Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the United States in terms of viewership and betting popularity, and the collegiate game has plenty to do with it. There is perhaps no time more exciting for sports fans and bettors than the college basketball postseason, which culminates with the infamous NCAA Tournament and is appropriately referred to as March Madness.
March Madness is one of the biggest spectacles on the annual sports calendar, and it is also one of the busiest times of the year for online sportsbooks in the United States.
Thankfully, the growing reach of mobile betting in the U.S. has added an extra element of convenience and popularity to wagering on this event because March Madness betting online is far more practical and enjoyable from a location of your choice as opposed to being forced to visit a brick-and-mortar sportsbook.
The length of the weeks-long tournament leads to it pulling in more money in wagers than any other sporting event in the country. And since wagering on during March isn't exactly the same as wagering on college basketball from October through February, we're here to explore and explain how to bet on the 2021 NCAA Tournament. In the below sections, we'll get into different wager types and some March Madness betting strategies to implement this year.
So what is March Madness, exactly? Well, the term refers to the time of year when the men's NCAA basketball tournament is held. The event begins during the middle of the month and concludes during the first week of April.
When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, the bracket is the first thing that comes to people's minds. But it's also worth noting that Match Madness is also the genesis of enormous popularity for those involved in the sports gambling landscape.
In reality, the madness begins early in the month before the big dance. At this time, conference tournaments are played to determine which programs earn a berth in the 68-team field.
But in the public's collective consciousness, March Madness is the playing of the weeks-long NCAA Tournament itself, which concludes with the crowning of a college basketball national champion.
The only sporting event with fanfare and betting popularity on par with the NCAA Tournament is the Super Bowl, which only lasts for one day compared to the several weeks that we get to enjoy March Madness.
At this point in the season, the thirst for wagering on college hoops reaches a whole new level. Over the course of about three weeks, 67 games in total (counting first four) are played to determine a national champion. Here is how each round of the tournament breaks down:
Early in the tournament, there's a ton of chaos. The opening two rounds have 64 and 32 teams respectively with games tipping off virtually all day long for a period of four straight days from Thursday to Sunday. This is when we see most of our upsets and constant drama unfolding.
The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight take place from Thursday to Sunday the following week. These rounds will feature a couple of underdogs that managed to win a couple games to this point, but there tends to be far more upper-echelon teams than not.
Once the Final Four arrives, the likelihood is that we are dealing with three or four elite teams. Although there's always the possibility of a Cinderella crashin the party, the truth is that it's mostly well-known programs from large conferences at this stage.
We're dealing with some of the best teams in the nation at this point and if they haven't played that way all season, you can guarantee whichever programs make it to this point are white hot and on a huge winning streak.
The Final Four is played on Saturday with the two remaining teams squaring off the following Monday for the national title.
Here are the most important March Madness dates for this year’s tournament:
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One of the first things you need to know when learning how to bet on March Madness online is the process of choosing which site to deposit your money into. The user experience can be greatly enhanced by choosing the correct sportsbook, so this is much more important than many novice bettors think it is.
There are several factors to consider where you're going to deposit your hard-earned money, so keep the following in mind when looking for online sportsbooks to bet on the NCAA Tournament:
Knowing what you're looking for is the first thing you need to do in order to get off on the correct foot. Online betting on March Madness may appear to be the same at all sites, but these operators do have specialties and characteristics that help it stand out from its peers.
The number one priority is a reliable sportsbook that is lawful and regulated in the state you live or are located in. In addition to that, are you looking for the largest welcome bonus? An easy-to-use app with a clear interface? The best promotions? A wide range of betting markets? Favorable gambling lines compared to other sites?
Chances are you're (correctly) looking for an operator site that provides all of these amenities in some way. We'd recommend ranking what is most important to you when it comes to site characteristics, then start the search for the app that matches those preferences. It sounds simple, but each person has to consider what is most important to them when it comes to placing wagers and make a decision based on that.
The internet can be your best friend when looking for the scoop on March Madness online betting sites, but you need to know where to look. This will help you see key features like bonuses, promotions, and the range of betting options, which will make your ultimate decision easier in the end.
Information directly from an operator is going to be positively tinted and won't give you a full scope of what the site offers, so affiliate sites can serve as an invaluable resource for finding out the benefits of signing up for a particular operator. We spend hours on these sites comparing bonuses, promotions, and betting markets, and it's given us a decent idea of what players are looking for.
Perhaps the most highly-recommended way to go about choosing a sportsbook would be narrowing down your choice to maybe two or three options, then singing up for more than one account.
It will require you to split your bankroll at first but it means multiple signup bonuses, multiple groups of promotions from and multiple sets of betting lines to compare and choose from. This also allows you to explore these apps and get a feel for the layout, different betting markets, and how the lines stack up.
