Give me March Madness or give me death! Seriously, there is not a more exciting time for sports bettors and fans than college basketball’s annual tournament in March conveniently and appropriately dubbed March Madness. March Madness is a bracket-style tournament with 68 of the best college basketball teams duking it out for top honors as season-long champions. Not only is this a spectacle for spectators, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to make money betting on the games and the tournament.
In this guide, we’re going to cover every aspect of the tournament and what you need to know to walk out of the month of March a profitable winner. We’ll look at the different types of bets you have available including sports bets and bracket bets, tell you the key differences between the two, and then load you up with strategy tips to give you the best chance of winning in both realms.
We have a lot to cover today, but your wallet and your ego should be pretty excited about what we have in store for you.
Before we dive into the strategy portion of this guide, we need to differentiate between the two main types of March Madness bets that you’re going to run into – sports bets and bracket bets. The sports bet side of things refer to the wagers that you make with the sportsbook. These are bets on individual games or bets on the winner of the tournament. These are the same types of bets you could make at any point during the college basketball season on any individual game or any of the in-season tournaments.
Bracket bets, on the other hand, are a special kind of sports wager that are only available during the March Madness tournament. Once the 68 teams playing are released, you then are given a blank bracket that shows the matchups for the first round games and the play-in games. It’s now your job to pick the winners of all of those games, and then the winners of every subsequent game in the following rounds all the way up until the Champion is crowned.
Here’s the catch, though. You have to make all of these decisions before the first game is played. You might be asking, how do you make the second round picks if you don’t know who has won the first round games yet? Well, you have to make those predictions based on who you predicted to win those first-round games. The same is true for every round. So, the more games that you pick right the first round, the better chance you will have of getting picks right in the second round and so on and so forth.
You are awarded points for each correct winner you pick. These bets are done in pools where the winner is the player with the most points at the end of the tournament. Sometimes you are given the same number of points for each correct pick, and sometimes you are awarded more points for correct picks in later rounds. It all just depends on the betting pool that you are a part of. Sometimes it is winner take all with the money and sometimes a percentage of the field is paid out in bigger contests like top 3 or top 10%. Again, it all depends on the bracket pool that you are a part of.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to pick one or the other when it comes to March Madness betting. Most bettors will find themselves in several bracket pools as well as having lots of individual sports bets placed on games throughout the tournament. It is the ultimate time for a sports bettor because there is endless action that you can get your hands on, and you stand to make a lot of money if you know what you’re doing.
In this first section, we’d like to talk about some of the sports bets you can make during March Madness and the tips you need to know to win those bets and turn a profit. We’ve also got a ton of additional resources linked below that will help you in making these picks.
While the stakes are a lot higher and the bracket bets are unique, the individual sports bets you can make on the games and the tournament are the same ones that you’re used to from betting other sports or betting on college basketball throughout the regular season. A lot of bettors seem to forget this and get confused thinking everything has changed when the tournament rolls around.
With these bets, you don’t have to predict winners of games that you don’t know who is playing in or anything like that (what you have to do with bracket bets). You can make simple moneyline bets on game winners, bet on game totals, make futures bets on who is going to win the tournament, or dive into the multitude of prop bets available.
Because these bets are effectively the same as betting on a normal college basketball game, the tips, and strategies for betting a “normal” basketball game still apply. The link below will take you to our dedicated basketball betting strategy guide. It has all the tips and tricks you need to break down a basketball game and predict a winner. Even though it is not specifically directed at college basketball and March Madness, it is 100% applicable to helping you make your individual game and tournament long bets.
One of the most popular sports bets to make during the NCAA March Madness tournament is a futures bet. So we’re all on the same page, a futures bet in the tournament is a bet on who you think is going to win the tournament. These bets can be made at any point during the tournament on any team involved, but they are most popularly made at the beginning of the tournament before the games start. Often, you can get some pretty appealing odds on teams to win early especially if they aren’t big favorites.
