March Madness Betting Guide

By Mark Fordham
 |  6 mins
8E3DFB6F-93D4-478C-99D9-112C2BB6C04E  Fact Checked by Sean O'Neill
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March Madness Betting Guide

As we enter Week 18 of the men’s college basketball season, our focus turns to March Madness. The annual NCAA tournament pits the 68 best teams in the nation against one another in single-elimination format. The event features 67 straight knockout games, making it perfect to fire up your betting apps through each stage of the tournament.

With things getting underway in a couple of weeks, now is the best time to get familiar with the main contenders, the dark horses and the format so you can make some profit on your college basketball picks

March Madness Betting Odds

While March Madness has been a huge national tournament almost since its inception in 1939, it has gotten even bigger with the explosion of sports betting across the United States. Since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was repealed by the Supreme Court in 2018, each specific state has been allowed to introduce legal sports betting. 

Since that time, 25 states have legalized online sports betting in one form or another, which means that there are numerous college basketball betting sites with which to choose to make your wagers at. March Madness betting can be tricky with the potential for Cinderella teams each year, but we’re here to try to help you make the best decisions possible.

March Madness Favorites

Houston (+650 | 7.50 | 13/2) - Houston is the No. 1 ranked team in the nation and has lost only two matches all season. The Cougars do, however, reside in the much weaker American Athletic Conference so have only faced three ranked teams all season, going 2-1 in those.

Kansas (+850 | 9.50 | 17/2) - The Kansas Jayhawks are the defending champions and are looking to be the first team to repeat since Florida in 2007. They were named as the West No. 1 seed in the initial Top 16 rankings earlier this month.

Alabama (+900 | 10.00 | 9/1) - Alabama was the No. 1 team in the nation after Week 15, but that was short-lived after a defeat to the ranked Tennessee. Alabama spreads the wealth on offense and defense and has a well-rounded roster that could go deep into the tournament.

Purdue (+1000 | 11.00 | 10/1) - For much of this season, the Purdue Boilermakers have been the team to beat. Until February 4, they had lost just one game all year, but they then lost three of their next four - two of which were against unranked opponents, making backers at sportsbooks run scared.

March Madness Dark Horses

Marquette (+4000 | 41.00 | 40/1) - The Marquette Golden Eagles have likely played themselves into a No. 4 seed for the tournament and are the 12th-best team in the country, according to the KenPom rankings. They have the third-best offense, which can play lights out on any given day. Yet their odds are only good for 20th best. 

Kentucky (+4500 | 46.00 | 45/1) - Kentucky has a rich history in March Madness, winning it on no fewer than eight occasions. The team is on a down year and currently unranked but has the 13th-best offense in the country, according to KenPom. The team is likely to be a relatively low seed in the tournament but could make it to the Elite Eight.

Providence (+10000 | 101.00 | 100/1)  - The Providence Friars are No. 20 in the Top 25 but no US betting apps seem to be taking them seriously. They have a fiery offense, but the one knock against them is their road form that has seen all of their six defeats. Still, at their price, they would be well worth a look to make the Elite Eight and beyond. 

March Madness Picks

Marquette to make Final Four (+700 with FanDuel) - Marquette has started to find its feet at just the right time. After three defeats in their first nine matches, the Golden Eagles have lost just three in their following 20 and had wins over six ranked opponents to lead the stacked Big East. They will have to run the gauntlet in the Big East conference championship to keep the momentum going, but if they can, they can make some real noise in March. With four other ranked foes in the Big East, and four players all averaging double figures for points per game, they will be battle-hardened enough to shoot the lights out of teams and reach the Final Four. Positive odds like that with USA sports betting sites are well worth a wager.

