How to Bet on March Madness

Second to only the Super Bowl, March Madness betting is one of the best times of the year for sports bettors, especially those from the state of Michigan, with the Wolverines and Spartans usual entrants into the tourney. Sometimes other schools like Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Oakland and Detroit qualify, as well!

In a nutshell, March Madness covers the monthlong trek of teams all vying to win the national championship in a 64-team tournament. From the moment the regular season tips off, teams are laying the groundwork with the ultimate goal of being invited to participate in the NCAA Tournament. Conference tournament champions automatically get their tickets punched to the Big Dance. The remaining seeds are filled with at-large bids that go to teams that still put forth excellent campaigns even though they didn’t result in any title bragging rights.

Every single aspect of the tournament can be wagered upon, be it futures odds to win it all or to win a specific region, or player props on a game-by-game basis. More conventional point spread, moneyline and totals bets are also available for each matchup. The action comes fast and furious, and there’s always a number of upsets that end up killing brackets. That’s what makes the madness of March so much fun!

What are March Madness brackets?

The bracket is the holy grail when it comes to NCAA March Madness betting. It’s basically a grid that maps out the potential path each team has to follow in order to win the national championship. It’s set up in four regions with 16 teams apiece. The higher seeded teams normally get to play closer to home, while the lower seeded teams have a tougher route to take.

The seeds are determined by each team’s overall record as well as the strength of schedule it faced over the course of the regular season and conference tournaments. Every game has meaning. No days off are allowed! One major slip-up against a lesser squad can cost a team when it matters most.

March Madness betting tips

Always look to the bluebloods. It’s very rare that a team from a lesser conference wins the title. Just take a look at the last 12 teams to win the national championship: Virginia, Villanova, North Carolina, Villanova, Duke, Connecticut, Louisville, Kentucky, Connecticut, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas. See a pattern? Each and every one of those teams is a member of a powerhouse conference.

The losing teams in those matchups read as follows: Texas Tech, Michigan, Gonzaga, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, Kansas, Butler, Butler, Michigan State and Memphis; sorry Wolverines and Spartans fans! Gonzaga, Butler and Memphis aren’t situated in powerhouse conferences, but each and every one of them had special teams that season. It can even be argued that the Zags are one of the best programs in the country.

Make it a point to track injuries as well as how a team is doing as it enters the postseason. Teams on a heater make for good bets to continue excelling in the Big Dance. Also look to teams with above-average defensive efficiencies since that end of the court can always make up for a poor shooting effort at the other end. Don’t buy into the names on the jerseys, either. Look at how the team stacks up against an opponent utilizing the Pomeroy or Sagarin ratings, instead.

Bets for March Madness

Michigan sportsbooks will make every wagering option available once the bracket is set. Those looking to get in on some March Madness betting will be able to bet on each game’s point spread, moneyline and total. Futures bets will also be there to cash in on.

Other available options include March Madness odds to win the region, odds to reach every round, and the MVP of the tournament. Once a game tips off, second half lines will hit the board once the first 20 minutes have concluded. If you can’t wait that long to get your action down, live betting will also be available all game long to be wagered upon either in person, online or on a sports betting app.

March Madness schedule

Play-in games

In 2011, the field of selected teams expanded to 68. To get to 64 teams, the four lowest seeded teams with automatic bids and the four lowest seeds with at-large bids square off to see who advances to the Round of 64 in a set of play-in games known as the First Four.

From there, the play-in game winners likely get sent home after matching up against a top-seeded heavyweight. Of the 36 teams that have won since the inception of the play-in games, only eight have gone on to win their first-round matchup. The 2011 VCU Rams actually went on to shock the college basketball betting world by reaching the Final Four, where they eventually lost to Butler.

The Rounds

The Round of 64 — otherwise known as the opening round — marks the beginning of the NCAA Tournament. All 64 teams in action means there’s 32 games for college hoops bettors to check out. The action starts early in the day and goes through the evening. The first Thursday and Friday of the tournament are considered to be “basketball nirvana” in most basketball betting circles.

The Round of 32 then takes place during the first weekend of the tourney, with 16 games all lined up. The winners of those matchups get a few days off before the Sweet 16 tips off the following Thursday. Once Saturday rolls around, the eight teams that advanced are now known as the Elite Eight, with only a single win separating them from reaching the Final Four. Reaching the fifth round of the tournament is quite the accomplishment, but it’s still not the ultimate goal. Win that matchup, and it’s off to the title game, where the last two entrants collide in hopes of cutting down the nets.

