How Recency Bias Impacts Tourney Odds

We’re hearing a lot more about recency bias in the sports betting world these days. 

If you’re not familiar, it means we fall victim to predicting future events based on the most recent occurrences which, in betting terms, means we tend to put too much value on teams that have been unusually hot or cold lately. Math folks will tell you it’s the longer term numbers that really matter. 

Oddmakers know this too and they set the lines accordingly but the NCAA committee is not scared to throw a bucket of recency bias into the Dance every year and that’s where things get a little tricky for the books. 

Heading into the first round of the NCAA tourney, here are three items to consider where the odds may be influenced by recency bias:  

Oregon flies to the top

Last week Sportsbook Superbook had Oregon at 30-1 to win the NCAA championship. The Ducks were also one of four teams squeezed together at either 7-2 or 5-2 odds to win the Pac-12 tournament, along with Arizona, Utah and California. 

A weekend goes by and Oregon catapults from being in a log jam of the top four teams in the Pac-12 to being one of the top four teams in the country by being awarded a No. 1 seed. 

It sounds a little nuts when you think of it that way. 

It was a 31-point win over Utah in the Pac-12 championship that ultimately slashed their odds to 14-1 to win it all – a big move that raised a lot of eyebrows but the books had to react after the surprise No. 1 seeding. 

Duke totals

Duke combined to sail over the total in its first two conference games by a combined 47 points. The Blue Devils set an ACC tournament record for most points in a regulation time game by scoring 181 points along with N.C. State in the first one.  

It’s no surprise to me then that Duke’s OVER/UNDER was set at 157 in their first round game with N.C. Wilmington, which is the second highest number of any total in the first round of the tourney. But I think Coach K intentionally varied from his game plan in the NCAA tournament and we may want to be careful here. 

"What we've talked about coming into (championship) week is don't pace yourself, play one game at a time, and let's get better,” Krzyewski said after the N.C State game. “The one thing we have going for us next week, we know we're in the tournament. We'll be a decent seed. We have spring break next week. That will help."   

No no. 1 seed for Villanova

The Wildcats have had great teams the last couple of seasons but they were memorably dumped in the first weekend of the tournament each time as a No. 1 and No. 2 seed the past two seasons. They also got upset this past weekend by Seton Hall in the Big East tournament final. 

What does this mean? Well, they quickly waved good bye to a No. 1 seed and opened as a 15.5-point favorite against UNC Asheville in the first round. 

Early money pounced on Nova and I’m thinking they likely saw some recency bias here. By Monday afternoon this line had made one of the biggest early moves on the board – 2 points – and jumped to 17.5. 

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