How To Bet On March Madness - The Ultimate Betting Guide

OddsChecker guide you through how to wager successfully on March Madness. Make sure you know all the basketball betting terminology and the best bets to place on the next NCAAB games.
Tue, May 17, 9:12 AM EDT | 5 min read

March Madness is one of the most bet-on competitions in the United States, with around $8.5 billion wagered each year. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise since it is the highlight of the college sporting calendar, and even rivals big professional games and tournaments like the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NBA Championship.

It’s a tournament that lives up to its name, with surprise and upset almost guaranteed. 68 teams take part in the NCAA’s Division I single-elimination competition, all hoping to be crowned the National Champion. Over the space of a few weeks, those 68 will be whittled down to just sixteen, then eight, then four, and finally two before one is awarded the biggest prize in college basketball.

Sweet Sixteen

The sweet sixteen is the name of the third round of the competition and, as its name suggests, it contains the final 16 teams in the bracket, each of whom plays in a single game, with each losing side being eliminated. While the eliminated teams will be severely disappointed not to be making it any further, it is a momentous achievement to have got into the top 16 from the more than 350 NCCA men’s teams that are eligible to qualify for the tournament.

Elite Eight

The elite eight is the quarter-final and fourth round of March Madness, featuring, you guessed it, the last eight teams in the tournament. It’s usually played a couple of days after the sweet sixteen and is, again, single-elimination, meaning all four losing teams will be going home empty-handed. The winners, on the other hand, progress to the semi-finals which are known as the “Final Four”.

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How to read March Madness betting odds

If you want to know how to bet on March Madness, then the first step is to learn how to reach March Madness betting odds. Thankfully, they work in the exact same way as every other sport. So, if you’re already familiar with moneylines, spreads, and futures, you’re ready to start placing March Madness bets. Don’t worry if you’re completely new to sports betting though. Here’s a simple guide that’ll have you fluent in March Madness betting odds in no time. Here in the US, we use the “American” odds format which means you’ll see them displayed as three (or more)-digit numbers with a + or - at the front. Essentially, the smaller the number, the more likely the outcome. For example, here are some futures odds for March Madness in 2022:

  • Gonzaga Bulldogs +450
  • Kentucky Wildcats +900
  • Auburn Tigers +1000

In this instance, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are the favorite because they have lowest odds. Let’s look at a moneyline example on a game between the Indiana State Sycamores and the Southern Illinois Salukis.

  • Sycamores -160
  • Salukis +150

In this instance, the Sycamores are the favorite because they have the lowest odds. It’s important to check which symbol is shown before the number, otherwise, you may mix them up in scenarios like this. Point spreads are read a little differently as an additional number will be shown next to each team. Let’s use the same teams as an example:

  • Sycamores +2.5
  • Salukis -2.5

These smaller numbers are not the odds, but you’ll usually find them displayed next to the spread, so be sure not to get them mixed up. Check out our March Madness betting options section to read how point spreads work. Finally, your odds can show you how much you’d receive as a payout if your bet wins. For positive odds (those shown with a +), the number shows how much you’d receive from a $100 wager. For example, a $100 bet at +200 odds would mean you’d receive $200 in winnings plus your $100 wager returned, giving you a total of $300. For negative odds (those shown with a -), it’s a little different. The number represents how much you’d have to wager to receive a $100 payout. Therefore, you’d need to wager $200 at -200 to receive a $100 payout plus your $200 returned ($300 in total).


March Madness Betting Options

As we’ve already touched on, there are several different types of March Madness bets. Again, if you’ve bet on other sports before, you’ll already know how to bet on March Madness, but if you haven’t, here are all the main types of wager you’ll be able to place on the competition. Point Spread Point spread bets are by far the most popular option among bettors. Rather than simply choosing which team you think will win, sportsbooks use a handicapping system to try to give a bet on either team roughly equal chance of paying out. They do this by prescribing a minimum number of points a team needs to win by or a maximum number of points they can lose by for the bet to win. If we look at the example we used before, we can see how they work.

  • Sycamores +2.5
  • Salukis -2.5

In this example, a bet on the Salukis would payout only if the Salukis win by more than 2.5 points, while a bet on the Sycamores could still payout if they lost, provided it was by fewer than 2.5 points. Odds will also be displayed next to each of the point spread options when you bet, so be sure not to get them mixed up. If you are placing March Madness bets on individual games, you will almost always be shown point spread options, so you won’t have to look far if this is the kind of wager you prefer.

Over/Under

Over/under or totals bets are usually shown in a similar way to point spreads, though they were a little differently. Put simply, they are a wager on how many points will be scored during the game. With this kind of wager, you’re not concerned about who wins and it doesn’t even matter which team gets the ball through the hoop, if it’s through the net, it counts. Like point spread bets, an over/under wager will be displayed with two numbers. In addition to the odds, you’ll be given a number of points and your job is to predict whether the game total will be more or less than that.

