For sports bettors, nothing beats March Madness. Sometimes the Super Bowl is boring or lopsided, but the NCAA Tournament never disappoints. From volume to value with tons of ways to bet, there is something for everyone when it comes to college hoops in the spring.
Whether you are a beginner or a pro, below is all you need to know to establish a successful March Madness betting strategy.
March Madness Betting
Like any other sporting event, you can bet on the NCAA Tournament in conventional ways. However, the nature of a single-elimination tournament with 32 games taking place the first Thursday to Sunday creates all sorts of other wagering options too. From filling out a bracket to riding out a Cinderella story, there are lots of ways you can get action.
You can bet each NCAA Tournament game against the spread, or play over/under on the total. There are standard moneylines available, plus halftime lines, and in-game wagering. Additionally, there is a laundry list of props and futures including many different types of bracket games, plus parlays and teasers.
Single Game Bets
When it comes to individual NCAA Tournament games, you can bet against the point spread before a contest begins or in-game. The same goes for totals. Moneylines are available for those looking to make a score on an upset or lay some extra cash on a favorite that is sure to get through. What might be more fun are props like who the leading scorer in an individual game will be or whether a star will be able to exceed a certain number of points.
Insider Betting Options
Two things make March Madness really special. The vast number of games and the one-and-done format.
Because of the setup, there is constant action and opportunity. Big upsets are always lurking and take place daily, if not earlier in the tournament.
The March Madness bracket allows for a lot of interesting betting options. For instance, a future wager on who will lead the NCAA Tournament in scoring goes far beyond determining the best player in the competition, or the best team, but instead combines the two. Furthermore, the best team might have a difficult draw or be matched up against defensive-minded clubs that will create lower scoring games. Matchups often play a big role.
The most traditional way to bet on the NCAA Tournament champion is to fill out a bracket. Scoring systems vary, but the idea is to predict who will win each game before the tournament tips off. Filling out a bracket can be as simple as picking favorite teams or mascots, to being really analytical.
Some people like to fill out a bracket backward, asking themselves who they think will win it all first, who will join that school in the Final Four, and working back to the opening round. Regardless of your method, you tally points based on total wins and most systems will allot more points with each round.
When to Bet March Madness
It can be hard to digest the entirety of the NCAA Tournament. Consider the NFL as a comparison. The regular season has 256 games spread over 17 weeks. March Madness, on the other hand, has 63 games over three weeks, not including the four play-in games. It can be helpful to divide the tournament into three stages to get a better understanding.
The Round of 64 and 32
The first week of the tournament is the most chaotic. There are 32 games played during four days which means upsets, close escapes, and plenty of drama, in addition to some power teams dominating outmatched opponents.
Prior to the opening Thursday of the tournament, examine all of your future and prop options and fill out a bracket or two. With 32 games, you will be sure to find some good conventional wagering opportunities as well.
The Sweet 16 and Elite 8
By the time the second weekend of the tournament arrives there are just 16 teams remaining, the Sweet 16. Thursday and Friday feature four games each while Saturday and Sunday are doubleheaders to get us from an Elite 8 to the Final Four.
One or two or three Cinderella’s are likely to come alive the second weekend, but these games tend to be Top 25 teams who are serious National Title contenders. Plenty of people fill out revised 16 team brackets and reconsider their futures and prop plays at this stage.
Having watched the first 32 games, you might have a stronger feeling on how to bet Sweet 16 games after seeing the teams play a couple of times the previous weekend.
The Final 4
A semifinal doubleheader on Saturday and championship game Monday night concludes March Madness. When it is all over a three-minute montage, One Shining Moment, celebrates the highs and the lows of March Madness.
Betting the Final Four is more conventional, just three games. However, think about it like the NFL Championship Weekend. This is like the AFC and NFC Title Games, and then the Super Bowl. It is fun to parlay the two semifinal games plus there are numerous props that are available for each game. Because this is a big stage, and a ton of focus is dedicated to these games, the wagering options are endless.
March Madness Betting Strategy
Because there are so many games and a huge variety of ways to bet on March Madness, to some degree you need an understanding of where you feel like you have an edge and what sort of wagers you feel most comfortable with.
It is important that you fully understand how the bracket works, consider a variety of bets and tactics to handicap including stats and trends, and manage your bankroll responsibly.
After play-in games are completed 64 teams enter the main bracket of the Big Dance. The teams with the four best resumes get number one seeds and they are placed in regional brackets.
For example, if Duke is the number one team in the country, they will be the number one seed in the South Region. If Michigan State is the second-best team, they will be the top seed in the Midwest. If Kentucky is the third overall seed, and they can’t be in the South because Duke has already claimed that spot, they will be the top seed in the East Region (which would be closer than the West). Whoever is number four overall will they take the top spot in the West.