Teams most likely to qualify

The ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 will always comprise a bulk of the teams that qualify for the Big Dance. Though the 2020 tournament wasn’t played due to the coronavirus, March Madness bettors still had a very good idea as to how many teams from each conference would qualify.

Of those listed conferences, bracketologists had upward of 10 teams punching a ticket from the Big Ten, seven from the Big East, six from the Big 12, five from the SEC, five from the ACC and four from the Pac-12. That’s a total of 37 teams, which is more than half of the 64 bids allotted. Rounding the field of 64 out was the AAC (two), Mountain West (two), A-10 (two) and every other conference in the land only sending the auto bid that won the conference tournament.

So the moral of the story here is that the big-time programs almost always find their way into the NCAA Tournament. Lesser conferences usually send just one team, maybe two if the regular season winner falls short of winning the conference tournament. Even then, that team would likely be sent to the First Four, where it would have to play its way into the opening round.

Where are March Madness games played?

Per usual, the 2021 First Four play-in games will be held at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The Round of 64 and Round of 32 will have eight locales playing host to a number of teams from across the country. In the mix will be the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island; Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho; Little Caesars Arena in Detroit; American Airlines Center in Dallas; INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas; Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky; PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina; and the SAP Center in San Jose, California.

All Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups will take place in the Target Center in Minneapolis and the Pepsi Center in Denver. March Madness betting will then conclude at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the Final Four and championship game.

Who has won the most March Madness tournaments?

The UCLA Bruins’ 11 NCAA Tournament titles are the most in the history of March Madness. However, UCLA has yet to sniff a title since the turn of the century, with the last coming all the way back in 1995. Up next with eight are the Kentucky Wildcats, who last cut the nets down back in 2012 when Anthony Davis and company took care of the Kansas Jayhawks.

North Carolina and its six national championships are up next, with three of those titles coming since 2005. Coach K has led the Duke Blue Devils to five titles since taking over the program all the way back in 1981; the Dookies also have five championship game defeats during that stretch. The Indiana Hoosiers have mostly been irrelevant since the Bobby Knight days, but he led the program to three titles throughout his tenure, for a total of five.

When the UConn Huskies make it to the finals, they cut the nets down, evidenced by winning it all each of the four times they were one of the last two teams standing. The Kansas Jayhawks and Villanova Wildcats round it out, with each school taking home three national championships; the latter winning it all in 2016 and 2018.

March Madness FAQ

What are some tips for picking a winner?

When filling out your bracket, you could do much worse than anointing a No. 1 seed the champion. Reason being, since the field expanded to 64 back in 1985, No. 1 seeds have gone on to win the NCAA Tournament 22 times, which equates to 63% of the time. Virginia was a No. 1 seed when it cut the nets down in 2019. The No. 2 seed has won it all five times (14%), while a No. 3 has taken home bragging rights four times (11%). In all, the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds have accounted for 88% of the winners since 1985. Don’t get cute. Stick with the top dogs, and your bracket won’t get busted!

What are some of the biggest upsets?

In just its second season of Division I tournament eligibility, Florida Gulf Coast — otherwise known as Dunk City — became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 after throttling Georgetown and San Diego State to get there. Pete Carril’s Princeton Tigers pulled a memorable shocker back in 1996 when they upset No. 4 UCLA in a barnburner, 43-41. George Mason busted numerous brackets in 2006 when it reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. Who will ever forget Hampton Coach Steve Merfeld being lifted from behind after his Pirates shocked the No. 2 seed Iowa State Cyclones back in 2001? But the biggest upset of them all occurred in 2018 when the UMBC Retrievers shocked the Virginia Cavaliers to become the first-ever No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1; UVA made up for it a year later by winning it all.

Has anyone ever picked a perfect bracket?

No; not even close! However, it was verified that in 2019 there was a bracket entered at NCAA.com that correctly predicted all 48 games of the Round of 64 and Round of 32. Though it successfully predicted another winner to start the Sweet 16, the bracket got busted when Purdue pulled out a miraculous win against Tennessee in overtime. It’s pretty safe to assume a perfect bracket will never be picked; Warren Buffett will pay the person who does pull it off $1 million a year for life — good luck!