For College Basketball, March Begins in the Risk Room
The Circa Sports risk room was fairly quiet on Sunday afternoon, one hour before the college basketball tournament bracket was set to be released. There were only a handful of games going on. The Big Ten and AAC Championship games were winding down, it was a light slate for the NBA, and the Players Championship was finishing the weekend.
The Big Ten game started catching major attention as Purdue had a number of turnovers down the stretch.
“Well that’s disappointing,” was heard as Penn State traveled before a possible game-winning shot.
In the midst of this, Nick Bogdanovich and Richie Baccellieri started preparing for an important task: putting up the opening lines for the college basketball tournament. Matt Metcalf would soon join them in the risk room to assign these numbers.
Setting the College Basketball Opening Lines
Baccellieri pulled out his handwritten sheet, indicating what the team’s rating was throughout the year. He showed how some of the teams increased or decreased throughout the year. As he explained, he preferred the written sheet to a computer spreadsheet, partially because it helps him remember things better, but also just because it’s how he’s always done it. He joined the Circa Sports team in 2022, but he has been working in Vegas sportsbooks for nearly four decades. He mentioned that he remembers having to wait until Monday to properly put up numbers, particularly futures, simply because they had to wait for a newspaper to properly analyze the bracket.
Bogdanovich, who has also been working in the industry since the mid-80s, and Baccellieri compared notes on the teams they expected to be in the bracket. There were a few discussions on injuries that happened in the conference tournaments, and how they should handle the teams.
Discussing the Tournament Lines
A question came from across the room about whether they should take down the futures while the selection show was going on. “Nah, leave them up.” Bogdanovich responded.
As the broadcast began, they wrote down the matchups as they came out. There were a few gambling-related notes that were thrown out, but largely it was simple basketball talk.
On Creighton-NC State: “That’s a hell of a matchup.”
“I like Utah State,” was heard as Utah State was revealed as a 10-seed.
Arguably the biggest surprise during the bracket release was that Nevada made it into the tournament as an at-large. Some believed that Rutgers, Oklahoma State or Clemson should have been in over the Wolfpack. After the bracket was released, Richie turned and said, “Nevada is the lowest [rated] at-large that got in. North Carolina would be favored by 6 on a neutral over them.”
After the bracket was completely revealed, they started going through their numbers individually, figuring out what they would personally make for each game. After about 15 minutes, the three started collaborating on what Circa should put up as the opening lines.
They went down the list of games. Metcalf would give his opinion first, then Baccellieri, with Bogdanovich going last. Sometimes Matt would quip that he hoped Nick would split the difference between the two. And while they used their numbers, they also knew when their numbers felt a little off for the game. A common refrain was “I have it at X, but that feels high/low.”
It’s not an exact science. If, for example, one person had it a game at -2, another at -3, and one at -6, they didn’t simply average it together for a number. As much as it is simple numbers and power ratings, it’s also about feel and conviction, and how they felt the bettors would react to a certain number.
Deciding the Tournament Lines
The first game was Texas A&M Corpus-Christi and Southeast Missouri State. They were all right around the same number, and the first game went up as Texas A&M Corpus-Christi -3.
Quickly they found a game that they disagreed on…and it happened to be about the aforementioned Nevada Wolfpack. Two had Arizona State as favorites, though they were a few points off from each other. One had Nevada as the favorite. They settled at Arizona State -1.5 to open.
Another game that was tricky to come to a consensus for was West Virginia and Maryland. In addition to simply having different numbers, there was some discussion about who would be bet more. “I think they’ll bet West Virginia,” was said a couple times. After a couple of minutes, West Virginia -2 went up on the board.
The Auburn-Iowa game also had some discussion around it. In general, these games are simply going to be opened based on a neutral floor. However, despite being a 9, Auburn got the chance to play in Birmingham. This ended up moving the line a couple points from the number some created if they would have played somewhere farther away from each campus. Auburn opened as a slight favorite.
All the while, as they put up new lines, they made sure to monitor the bets coming in, reacting as necessary to move the lines. They paid special attention to who was betting it, knowing that certain bettors would signify more of a reason to move a line immediately.
Bogdanvoich was monitoring the early bets against the spread that came in. He said that some of the teams that Circa took early action included San Diego State, Furman, Marquette, Texas, Saint Mary’s, Oral Roberts and Boise State.
Finally, they finished all the games, both sides and totals. While more markets would come later in the week, the initial work would be finished just an hour after the selection show came to an end. Here was what was posted by the end of the session:
While the initial task was done, there was still work to do. As the bracket was analyzed, people continued to bet on the futures markets. From Sunday morning to Sunday evening, several teams moved in the futures market. Alabama went from +900 to +800 after being named the #1 overall seed. Marquette, a 2-seed, moved from +3500 to +2800. Texas moved from +1800 to +1400.
More bets would come out throughout the week, from regional futures to tournament props and more. Be sure to keep your eye on the 2023 March College Basketball Tournament odds throughout the month so you can place your bets and be part of the tournament yourself.