Updated September 17, 2023
Reviewed By Anthony Riccobono

How To Bet On March Madness - The Best Betting Strategy

March Madness is one of the most exciting sporting events each year. Tens of millions of people watch the NCAA Tournament annually, and many of those viewers bet on the college basketball games in some form or fashion.

When it comes to March Madness betting, you don’t need to be an expert to win some cash. The NCAA Tournament is called “March Madness” because of its unpredictable nature.

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Betting on March Madness isn’t difficult. Most people who wager on the games are not experts. Whether you’re a die-hard college basketball fan or someone who hasn’t seen a second of the season, you can bet on the NCAA Tournament. 

March Madness bracket pools have been a staple of the tournament since it expanded in 1985. With sports betting becoming legal in more and more states, much of the country has even more ways to bet on the year’s biggest college basketball games through sportsbooks.

How do you bet on March Madness? What are the best March Madness betting strategies? Here’s what you need to know for betting on the NCAA Tournament.

How to understands betting odds

What is March Madness?

March Madness is the single-game elimination tournament that determines the NCAA Division-1 college basketball champion. Less than 20% of the 350-plus Division-1 teams are selected to the NCAA Tournament. The team that wins six straight games from the first round until the national championship game wins March Madness.

When Do March Madness Brackets Come Out?

The March Madness bracket is always revealed on the Sunday before the NCAA Tournament starts. The March Madness 2023 bracket comes out on Sunday, March 12. The Selection Show airs at 6 p.m. ET on CBS, revealing the entire 68-team field.

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee determines which teams make the March Madness field, along with each team’s place in the bracket. There are 32 automatic bids that go to teams that win their conference tournaments. The remaining 36 at-large bids are determined by each team’s resume from the regular season and conference play.

When Does March Madness Start?

The March Madness start date changes from year to year, though the NCAA Tournament always begins around the same time. March Madness 2023 starts on Tuesday, March 14 with the First Four play-in games. March Madness 2023 ends with the college basketball national championship game on Monday, April 3.

Technically, March Madness starts before the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Two days after Selection Sunday, during which 68 teams are picked to be in the NCAA Tournament bracket, eight teams compete in the “First Four” games. Those contests are split across Tuesday and Wednesday at neutral sites. With the bracket cut to 64 teams, the first round of March Madness takes place on Thursday and Friday. There are 16 games on the schedule for each day of the first round. Every team that loses is eliminated, and every team that wins advances to the next round.

All of the March Madness games are scheduled for neutral-site locations.

Related Reading - Basketball Positions and Player Roles Explained.

How March Madness Betting Works

There are several different ways to bet on March Madness. You can make wagers on individual games or place futures bets on which teams will reach the Final Four or win the national championship. NCAA Tournament bracket pools are the most popular option when it comes to March Madness betting. 

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March Madness brackets

Participating in a March Madness bracket pool is the most common way to bet on the NCAA Tournament. It's an easy way to have a rooting interest in every game.

March Madness brackets are split up into four sections, or regions. At the start of the first round, 16 teams will make up each section of the bracket. The last team standing in each region through four rounds will advance to the Final Four.

The teams are seeded No. 1 through No. 16 in every section of the bracket. The No. 1 seed is considered to be the best team in each region. The No. 16 seed is viewed as the least likely to win the region and make the Final Four

To take part in a March Madness pool, you must pick a winner for each matchup in the bracket. It includes picks in the first round, second round, Sweet Sixteen (third round) and the Elite Eight (fourth round). Once you’ve picked your Final Four, you must pick two teams to make the championship game and which team will win the entire tournament. In most pools, you must predict the final score of the championship game, which will be used as a potential tiebreaker.

Typically, you are awarded points for each winner that you correctly pick in your bracket, and the points go up as the tournament goes along. For example, picking a winner of a first-round game could be worth one point, but a correct prediction in the second round might be worth two points. The person who owns the bracket that has the most total points at the end of March Madness wins the pool.

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Bets against the spread

Making a bet against the spread is the most common way to wager on an individual game through a legal sportsbook. Each matchup has a point spread, making one team the favorite and one team the underdog. If you bet on the favorite against the spread, that team has to win the game by more points than the spread in order for the bet to be a winner. 

For example, the point spread in the 2022 national championship game favored Kansas by 4.5 points over North Carolina. Kansas beat North Carolina 72-69, winning by fewer than 4.5 points and failing to cover the spread. A bet on North Carolina against the spread would’ve been a winner, even though the Tar Heels lost the game.

On rare occasions, a game is a pick’em (PK). In those instances, there is no point spread, and the winning team will always cover the spread.

Straight up (or moneyline) bets

A straight up bet is simply picking the winner. The margin of victory doesn’t matter. If the team you wager on wins, your bet cashes. That doesn’t mean it’s as simple as picking the higher seeded team in each March Madness game.

Moneyline odds are assigned for both the favorite and the underdog by legal sportsbooks. When betting on the favorite, you are risking more money than what you could profit from winning the bet. The opposite is true for the underdog. The favorite has minus (-) odds, which indicate how much money a gambler must risk in order to make a $100 profit for a winning bet. Plus (+) odds are used for the underdog.

For example, Kansas had -200 odds as the favorite against North Carolina in the championship game. That means a $200 bet on Kansas to win straight up would’ve resulted in a $100 profit. A $100 bet would’ve come with a $50 profit. If North Carolina won, a $100 bet on the Tar Heels to beat the Jayhawks would’ve resulted in a $165 profit because North Carolina had +165 odds as the betting underdog.