You should use the apps back-to-back if you can and oftentimes, your preference reveals itself to you once you get an idea of what using each site is like.
People may think that betting on March Madness is the same as betting on the college basketball regular season, but that isn't entirely true.
Sure, the markets you're choosing from are largely the same and so are some of the processes one must go through to place a wager. But there are also factors to consider at tournament time that don't come into play as much during the regular season.
Below, we'll briefly go through each of the common bet types and note what the differences are during March Madness. For information and examples breaking down how to bet on NCAA basketball, visit our college basketball betting guide.
We'll start with NCAA Tournament futures betting, since these markets are incredibly common for bettors to jump on. As the name suggests, futures involve a wager on an event that will be settled at some point down the road.
It can be in just a few days, weeks, or months until a futures wager is settled. In regards to placing these bets just before March Madness, however, these bets are settled within a couple of weeks.
There are odds for who will win the national championship available throughout the season but for the most part, bettors place these wagers prior to the start of the tournament itself. There are several markets to choose from prior to the start of the first round, including the following:
The rule of thumb is simple: the more exclusive the market, the higher the potential payouts will be. Selecting a team to reach the Elite Eight will come with longer odds than reaching the Sweet 16. Making it to the Final Four will have larger odds than both of those and of course, picking a national champion before the tournament comes with the loftiest lines of all.
Moneyline betting is the simplest thing to understand since all you're doing is picking one side to win the game regardless of any point spread. Risks and payouts are based on what the line is, with favorites requiring bettors to risk more. If you've got a knack for selecting underdogs to win outright, betting moneylines can be profitable.
EXAMPLE: Illinois is the favorite with a -160 moneyline. This means wagering on them requires risking $160 for every $100 in winnings. Maryland is the underdog at +135, which translates to risking $100 to win $135 in profit.
The early rounds of the NCAA Tournament feature some lopsided matchups, which means some moneylines won't have any value unless you're on the side of an underdog pulling off a huge upset. But each region will also feature contests between more evenly-matched teams, making moneylines realistic target.
As we get deeper into the tournament with games and teams dwindling round-by-round, point spreads tend to get tighter with oddsmakers and sharp bettors are looking closely at every matchup. These games can be tough to call against the spread, especially with every team on a winning streak at that point, so moneylines could be the way to go.
For favorites, bettors will get the benefit of not having to worry about a point spread. On the other side, payouts will be enhanced by erasing the spread and taking underdogs straight up.
The most popular way to make March Madness betting picks is against the spread (ATS). But you might be wondering: what is ATS in betting?
Because not all teams are on the same level, oddsmakers create a point spread as an equalizer. The spread is a figure set by oddsmakers that tells bettors how much a team needs to win, or is allowed to lose by, to win a wager.
This means you aren't forced to risk as much if looking to take a favorite, and it also means having a better shot to win a wager with the underdog because you're being given additional points to work with. The favorite needs to win by a certain number of points, while the underdog can either win or lose by a lesser amount than the spread in order to “cover” the number.
Betting on spreads, whether it's before the game or you're doing some live betting, requires a moderate risk and garners a moderate reward (both sides generally have -110 odds) and can become quite profitable if your success rate is high enough.
EXAMPLE: Illinois is the favorite at -3 (-110), which means the team must win by at least four points to cover the spread and the risk would be $110 for every $100. As the underdog at +3 (-110), a wager on Maryland means they must win the game or lose by two points or less in order to successfully cover. Every $100 requires a risk of $110 in this case as well.
Keep in mind that during the regular season and conference tournaments leading up to March Madness, we're seeing games between teams that are familiar with one another since they play in the same conferences. We can easily study up on previous head-to-head matchups and common opponents to make determinations on where to go with our bets.
In the NCAA Tournament, especially in the earlier rounds, games are oftentimes played between programs that have little or no history against one another and possibly no history with any team in the opposing program's conference.
Factors like this make betting against the spread at this time of year difficult, but not impossible. While oddsmakers may rate these foreign adversaries as pretty even, there's also a chance that spreads can be way off.Using NCAA NET rankings as part of your research can be one way to try and compare programs when there isn't much evidence to go by.
Behind moneylines, totals are the most easy-to-understand betting markets one can find. Simply, a wager on a total is selecting whether the combined score of the game will be over or under a figure set by oddsmakers.
EXAMPLE: The total for Maryland/Illinois is set at 130 points (-110 on both the over and under). A wager on the under means the game will finish with 129 points or less, and a pick on the over means the total reaches 131 or higher. Overtime is included in these totals.
March Madness totals betting is more identical to the regular season than most bet types. Even though we are dealing with programs that are unfamiliar with one another in many cases, the research bettors do to choose a side remains largely the same.
Knowing how many points a team scores or allows per game is a good start, but that's just scratching the surface. Checking on overall team efficiency along with the pace each program plays at over the course of a season are also important factors in determining the potential tempo of a game in March.