Now, let’s say that you pick a team to win the tournament as a huge underdog and they make it far. If you truly believe they are going to win, you can just leave things alone and let your bet ride out and hopefully win. But, a lot of people like to lock up some potential profit if there team makes it late into the tournament.
This is the buy low and sell high mentality. It’s not something that you have to do, but a lot of bettors prefer to do it because it guarantees some profit especially on a bet that was much less likely to hit. The way you do this is through hedging. Hedging is a process of placing a bet against yourself to ensure that no matter who ends up winning, you win some money.
Hedging is fairly easy to do, but a simple mistake can be costly. Because it’s so delicate, we’ve gone ahead and put together a thorough guide breaking down all aspects of hedge betting. If you’re planning on making a futures bet in this year’s March Madness tournament, we recommend you take a few minutes and get up to speed on hedging. You certainly don’t have to hedge if you don’t want to, but it can lock up some profit for you late in the tournament regardless of who ends up winning.
One of the biggest mistakes that we see from bettors of all skill levels during the March Madness tournament is that they bet far too many games. Including the play-in games, there are 67 games played in the tournament. Should you be betting all 67 games? Heck no.
When you’re placing your sports bets for the March Madness tournament, you need to be cherry picking the games for value. This means that instead of just going down the line and firing a bet on every single game, you need to be looking for games that have value. Winning at sports betting and college basketball betting is all about finding value and not about picking winners. You can have way more wins than you have losses during the tournament and still be losing money.
If that last sentence seems foreign to you or threw you for a loop, then you need to make a big change to your betting strategy not just for the tournament but for all time. The guide we’ve linked below is our single most valuable piece of information on the entire site. It breaks down the importance of finding value in your bets and chasing value instead of just chasing wins. It is the golden key to being a profitable sports betting winner.
Probably the most popular bet during the tournament is the bracket bet. These bets are sometimes made between groups of friends, office co-workers, or online in big pools with big prizes. You can even submit free brackets to a lot of online pools and win huge prizes and a lot of money without putting up any money on your end.
The allure of these bets from an entertainment standpoint is that they make every single game important to you. Games between teams that you normally couldn’t give two cares about are now suddenly extremely important to you and the success or death of your bracket.
From a monetary standpoint, bracket bets give you the opportunity to make a lot more money for a smaller buy-in than you would with a standard sports bet. A $10 sports bet on a game might net you a profit of $9 or $10. But, a $10 bracket bet could net you thousands depending on the size of the bracket pool that you’re in. Yes, you have to wade through a lot more people, and it’s tougher to win, but the ceiling on your profit is insanely higher.
In the sections below, we’re going to run you through a whole host of tips on making the perfect bracket. To this day, a perfect bracket has never been made, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it done this year! All you have to do is pick 64 or 67 games right (depending on the format you are playing).
A lot of people making their bracket get stuck right at the beginning. They find it hard to know where to start as you only see the first round games and every other line on your bracket is empty. The best strategy we have to combat this is to build your bracket backward. Instead of picking all the first round game winners and then moving to the second round, start with a champion.
Pick out who you think is going to win the entire tournament and then fill them in as a game-winner all the way back to the first round. Then go ahead and pick out which other three teams you think will also make the final four. Write them in and then fill them in as winners all the way back out to the first round. From there, you can do the same thing with the elite eight, or you can jump back to the first round and start filling in the empty slots.
In most bracket bet formats, the later games are worth a lot more points. As long as your final four or your champion is still alive, you usually stand a chance of winning regardless of how many other games you’ve picked right or wrong. Because these are the most important picks, it’s better to start with those. It’s also a lot easier than trying to map out the course of 64 different teams at the same time. Fill in the “easy” blocks based on your predictions and then you can go game by game to fill in the slots that are still open.
If you’re lost in the first round games and want some help from the experts, the sportsbook is going to be your friend. Pull up the lines for all of the games and see who the sportsbook thinks is going to win. This is a great tactic to find upsets as the sportsbook couldn’t care less about what team is ranked what. All they care about is getting the line right with who is going to win which game.