Moneyline

Moneyline bets are one of the easiest March Madness bets to understand. To place one, you just need to pick the team you think will win. If you’re right, the bookie will payout, if you’re wrong, they won’t. Simple.

Parlay Bets

Parlay bets combine multiple wagers into a single betting slip. It is sometimes possible to include more than one wager from a single game, though multi-game parlays are more common. Parlays work differently from placing each bet individually as they will only pay out if each individual wager is successful. So, if you have a five-game parlay and your first four games go your way, it still won’t pay out if the fifth one doesn’t. They are attractive to some bettors because, although they are more difficult to win, a parlay can offer significantly bigger returns, even on tiny wagers.

Prop Bets

Prop bets, which are sometimes known as propositional bets or exotic bets, are wagers that are different from the traditional factors you’d bet on. For example, March Badness prop futures bets including things like which state will the winning team be from, the combined seed number of the final four teams, or how many first-round games will go into overtime. You can also place prop bets on individual games, including on events like whether the match will go into overtime. There are also more random prop bets, such as whether Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim will pick his nose live on TV (yes, really).

Live Betting

Traditionally, you would place your March Madness bets before the game you were wagering on, but live betting has given sports fans the option to keep making predictions even after tip-off. Through mobile and online sportsbooks, March Madness fans can place several types of bets during the game or cash out a bet early if they think things could change. The app or website will continually refresh the odds so you can make your decisions as the game progresses.

Futures

As opposed to most other bets we’ve discussed above, futures bets are ones on the tournament itself rather than a single game. In the context of March Madness bets, futures could be things like which team will win the National Championship and which teams will make it to the final four.


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March Madness Brackets

Even if you’ve never placed any March Madness bets before, you will almost certainly have seen March Madness brackets. The single-elimination format means the best way to predict and track teams’ progress through the tournament is through this diagram. Many people partake in contests with colleagues, friends, and/or strangers to predict the March Madness bracket, using their knowledge of each team to forecast which ones will win each game and progress to the next stage.

How to fill out a March Madness bracket?

If you’d like to take part yourself, some sportsbooks run March Madness bracket pools. Alternatively, you can download a downloadable template from the internet and fill it in manually. Filling it in is relatively easy. You start from the outsides, predicting which of the initial 64 teams will win their first-round games and inserting their names in the boxes for the second-round matches. You then repeat the process, predicting which teams will win these hypothetical matchups to progress to the sweet sixteen, and then the elite eight, the Final Four, and finally, the National Championship game. Correctly picking the outcome of all games is incredibly difficult as there are so many variables, but it’s this challenge that makes the March Madness bracket so popular.

NCAA Women’s Basketball

March is not only a month for men’s basketball. It is also when the NCAA Women’s Basketball Division I title is decided, with 2022 marking the 40th anniversary of the addition of the competition to the NCAA championship program. Betting on the women’s tournament is equally exciting as the men’s as it is often just as unpredictable and varied. Over the last four decades, 15 different teams have won the title and a further 28 have reached the Final Four. If you’re familiar with how to bet on March Madness, then betting on the women’s tournament will be easy since it follows essentially the same format. There is no play-in round, but the rest is identical. The women’s March Madness competition begins with 32 first-round games between 64 teams, progressing through the second round, sweet sixteen, elite eight, Final Four, and National Championship game. Since fewer fans currently place women’s March Madness bets, you can often find more value lines. This is because sportsbooks typically allocate fewer resources to handicap this smaller market, leaving room for them to miss things. There are also fewer players that only stick around for a single season, making consistent team data easier to come by.

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FAQ's

When does March Madness begin?

In 2022, March Madness will begin on March 13, when Selection Sunday will take place. The First Four play-in games will then take place on March 15 and 16, with the 32 first-round games held on March 17 and 18. The NCAA National Championship game will take place on April 4.

How much money is bet on March Madness?

The average college basketball fan will wager a fairly modest amount of around $20 to $50. This all adds up though across the entire United States, with a total of $8.5 billion wagered on March Madness in 2019.

How to watch March Madness?

March Madness will be available across several TV networks and streaming platforms. The exact stations will vary depending on where you live and which games you want to watch. CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV all share the broadcasting rights in the United States.

Has a 16 seed ever won March Madness?

No 16 seed has ever won the National Championship game in March Madness. The closest to this was the No. 8 seed, Villanova, in 1985.

Where to bet on March Madness?

All US sportsbooks will be accepting March Madness bets, so you may be wondering which one is the best to use.

Here at OddsChecker, we make it easy for basketball fans by comparing the odds from all leading bookies. On top of that, we have compiled a comprehensive list of all the best free March Madness bets on offer from the legal sportsbooks in each US state. This means you can always be sure you’re finding the best value no matter which team you choose to back.

What is the lowest seed to win March Madness?

The lowest seed to win the title was Villanova who went all the way in 1985 as a No. 8 seed. The next closest was UConn in 2014 as a No. 7 seed.

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