Gambling on moneylines and spreads can be especially difficult during March Madness when oddsmakers are paying close attention to lines, which also see increased public action. One alternative is totals since it can be easier to predict the flow and pace of a game than the result on some occasions.
Prop bets (also referred to as proposition bets) are wagers that are not moneylines, spreads, or totals. In most cases, props are not directly tied to the final score of the game as conventional markets are, although some can be.
Props aren't nearly as popular in college basketball as they are in the NBA and other professional sports. With that said, March Madness is an entirely different animal than the regular season. There are prop markets available for NCAA Tournament games, including the following:
Oddsmakers and sharp bettors pour over the more conventional markets with a very close eye, but prop markets don't see the same scrutiny. There's a good chance that with some research, there could be errors spotted in some of these prop markets, creating an advantage for the bettor.
A parlay is a wager with multiple sides combined into the same bet in exchange for enhanced odds. Parlays are difficult to cash in on because all sides must come through but these are also low-risk, high-reward wagers that can also be extremely profitable.
For example, the above parlay has three teams linked together and comes with a payout of +600, far exceeding the odds one gets when placing single-game wagers against the spread.
The format of March Madness lends itself to parlays. With such a packed schedule, bettors can ensure being entertained all day by selecting games that start at different times. This strategy also allows for the possibility of hedging bets when reaching the final leg of a parlay, which is one way to guarantee winnings.
Parlays also bring certain types of odds into play that aren't nearly as attractive when betting on single games, including the moneylines of large favorites and alternate lines.
Making March Madness betting picks is unlike handicapping the NBA or even college basketball during the regular season. Once it reaches this point in the year, every contest has high stakes and tighter betting lines that are more difficult to decipher than in November or December.
In a standard week during the NCAA basketball regular-season schedule, there could be hundreds of Division I basketball games, while the postseason causes that number to dwindle significantly. So on top of all the additional public money entering the market and swaying lines, sharp bettors and oddsmakers are pouring over each contest with a close eye, which can make odds tougher to read or just lose value entirely.
But just because things are a bit more difficult doesn't mean they're impossible. Gambling on sports isn't easy and if it was, everyone would do it. College basketball is no different, and during March Madness things can be even tougher when there's fewer games and more bettors flooding the market.
Even though there is no set March Madness betting strategy guaranteed to win you money, it doesn't mean you can't take a few angles to try and give yourself a better opportunity to win. Consider the following March Madness betting strategies when conference tournaments and the big dance arrive.
This doesn't mean take every underdog, or even the biggest underdogs with the largest payouts. That would be unwise, especially with all the mismatches we see in the tournament. You still need to pick your spots, but the opportunity is there.
The NCAA Tournament is rife with upsets, especially in the earlier rounds And unlike pro basketball where teams play one another in a series, the college postseason is a one-and-done affair. That means on any given day, the better team (in the eyes of oddsmakers, anyway) can be eliminated.
This strategy is also supported by the fact that many matchups are between schools who don't normally play one another. Oddsmakers have less to go on when determining lines for these games and it's possible that sportsbooks are off, leaving an open door for the bettor.
When the public decides it is going to lean heavily on one side of a game, it can drain betting value from that side and shift it to the other, less popular side. On many occasions, the public jumps on the favorite and inflates the line, creating value the other way. Concentrate on how the line moves, because this time a year that's the real indication of where the sharpest bettors are, not the percentages alone.
Plenty of March Madness upsets occur when people didn't see them coming. So don't get carried away selecting every underdog in the field, but there undoubtedly will be spots where the pros are completely fading the public and you shouldn't be afraid to take that ride throughout March.
Throughout the course of the season, the public loves favorites and that will continue into the postseason. In March, there are many more matchups between well-known schools from large conferences and little-known schools from smaller conferences. In most cases, the big-name school will be the favorite, but that doesn't always make it the proper team to back with your money.
The casual bettors that flood the betting market this time of year are much more likely to bet on a school that they've heard of before. This can cause lines to inflate and provide value on the other side with a program from a smaller conference.
It's good to know that wagering on teams in these smaller leagues does require a bit more research into their conference schedule, roster, home/away splits, and injury report among other things.
Current form matters a ton once we reach such a late point in the year. If it's the conference tournament, ask yourself: how did this team close the season? If the NCAAs are underway, the question becomes 'how did this team perform in the conference tournament?' before placing any wagers.
Of course, the previous few games aren't always a perfect indication of what's to come, but you'd always rather bet with programs that are at the top of their game as opposed to ones that backed into the most important time of the year.
Once embroiled into one of these high-stakes postseason tournaments, momentum becomes more important than ever. Forget about seeding or ranking and look for teams that are playing their best basketball at the right time.
