This year the men’s NCAA tournament finally returns to its normal format with games taking place across the country. Running from March 15th - April 4th, the tournament will end in New Orleans where the new champion of college basketball will be crowned. March Madness, as an event, is a sports betting dream with 67 straight knockout games taking place up until the national championship game on April 4th.
The main tournament is broken into four regions, traditionally North, South, East and West, but this may change based on the location of where the games are taking place. This year, the regions are West, East, South and Midwest for instance. Within each of these regions the games will take place between seeded teams, with the number 1 rated team taking on the team rated 16th, 2nd taking on those who are ranked 15th and so on.
What makes this event so special due to the seeding is the huge possibility of upsets. Both sports bettors and bracket participants will be keen to identify any opportunities to pick the right underdog to progress and, likewise, to avoid being on the losing end of a Cinderella story.
Traditionally the event would conjure up memories of filling out prediction brackets and rooting for your alma mater for US sports fans, but with the rapidly growing online sports betting market, the event is set to make March become one of the biggest betting months of the year. The event is also where many of the next NBA superstars will announce themselves to the nation and indeed the world, with many memorable performances by the league's top stars taking place in this historic tournament.
Here at Bookmakers.com, we will run you through the full schedule, point to some interesting betting trends and give you some outright picks we like before the event begins. So, with plenty to get through, let's dive in.
For many, March Madness may be the first time they place an online sports bet on basketball so below we will go over some of the more common betting markets you can expect to see at your online sports betting website of choice.
The point spread, or just the spread, is the most popular betting market when it comes to college hoops. This is an estimated gap between the two teams playing on the final scoreboard, which is set in a way to balance the level of competition. Particularly in first-round matchups, you will see some big numbers offered as highly ranked teams take on much lower ranked opponents.
The favorite on the spread must win by more than the designated number given to ‘cover’ and win the wager. The underdog meanwhile must win the game outright by any amount, or lose by fewer than the amount of the spread to cover.
For example if Kentucky were playing Duke and the spread was set at Kentucky -2.5/Duke +2.5, Kentucky would need to win by three points or more to cover, while Duke would need to win the game or lose by two points or less to cover.
The over/under is based on a projected number of total points that will be scored by both teams in the game. Bettors can then pick a side whether they think the game will be higher scoring than what is offered or whether there will be fewer points scored than the total given by the bookmaker.
The moneyline is the easiest to understand betting market on offer. This is nothing more to it than who you think will win the game outright. Earlier in the tournament, there will be some quite high odds on offer for some teams in this market with the large amount of David v Goliath matchups taking place. This means this can often be a popular market for those out there chasing a big underdog victory.
Props are a wide group of alternative wagering options outside of the standard betting markets. These can focus on team or indeed player performances and usually would be based on some sort of statistical metric, for example an over/under line on a certain number of points scored by a player or a number of three-pointers made by a team.
The props on offer can vary widely from bookmaker to bookmaker, so it can often be a good idea to shop around the different online sports betting websites available to you to see who has the best offering of props to meet your needs.
With the huge number of teams and players involved, only the most ardent college basketball fan will know the ins and outs of each team in the tournament so most fans will look to betting trends in order to aid them with their picks, especially in the earlier rounds of the tournament. Here at Bookmakers.com, we have selected two betting trends we think are worth keeping an eye on as you place your bets throughout the tournament and also have a dedicated US sports picks site that is updated daily, so don’t miss the great tips available.
The importance of having a quality coach in college basketball cannot be understated, with many players recruited to teams with the view they will fit in with a particular coach’s system. Also, having a coach who has the experience of having long runs in this tournament or even better, a history of winning the tournament is a huge advantage and can often be the difference-maker in games that go down to the wire, as their superior play-calling can be enough to get their team over the line.
Teams to watch with this in mind are:
Duke (+1200 | 12/1 | 13.0) - with Coach Mike Krzyzewski has won an incredible 97 games in the tournament with five national titles
Kentucky (+800 | 8/1 | 9.0) - Coach John Calipari has helped shape many NBA-ready talents and has 56 winning games in the tournament, winning one championship
Michigan State (+22500 | 225/1 | 226.0) - Coach Tom Izzo has had one national title win and coached 52 winning games in the tournament
This is a betting market that has grown in popularity for March Madness over the years but gained huge traction online in last year’s tournament. Bookmakers set a line for the total points that will be scored in the first half, and bettors have been getting great success in backing the under option of this line, basically blind, across the first two rounds. This betting market should be available both before the game and in-play after the opening tip-off. If you miss the start of the game, you should still be able to get involved.
Across the first 20 games of last year’s tournament the under hit an unbelievable 15 times. This can all be pointed towards a few seemingly obvious factors that it seems have not been priced or cannot be priced into the market.
Basically, it amounts to nerves. The first game of the tournament will be the biggest game of their lives for most of the participants, and with the straight knockout format, this leads to many shaky starts as the consequence of ‘lose and go home’ looms large.
Add to this the fact that many of the smaller schools are now playing with a huge TV audience and in an unfamiliar stadium much larger and louder than they are used to, and you are left with teams starting the game ice cold and struggling to get any shots to fall. Shooters, for the most part, perform better at home with a familiar backdrop in their eyeline when lining up their shots. March Madness won’t have that, so, like last year, the first half unders should be a profitable market to follow.
Gonzaga (+400 | 4/1 | 5.0) - In what is usually the norm, the number one ranked team in the country in Gonzaga leads the market as the betting favorite to cut down the nets come April 4th. The Bulldogs were also favorites in last year’s March Madness before falling to Baylor in the championship game and will be keen to go one further this year.