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Kansas to win it all (+850 with BetMGM) - We realize that Kansas will have to overcome history to win the NCAA tournament this year. Since 1973, only two teams have managed to win in consecutive years. While Houston is the only team to rank inside the top 10 of KenPom’s offensive and defensive rankings, we think Kansas’ record both on the road and against ranked opponents will ultimately allow them to prevail. After a midseason slump, Kansas has now won four of its last five against ranked teams and has a 7-3 road record, which is needed in tournament play. Forward Jalen Wilson leads the way in points (19.6) and rebounds (8.4), but with four players all averaging more than 10.5 points per game, they can score from anywhere and crucially keep their turnovers low. Head coach Bill Self has won two tournaments with Kansas, and we think +850 or higher with betting sites on Kansas looks great value this year.

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Where to Legally Bet on March Madness

While wagering on betting apps is becoming the norm in many states across the country, not every one will allow you to place bets on college sports or in-state college teams. So be sure you know the ins and outs of sports betting before looking to place a wager. 

  1. Wagering on college games involving teams located within the state is prohibited in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia and Washington DC.
  2. Wagering on neutral venue college games in DC and NJ is prohibited. This means games taking place within these states, even if no teams from the state are involved, cannot be offered for betting purposes for residents of the two states.
  3. College team and player props are not allowed in Arizona, Colorado and Virginia and are not allowed to be offered in-play in Tennessee. This means you cannot bet on these markets before the tip or during the game in Arizona and can only bet on them pre-game in Tennessee. New Hampshire doesn’t allow prop bets on any in-state team.
  4. College player props are prohibited on Arizona sports betting sitesColorado betting sites, Indiana (in-play), Iowa betting sites, Mississippi, New Hampshire betting sites, New York sports betting sitesPennsylvania betting sites, South Dakota, Tennessee betting sitesVirginia sports betting sites, Washington, West Virginia bookmakers. This means player-specific prop bets cannot be offered in those states listed, and in Indiana, they can only be offered before the game begins.

March Madness Free Bets

With March Madness being such a huge tournament, you can expect there to be plenty of different betting offers and free bets available at a number of different betting sites. These will likely be found from now until the first tip off of the tournament.

You can expect the biggest and best basketball betting sites to offer new customer betting offers to use on March Madness, such as enhanced odds on some of the favorites during the tournament. Below are our favorite sportsbooks for betting offers.

March Madness Betting Markets

Whether this is the first time you will be betting on March Madness, or you are a seasoned pro, it’s always good to get a refresher on the different types of betting markets there are available with most of the best bookmakers.

Point Spread

Often simply referred to as the spread, this is the most popular market when betting on college basketball. Betting sites will make an estimation of the number of points a team may win by. You can then bet on a favorite to win by more than the given spread or on the underdog to stay within the spread. For instance, it won’t be outlandish to see a high seed favored by 10 points or more. You would have to decide if you think the favored team will win by more than 10 or if the underdog can keep it close.


Before every game, sportsbooks make an estimation of the total number of points that will be scored in a given matchup. Bettors then need to decide whether they think the game will be higher scoring than the line or lower scoring.


This is the simplest form of betting on offer. It is as simple as choosing which team you think will win the game. There can be some big prices found in the first couple of rounds as No. 1 seeds take on No. 16 seeds, so if there is a huge upset, you could reap the benefits. 


College basketball player props are a big part of the betting experience in March Madness. These bets typically have no bearing on the result of the matchup and are simply based on the performance of a specific player or players. For instance, you could bet on a player to go over a designated number of assists. There are also team props that could involve how many rebounds a team has in a matchup.

The lines and types of props offered can differ greatly from sportsbook to sportsbook, so always make sure you shop around to find the best deal for you. 

When is March Madness

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 12. 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 the Top 25 rankings.

The First Four - tips off on Tuesday, March 14. 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 16 - 17

Second Round - March 18 - 19

Sweet 16 - March 23 - 24 - The semi-finals for each region

Elite Eight - March 25 - 26 - The finals for each region

Final Four - April 1 - The four regional winners play each other in the national semi-finals

National Championship - April 3 - The new champion will be crowned in the national championship game.

Frequently Asked Questions
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Who has won most NCAA basketball titles?
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Mark spent over a decade as a sports reporter and editor with and Bleacher Report. He is now a Content Editor at covering all manner of sports from the Premier League and cricket to the NBA and NFL.

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