While researching your bets, ask this question: which teams are capable of playing well away from home? So many college basketball teams are notoriously strong in their own gym while playing in front of their own fans but struggle mightily on the road throughout the season.
While the NCAA Tournament doesn't require teams to play true road games, every matchup starting with the conference tournament is on a neutral floor. It's pretty unlikely for a team to have issues winning neutral site/road games all season and magically turn it into an incredible postseason run once March arrives, so fading teams that struggled outside of their home floor can be one of the more profitable March Madness betting strategies.
There's more value fading these teams in the postseason than during the regular season because a team is dominant at home or awful on the road will be baked into the betting line by oddsmakers. At a neutral site, the line won't be able to account for one team's prowess or struggles as it would if one program had homecourt advantage.
There are less games being played during March Madness during the regular season, which can feature a few dozen games on any day of the week. But at this time of year, traditional wager types such as moneylines, spreads, and totals for every single NCAA Tournament game are being looked at extremely closely by oddsmakers and sharp (professional) bettors.
That fact can make it harder to gain an edge on these markets. It's possible to grab some value by keeping an eye out for alternative categories such as team or game props, which aren't poured over quite as closely.
Parlays are incredibly popular bets all season long and it remains that way in March when there are a decent number of games to choose from for the first few rounds of the NCAA tournament.
If you're into betting parlays this time of year, you may want to consider staggering the starts of the games in your wager if possible. At the very least, have the final game of your parlay start later than the others if you can. This way, if you make it to the final leg, you'll have a chance to either hedge your bet or look for a middle. Both are ways to guarantee some sort of profits.
Many sites conflate tips and strategies when it comes to wagering on sports but here, we are separating the two.
Strategies are visions for actions you take. They are approaches that can be applied to tell you what to actually gamble your money on. Tips, in this case at least, are just pieces of critical information to keep in mind, and don't contain any actionable strategy. Hopefully, it isn't too difficult to understand the difference.
In addition to the strategies listed above, keep the following NCAA Tournament betting tips in mind when the time comes to place wagers on the postseason:
Whether it's a conference tournament or the NCAAs, there is nothing easier than looking at seeding and overall record but this is not the best way to go about handicapping March Madness games.
While this information can be relevant, it can't be the only basis for making these picks. Line movement, betting percentages, and an in-depth look at regular-season results are also important elements to making college basketball betting predictions at this late stage of the season.
It is true that teams are overmatched sometimes and the higher seed is lightyears ahead of its competitors. Still, there is no rule that says the team with the better record or seeding is automatically a good bet, especially when considering point spreads since the quality of the two teams is already built into the oddsmakers' line.
When it comes time to make March Madness bracket predictions especially, bettors tend to blindly commit to NCAA tournament trends without having the full picture. Some March Madness trends have a track record over time, like a No. 1 seed reaching the Final Four or the championship game for example.
Take No. 12 seeds defeating No. 5 seeds, which isn't a consistently reliable trend to bet with and goes through ebbs and flows. In 2019, it's true that No. 12 seeds went 3-1 in the opening round and actually covered the spread in all four games. But the four years prior, the No. 12 seed was 3-13 in opening-round games.
How about another example? From 2015-18, the No. 11 seed went 10-6 against the No. 6 seed, but 2019 saw that flip and the sixth-seeded teams went 3-1.
Nearly all trends based on seed lines need to be taken with a grain of salt. The truth is, it's a committee of people creating these seed lines and trying to create interesting tournament matchups. A team that is a No. 5 seed could easily have been changed from a No. 4 or No. 6 if it would create a more compelling game as the committee judges, so the seed number next to the school really doesn't have some magical effect on the future results.
There may not be as many games during March Madness as there are throughout the regular season, but there are still way too many gambling opportunities not to employ a little bit of discipline.
It's natural to want to wager more than normal on these big games or to go after your losses with even bigger bets, but that's a slippery slope all bettors need to be careful on. Each additional wager makes it more difficult to turn a profit at the end of the day since you need to win a certain percentage of those bets to come out on top.
Set spending limits for each day and the round of conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament and stick to those figures. Part of March Madness betting is just surviving through portions of the month that get difficult, and not giving in to the pressure to chase lost wagers.
In college basketball, teams tend to struggle away from home and perform better in front of their own fans. This is evident during the regular season when most teams have a better record in their own building than on the road. While teams don't get the chance to play at home during the postseason, the location of the NCAA Tournament regional game is still vital.
There's a chance that the setting is closer to one school's campus than the other, perhaps allowing one set of supporters to travel a bit better than the other program. See how likely it is for some schools to get their fans in the building because that could go a long way toward supplying a pseudo-homecourt advantage.
In the same vein, think about fading teams that may be playing at a neutral site but are really playing something closer to an away game due to the geographic location.