With Drew Timme returning, who made the all-tournament team last year and the emergence of Chet Holmgren, a potential number 1 pick in the NBA Draft, Gonzaga certainly have the roster to go all the way, and their favoritism may just well be justified come the championship game.
Arizona (+700 | 7/1 | 8.0) - After clinching the Pac-12 title, the Arizona Wildcats will be keen to go all the way after missing out on the tournament last season due to a self-imposed postseason ban following a recruiting scandal that affected the school.
Twenty-five years since their last title, Arizona were last in the tournament in 2018 when their roster included Phoenix Suns big man Deandre Ayton who dominated in the tournament averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Kentucky (+800 | 8/1 | 9.0) - With 127 wins in the tournament, the Kentucky Wildcats almost always find themselves in the race for the national championship, winning the tournament eight times in their history. Coached by the legendary Calipari, this is truly a powerhouse school with an astonishing 125 past players making it to the NBA.
Currently second in the SEC, the Wildcats will be looking for some big performances from Congolese forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who was named the unanimous SEC Player of the Year. He leads the team in both scoring and rebounds, the latter of which he leads all D1 schools with his impressive 15.3 per game average.
Duke (+1200| 12/1 | 13.0) - All eyes will be on Duke in this year’s tournament as it marks the end of Krzyzewski’s legendary tenure at the helm of this basketball dynasty. At the wheel since 1980, Coach K, as he is better known, has amassed a resume that has him cemented in the conversation for best college coach of all time. This includes five national championships, 12 Final Fours, 16 Elite Eights and a staggering 97 games won at the tournament, which is the most ever.
The players on the floor still matter, of course, and Duke are not lacking in this department. The Blue Devils are led in scoring by Paolo Banchero, a freshman forward averaging 16.8 points per game on the year. He is backed up by the emergence of fellow freshman AJ Griffin who has been chipping in with an average of 10.1 points per game. At the current odds, Duke are one to watch, and should they get into the latter stages of the tournament, expect their odds to drop dramatically as the public will likely wade in with their betting dollars with the fairy-tale Coach K final victory in mind.
Online sports betting sites often offer generous welcome bonuses around the time of major sporting events. Expect to see a lot of March Madness betting offers throughout the competition. Whether you're new to basketball betting or just new to a particular basketball betting site, there are a few different welcome bonus types you can expect to find.
March Madness Risk Free Bet – this is the most common betting offer at online sportsbooks. After you have registered, place your first qualifying bet. If it loses, you will receive a free bet for the same amount as your qualifying bet.
March Madness No Deposit Bonus – A bit of a rare gem, a no deposit bonus gives new players bonus funds just for opening a new account. No qualifying deposit or bet is required.
March Madness Matched Deposit Bonus – with a matched deposit bonus, your first deposit will receive a bonus matching it to a certain percentage. It's often a 100% bonus, though 50% or perhaps 200% matched deposit bonuses can be found.
March Madness Promo Codes – some welcome betting offers require a promo code at the time of registration or at the time of your first deposit. In many cases, simply signing up via a link with an offer attached, like the ones you find here at Bookmakers.com, will be enough to qualify for the welcome bonus without the need for a promo code.
Although following a traditional format for a tournament, the initial makeup of the bracket and all the different start dates for each stage of the tournament can be confusing to many, so we have made a quick schedule below to explain the format of the tournament:
Selection Sunday - 6pm ET March 13th. This is the day that the 68-team tournament field is officially announced. This will usually only contain a few small surprises as most entrants are known thanks to automatic qualifiers and top 25 rankings.
The First Four - tips off on Tuesday, March 15th. This is a mini play-in tournament to the main tournament, where four games take place which whittles the field for the main tournament down to 64 teams.
First Round - March 17 - 18
Second Round - March 19 - 20
Sweet 16 - March 24 - 25 - The semi-finals for each region
Elite Eight - March 26 - 27 - The finals for each region
Final Four - April 2 - The four regional winners play each other in the national semi-finals
National Championship - April 4 - The new champion will be crowned in the national championship game.
In the United States, since the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, online sports betting has been legalized in several states such as New York and New Jersey. As the industry is regulated on a state level, rules can differ between states, and this is particularly true in the case of college sports. To ensure the integrity of the game, some betting markets are restricted in certain states, and this can affect your ability to bet on March Madness based on where you are located.
Some of these relevant rules we have detailed below:
Finally, on to our betting tips for the event.
Arizona to win the National Championship - +600 | 6/1 | 7.0
Opening at odds of +4000, Arizona has surprised many this year, and we feel this could well continue with them taking home the national title. Boasting an impressive 18-2 conference record, they took the Pac-12 by storm, and this was reflected in their near clean sweep of the Pac-12 awards. Bennedict Mathurin won the Pac-12 Player of the Year, with his 17.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game setting him clear of the competition, and we think the sophomore guard will have a huge tournament.
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Duke to make the Final Four - +230 | 23/10 | 3.3
In Coach K’s final tournament, there is a record up for grabs, which would be a fitting end to his career in charge of the Blue Devils. Currently, he is tied for most Final Four appearances by a head coach with the iconic John Wooden, at 12 appearances each. Wooden holds the record for most championships won by a coach and leads Coach K 10-5 in this category, a total that will likely never be beaten.
However, a Final Four appearance is well within reach for a Duke team that many thought were performing on autopilot for long stretches of the season. They tick both boxes in terms of talent on the floor and coaching prowess, and at the odds currently available, we think they are a great bet to reach this stage of the tournament in a great way to pay tribute to Coach K.