The Prediction Markets For Men's Basketball's Chances Against North Carolina

Published by David Freed on March 17, 2015 at 8:34AM

With the Ivy League championship in hand, the Harvard men’s basketball team (22-7, 11-3 Ivy) has set its attention squarely on first-round foe North Carolina (24-11, 11-7 Atlantic Coast Conference). Before the Crimson kick off its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament campaign Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla., The Back Page takes a look at what online prediction markets are saying about the Crimson’s chances.

FiveThirtyEight: The FiveThirtyEight model, which liked the Crimson’s chances a lot in recent years, has given Harvard just a 13 percent chance to advance. This model includes in its analysis a team’s preseason ranking, giving UNC (sixth) and Harvard (25th) a boost. Like most other models, FiveThirtyEight likes the Crimson’s chances if it can get past UNC, giving it nearly a 40 percent chance to beat its third round opponent.

Las Vegas: The most notable online sportsbook, Bovada, opened with Harvard +10.5 and the line has barely moved since it was first set. Lines at other books are similar, ranging from -9.5 to -11 down the Strip. According to, early action is favoring UNC—with 69 percent of early bets taking the Tar Heels with the spread and barely any action on the over-under of 133. On the year, Harvard has been a dismal bet, going just 9-14 against the spread (ATS), including losing records both at home and away. North Carolina, by contrast, has been an ATS darling, going 19-15-1 (11-5 on the road) and 7-3 in its last 10, which included upsets of Louisville and Virginia.

TeamRankings/NumberFire: ESPN’s insider account hosts information from the two sites, which both favor Harvard at the initial odds. TeamRankings gives Harvard a 52-percent chance to cover its +10 line and NumberFire is even more bullish, giving the Crimson a 61-percent chance and nabbing the over on the total points as well.

KenPom: Harvard, which ranked among Ken Pomeroy’s top-40 teams in the country before getting demolished in Virginia, has slipped all the way down to No. 78 entering the tournament. It is the second-lowest 13 seed, coming in 15 spots behind Valpariso of the Horizon League, but ranks ahead of 12 seeds Wofford and Wyoming. Of interest to Crimson fans: UNC lost to Pitt, ranked two spots below Harvard, by 13 points earlier this year.

Public Consensus: On Yahoo’s personal bracket site, only seven percent of users have picked Harvard to beat UNC. ESPN’s users are slightly more bullish, with just over 10 percent picking the Crimson (slightly below the 15 percent chance the site’s model gives Harvard). 

—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at