You won’t be able to do this on any round after the first because your bracket has to be in before the first game tips off, but it can certainly help you with the first 16 games or 18 if you have to pick the play-in games in your format.
It can feel awesome when you pick a big upset. You have on paper proof that you were smarter than the betting public and the world and were able to pick a dog out of the pack. In some bracket pool formats, upsets even give you more points for picking them.
But, we want to caution you not to go overboard picking the upsets. While they do happen every single tournament, they are not as prevalent as you might think they would be. When you’re picking your bracket, certainly pick some upsets. But, don’t get too carried away thinking that the magic is going to happen in every single game.
How many upsets should you pick? Well, we think even asking that question is the wrong approach to take. You can Google and see the stats on how many upsets usually happen, but again, we don’t like that approach. What we would prefer you do is not think about picking upsets at all. Look at each game individually and pick a winner for that game.
If you end up with a lot of upsets, that’s okay. If you end up with very few upsets, that’s okay. The key to winning a bracket bet is picking more winners and having more teams make it to the subsequent rounds, so you have a better shot of picking up more points and sometimes the higher number of points you get in later rounds. If you pick a bunch of crazy upsets in the first round and are wrong on a lot of them, you might get a few extra points for getting one right, but you’re going to be dead in the water come the later rounds because most of your teams are going to be knocked out.
Look at each game individually and don’t worry about your total count of underdogs. There is no magic number of upsets you want to pick.
A lot of the teams in the tournament will end up playing games against teams that they’ve already played before. Looking back at their prior matchups that season can be a wealth of knowledge. Do keep in mind that teams grow and change throughout the season, but this is still going to be a great place to look even if the matchup was early in the season.
College basketball is different than the NBA in a lot of ways, but one of the biggest is that during the regular season they have a lot of mini tournaments as well as conference championship tournaments at the end of the season. Because a lot of college basketball teams can be so young, there can be legitimate fears of how a team is going to perform on the big stage when all of the pressure is on.
While you can’t exactly mimic March Madness because it is just that much madness, these in-season tournaments are the closest thing we get. Coaches like to build the pressure on these tournaments as well (which helps our cause) because they want their players to get as much experience in high-stress environments before the big dance.
Look at how teams performed in these tournaments. Which teams rose to the occasion and which teams went a little flat? Which teams were able to hit their free throws late in important games and which teams started to choke? Being able to get a handle on this can really help you to find who the smart pick is in close toss-up games.
Here’s a great stat. From 2002 to 2015, only two championship teams had a three-point shooting percentage better than the league average. What does that mean? Teams that live and die by the three-point shot do not fare well in the NCAA tournament. Why? Well, when you’re hot, you’re unbeatable. But, when you’re cold, it’s nearly impossible to get points on the board.
If a team does not have a backup plan for when they go cold from the arc, then they’re going to suffer. In a tournament format that is single elimination, this can be the death of a lot of teams. You need to be extremely careful when dealing with teams that live and die by the three ball. They’re great to pick for upsets, but as champs, they might not be the best of picks. It’s happened before, but the teams that take and make the higher percentage shots seem to fare much better in the tournament. Stats don’t lie.
The last tip we want to give you on March Madness bracket bets is to make sure that you join the right league. If you’re playing with friends, you don’t really have a choice of the league that you’re going to be in. But, if you’re looking for action online in bigger pools, you should be selective about which league format you want to pick.
In reality, as long as you pick more winners than anyone else, you should be in pretty good shape. But, take a look at how the payouts are structured. Take a look at how the points are structured. Are there more points for upsets? More points for later round picks? Too many points given to picking the right champion?
Is one format better than the rest? No. But, you need to pick the format that is the best for you and the one that you think you have the best opportunity to win in. Remember, you can always join multiple bracket pools, and a lot of these pools will even let you put in multiple brackets. So, if you’re close on a big decision or a few games, put in two brackets with the games you’re undecided on switched around.