If a team has even odds, your potential profit is the same as the amount of money that you bet.

Futures bets 

For March Madness, futures bets allow gamblers to wager on how far a team will go in the tournament. The most popular March Madness futures bets are for the national championship, but some sportsbooks will also allow you to bet if teams will go to the Final Four.

Each team is assigned futures odds, which vary depending on how likely they are considered to achieve a feat. For example, Kansas has +1300 odds to win March Madness 2023 and repeat as national champions. If you bet $10 on Kansas and the Jayhawks win a second straight title, you’ll win the bet and earn a $130 profit. Any other result, including Kansas losing in the national championship game, is a losing bet.

The bigger the number next to the plus sign means a greater possible profit. Those bets, however, are more difficult to win.

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Best March Madness Betting Strategy

Tip 1: Stick with No. 1 seeds

Picking early upsets in your bracket can be fun, but the key to winning a March Madness pool is getting the Final Four and national champion correct. Those picks are worth the most points and can make up for a poor performance in the first few rounds. Pick a No. 1 seed as your national champion. Take at least two No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. Fill out the rest of your Final Four with No. 2 or No. 3 seeds.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 23 of the 36 national champions have been No. 1 seeds. Each of the last five champions have been a No. 1 seed. A No.1 seed has won March Madness in 12 of the last 15 years. Ten of the last 14 teams to reach the national championship game have been a No. 1 seed, and only one of them have been seeded lower than No. 3.

More than 60% of the teams that win their side of the March Madness bracket and reach the Final Four are seeded No. 1 or No. 2. Five No. 2 seeds have won March Madness, and only four No. 3 seeds have done it. There has been a single No. 4, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 seed to win March Madness. No team seeded No. 9 or worse has ever won the NCAA Tournament. 

Tip 2: Pick upsets strategically 

Your March Madness bracket has to include some upsets. Not only is it part of the fun, but there’s always a handful of Cinderella teams that go on an unexpected March Madness run. How do you know which upsets to pick and how many should you take in each round?

Most of the upset picks in your March Madness bracket should occur in the first round. You’ll want to take at least one No. 10 seed, if not two, to advance to the second round. Close to 40% of No. 10 seeds have beaten No. 7 seeds in their first-round matchups. More than one-third of the first-round games have gone in favor of the No. 11 and No. 12 seeds, so take a shot with a couple of teams seeded in that range, as well. 

Going with a team seeded worse than No. 13 to win a game is a risk. Maybe take a shot with a No. 13 or No. 14 seed, but don’t put them into the Sweet Sixteen. Don’t bother picking a No. 16 seed to win. It’s only happened once in March Madness history. 

Tip 3: Go with experience 

If you’re not a college basketball fan, the one bit of research you might want to do before filling out your bracket is to find out which of the top-seeded teams have experience. The national champion is usually led by players who have spent a few years playing college basketball and have already gotten a taste of March Madness in the past.

The biggest individual stars in college basketball are often freshmen and sophomores, but they usually don’t lead teams to titles. Just look at the most recent teams that have won March Madness. The 2022 Kansas team had no freshmen in the starting lineup. Four of their starters had spent at least three years in college, and their best player was a senior. The 2021 champion Baylor Bears had all juniors and seniors in the starting lineup. Four of the starters on the 2019 champion Virginia team had at least three years of college on their resume.

Experience also applies to head coaches. More often than not, the team that wins March Madness is led by one of the top coaches in college basketball. Every coach except for one that won the championship from 1999-2018 is already in the Basketball Hall of Fame or well on their way to being inducted at some point. Virginia coach Tony Bennett has been one of the sport’s top coaches for a decade. Baylor coach Scott Drew has been the Bears head coach for 20 years.

Now that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Villanova coach Jay Wright are retired, Kansas’ Bill Self might be the unquestioned best coach in college basketball.

What Is The Lowest Ranked NCAA Team To Win March Madness?

In 1985, the year that the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 64 teams, No. 8 seed Villanova became the lowest ranked team to win March Madness. The Wildcats beat heavily favored No. 1 Georgetown and star center Patrick Ewing in one of the biggest upsets of all time. Villanova played a nearly perfect second half, making nine of their 10 field-goal attempts in a 66-64 victory.

Three decades later, No. 8 seed Kentucky nearly matched Villanova’s feat. Instead, it was No. 7 Connecticut that defeated Kentucky to win the 2014 national championship. The Huskies became the second-lowest ranked team to win March Madness. Connecticut is the only NCAA Champion since 1998 that was seeded worse than No. 3 in their side of the bracket.

Villanova and Connecticut are the only No. 8 and No. 7 seeds to win the NCAA Tournament. In 1988, Kansas became the first and only No. 6 seed to become the national champion. There has never been a No. 5 seed that won the NCAA Tournament.

March Madness FAQs

How many teams are in March Madness?

In total, 68 teams are in March Madness. The field gets cut down to 64 teams for the start of the first round.

How many games are in March Madness?

From the First Four “play-in” games all the way through the national championship, there are 67 games played in March Madness. The tournament takes place over the course of three weeks.

Has a No. 16 seed ever beat a No. 1 seed?

In March Madness 2018, No. 16 UMBC beat No. 1 Virginia 74-54 in the first round. It was the only time that a No. 16 seed has won a game in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia won the national championship the following year.

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