The next four best teams are the number two seeds. If Syracuse is deemed to be the fifth-best team in the land, they are the top number two seed and will be the number two seed in the East Region. If North Carolina is number six, they won’t go into the South Region because they can not play a conference rival, Duke, until later in the tournament, so they would move to the Midwest (since the East is not available and West is further geographically).
By ranking the 64 teams in the main draw, the teams with the best resumes are number ones, and the worst are 16-seeds. The one seeds meet the 16’s in the first round and then the winner of that game plays the winner of the eight seed vs nine seed game. The two seeds meet the 15’s with the winner playing the victor of a 7 vs 10 seed contest. Three seeds match up with 14 seeds and in the Round of 32 they take on the 6/11 winner. Four’s play 13’s and in the next round, they meet the winner of 5/12 games.
Say there is a number three seed that has a good reputation, but you don’t particularly like. A good Cinderella team to be would be the team that they play in the opening round. Conversely, before you pick a Cinderella, make sure their matchups are conducive to an upset.
As you would expect, the one and two seeds have the lowest odds to win the tournament, with 14, 15, and 16 seeds huge odds, since their chances of winning are virtually zero. Sometimes the best value can come by playing an angle.
Bet March Madness Using Stats
There are a lot of different ways to attack the bracket and individual games.
For the very numerical based handicapper, FiveThirtyEight tries to give percentages on every game using advanced analytics, kenpom is the bible for statheads, and NCAA NET is the official metric that the selection committee uses to help them with bracketing.
If you like to guide your pick with numbers, but want to personalize choices more carefully, coaches are a great place to start. While players cycle in and out of college hoops, the most consistent factor is the men in charge. For example, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is 97-30 in the Big Dance. Conversely, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins has taken teams to the NCAA Tournament on 24 occasions and has just 33 wins, meaning his teams are bowing out during the first weekend most seasons. Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton is 10-12 in the bracket. It is also worth noting how coaches do considering their team’s seed.
Do Your Research Ahead of Time
It is also important to consider a team’s recent history and the current roster. The committee is tasked with looking at the complete picture of a team. However, be careful with those who are slumping down the stretch or might have sustained a significant injury along the way. Veteran, healthy, hot teams with a star are valuable. UConn in 2014 won the NCAA Title as a seven seed with a senior superstar Shabazz Napier leading a squad that included fellow senior Niels Giffey, and juniors Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels. They entered the Big Dance having gone 9-3 down the stretch with two losses to a Top 10 team in Louisville.
NCAAB Tournament Trends
The media makes a lot out of the fact five seeds can be vulnerable. You will hear constantly about who the 12 seed that is going to beat a five seed is. There is a reason for this. A 12 seed has beaten a five seed in 30 of the last 35 tournaments, as it even happened in three instances in 2019 with Liberty over Mississippi State, Murray State over Marquette, and Oregon over Wisconsin.
As much as we like to pick against the favorites, a number one seed has won the NCAA Tournament in three straight years and 10 times in the last 13 brackets. The number one seeds have lost a first-round game just once when Virginia fell to UMBC in 2018. However, one seeds have dropped second-round games on 19 occasions.
As for Cinderellas, since George Mason broke through and made the Final Four in 2006, we have seen others accomplish the feat: Butler (2x), Wichita State, VCU, and Loyola-Chicago. Based on the fact that no small school has cut down the nets since UNLV in 1990, it might be advisable to play futures on teams reaching the Final Four and not winning it all.
That being said if you find the right team and the odds are juicy, you never know what might happen. A team like Davidson College that had Steph Curry came a shot away from the Final Four, and who is to say if they hadn’t lost to Kansas that they wouldn’t have won it all?
How to Manage Your March Madness Bankroll
Like any time you bet, the best approach is a measured and well-thought-out one. It is not particularly effective to randomly place $20 on one bet and $150 on another. Generally, it is worthwhile knowing how much you want to place on various types of bets, sides, totals, and individual game options vs. futures and props.
Remember that certain bets, win or lose, will tie up your bankroll for the entire tournament, while others can be cashed out in two hours or less. Props and futures can be fun, but make sure that you are betting with conviction.
It is usually good to adjust your betting percentage based on results. Say you are planning to bet 4% of your bankroll on each wager you make. If this system is working, account for each win to slightly increase your ROI, but when you lose scale back slightly. Remember, it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Bet With Knowledge & Confidence
The NCAA Tournament is a ton of fun and if you can win some cash it is even better. Understanding how the bracket works, knowing what sort of bets you are most comfortable with, and having a strategy is helpful. That is the point of all of our guides. Being informed is the best way to be successful.