Does being a great against the spread team during the regular season translate to success in the NCAA Tournament? That depends on which conference the top ATS teams come from and their strength of schedule. Let’s look at the leaders heading into the Big Dance.
North Carolina Central
You obviously can’t beat a cover percentage of 100, and North Carolina Central of the MEAC was perfect during the season – albeit only 6-0 ATS. The Eagles were MEAC regular-season and conference tournament champions despite shooting just 29.1 percent from three-point range, the third-worst mark in Division I, and 63.1 percent from the free-throw line. They had two regular-season games with lines against Power 5 schools, losing 69-63 at Ohio State as a 24-point dog and 70-66 at LSU at +10.5. North Carolina Central is making its second NCAA Tournament appearance; in 2014, it lost as a No. 14 seed to No. 3 Iowa State, 93-75. UNCC plays in the First Four in Dayton against fellow No. 16 UC Davis on Wednesday. The Eagles are -3. It’s the first Big Dance appearance for the Aggies of the Big West. The winner gets No. 1 Kansas.
Florida Gulf Coast
Florida Gulf Coast of the Atlantic Sun Conference is 4-0 ATS. The Eagles won the A-Sun regular-season and tournament titles. They covered as a double-digit favorite in all three conference tournament games. The only regular-season matchup that had a line was a Nov. 20 trip to Michigan State when FGCU was a 14.5-point dog and lost just 78-77. At 26-7 overall, Florida Gulf Coast has tied the program's Division I-era record for victories in a season. You may remember the 2013 NCAA Tournament when FGCU became known "Dunk City" in its run to the Sweet Sixteen. It also won a First Four game last year before falling to eventual national finalist North Carolina. FGCU is No. 14 seed in the West and faces No. 3 Florida State on Thursday. The Noles opened at -12 on BetOnline’s NCAA basketball odds.
The Bison were 7-1 ATS this season, winning the Patriot League’s regular-season and tournament titles. Bucknell is a good offensive team, shooting 54.6 percent from two-point range and 37.7 percent from deep. The only game Bucknell didn’t cover was as a 12-point NCAA betting favorite against Navy in the Patriot League semifinals, a 70-65 Bison win. Out of conference, Bucknell lost by 20 at Wake Forest, and by 26 at Butler but won 75-72 at Vanderbilt. The Bison are a No. 13 seed and face No. 4 West Virginia in the West Region on Thursday. WVU is -13.5. Bucknell is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. It upset Kansas in 2005 and Arkansas in 2006 to earn a reputation as a Cinderella.
The Zags are 22-7-1 ATS. They have just one outright loss on the year, at home to BYU as a 21-point favorite to conclude the regular season. The Zags then had little trouble winning three games to take home the West Coast Conference Tournament title. As good as this program has been for the past two decades or so, Gonzaga has yet to make the Final Four. Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has 21 NCAA Tournament wins, most of any coach to not make Final Four. The Zags are the West’s No. 1 seed; Gonzaga's only other NCAA tournament appearance as a No. 1 seed came in 2013, when Wichita State upset the Bulldogs in the second round. Gonzaga opens Thursday against South Dakota State as a 22-point favorite. That’s the second-biggest spread on the board, behind North Carolina at -25.5 vs. Texas Southern.