’s always a chance of an overlooked school with a bunch of backcourt ballers shocking the field and making it to San Antonio.
The Ohio Bobcats, for instance, in a Sweet Sixteen contest in 2012, hitting 3-pointers from the parking lot and almost overcoming a crushing size disadvantage.
After all, the NCAA Tournament is unique. Its format helps eliminated schools and their student bodies feel like they still accomplished something, just by reaching the final bracket. If casinos get just a little more creative with future March Madness props, maybe bettors whose brackets are busted early-on can feel like they’re still alive and kicking too.