The college basketball season is nearing a crescendo and that means NCAA March Madness is almost upon us!
Forget Christmas; for many sports fans, this is the most wonderful time of the year. The tournament brings endless optimism, strategy, and non-stop excitement over the first couple weeks whether you entered a $5 bracket pool with friends or are in a high-stakes pool.
Here is a basic guide to creating brackets and also betting on individual games throughout March Madness.
NCAA Tournament 2020
The 2019 NCAA National Men’s Basketball Tournament features a 68-team field with 67 games scheduled over 19 days from March 17 to April 86
The first date to watch for is Selection Sunday on March 15, when the seedings and brackets are announced. There are four regions with teams seeded 1 through 16 in each quadrant of the overall bracket.
On March 17/18, four teams that were “on the bubble” during the selection process will compete in two play-in games for the right to compete in the first round.
Teams are selected and seeded based on the overall quality of their résumé. Several teams will earn automatic qualifiers for winning their conference tournaments in early March. These teams will also be evaluated and seeded based on their resume.
Number One Seeds Dominate
Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the No. 1 seeds have dominated with a 454-115 overall record and 20 championships over 34 years.
A No. 1 seed lost in the first round for the first time when UMBC defeated Virginia in 2018, but No. 1 seeds are still 135-1 in the first round. Only eight NCAA championships have been played without at least one No. 1 seed, the last one coming in 2014.
The top 1-3 seeds tend to have the best chance to reach the Final Four and selecting those teams to do so is called picking the “chalk” in bracket terms. However, teams seeded in the 4-13 range are basically equal in today’s game of rampant parity and competitive mid-major conferences.
The 2019 tournament kicks off in Dayton, Ohio with the “First Four.” All 64 teams will play an opening-round game on either March 19 or 20, and 32 teams will earn a second-round game on March 21 or 22.
The tournament resumes the following Thursday, March 26 with the Sweet Sixteen round. The surviving teams will play at the same sites two days later in the Elite Eight.
The Final Four will be in Minneapolis on Saturday, April 4, with the National Championship scheduled for Monday, April 6.
Where can I bet on the NCAA Tournament?
Bracket pools have long been around as an informal way to collect and redistribute money amongst friends or colleagues. Huge public bracket contests have become available on sites such as Yahoo! and ESPN in recent years, and there are many free Bracket Challenges that offer enormous payouts in the very unlikely event (odds are close to 1:1,000,000,000) that a user can select a perfect bracket.
With sports betting recently legalized in New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, residents of those states can now legally bet on each game. Nevada has long been the hub of live sports betting and also offers the opportunity to place bets with sportsbooks.
Several states are close to following suit by officially legalizing sports gambling. All but 12 states have some form of legislation on the table for discussion in 2019. States that could potentially legalize sports gambling by next year to begin taking bets on the 2020 NCAA Tournament are: Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Indiana, Texas, and Virginia.
Best sites to bet on March Madness
The main players in states that have recently legalized sports gambling aren’t the brick-and-mortar establishments. DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook, BetStarsNJ, and 888sport make it easy for residents in any of the seven states mentioned above to place bets before or during live sporting events.
Some of these sites are likely to offer large brackets for customers to enter once Selection Sunday approaches. Regardless, they will all offer live odds on all March Madness games and the opportunity to place individual bets on:
March Madness Odds
These sites will also offer NCAA “Futures” bets, i.e. the opportunity to pick the winner of the tournament prior to the first round and between each subsequent round.
These odds will be updated during the upcoming weeks, so make sure to check the odds frequently to monitor which teams are offering value.
National Championship odds can be found on DraftKings and FanDuel Sportsbooks.
5 things to consider before making March Madness bets
These games draw some of the highest ratings of any sporting events each year and will have tons of action on both sides. Here are some things to consider when placing bets on March Madness games, or building your brackets:
How did teams perform down the stretch?
Conference tournaments offer a glimpse at how a team performs in a single-elimination format. How do the guards handle pressure? Can the bigs stay out of foul trouble? Is the coach effective at managing his team to get them ready for a big game with little or no days to rest? Sometimes teams are able to ride the momentum of those conference tournaments into the NCAA tournament, but sometimes their motivation can be exhausted and they could fall flat in “The Big Dance.”
What’s in a name?
There are several obvious “Blue Chip” programs in NCAA Men’s Basketball: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina stand out as annual contenders for a National Championship because of their ability to recruit talent every year.
Yet aside from Duke, those programs have all looked quite beatable this season, and the gap is closing between the top conferences (ACC, SEC, etc.) and the mid-major conferences (America East, Atlantic 10, etc.). Researching mid-major programs with enough athleticism, experience, and good coaching to knock off established programs with name recognition is a great way to go against the grain in both brackets and with your individual game bets.
Defense wins tournament games
Teams that rely on outside shooting are extremely prone to upsets, and targeting those teams with veteran groups that can at least keep it close down the stretch is a great way to cash in on the spread.
Underdogs tend to come out with extreme energy, but might have some nerves that prevent them from hitting too many shots on the other end, which is why first-half Unders have been a profitable bet throughout the early rounds of the tournament.
The first round will deliver shocking upsets
If you’re looking to cash a big ticket and earn bragging rights by calling a first-round upset, spread your money around. This is an unpredictable single-elimination format and we saw how long odds can hit when UMBC rolled Virginia by 20 points.
The gap is closing between programs below the upper-tier and it’s possible for any unknown 14 or 15 seed to pull off a first-round win and earn huge payouts at long odds. That isn’t to say you should bet on each upset and hope one hits, but consider the aforementioned factors and find value on a few unlikely results.
The first rounds may be exciting, but they are also wildly unpredictable. Upset-hungry underdogs can throw a wrench into game plans and young players can show nerves that lead to shocking results.
In the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, teams have established their system and are much easier to read. Be sure to factor in the location, injuries, coaching matchups, and the individual matchups of each star player when analyzing upcoming games. Value comes to those who wait, especially those who avoid recency bias and are willing to bet against the public in high-profile affairs.