What is March Madness?
March Madness is a nickname for the NCAA Tournament, which takes place each March with the champion crowned in early April. Men’s college basketball is one of the most popular sports in America. Some of sports greatest moments such as Keith Smart’s game winning shot for Indiana to defeat Syracuse in the championship game.
Each year, 68 teams compete in a one-and-done format tournament to determine the national champions. Once you lose, you’re out. The last team standing cuts down the nets and is crowned the champions of college basketball.
The tournament is dubbed “March Madness” because, of course, the month in which it takes place. But also for the reason that madness truly happens during this epic six-round tournament. Every year, we see incredible buzzer beaters and surprising upsets. It’s truly one of the best times of year to bet on sports.
How Do Teams Qualify?
Getting to the NCAA Tournament requires teams to either have an impressive regular season or to go on a hot streak for one weekend in March. There are two ways to make the “Big Dance.” The first way is to win a conference tournament.
Each college basketball conference hosts a tournament at the end of the regular season. Every team in the league is invited. There are three or four rounds depending on how big the league is. The winner of that conference tournament is guaranteed an NCAA Tournament berth, even if they have a mediocre record.
But if your team doesn’t win its conference tournament, don’t sweat it. So long as the team performed well during the regular season and won some games against quality teams while avoiding a bunch of bad losses to lousy teams, they will receive an at-large bid to college basketball’s championship event.
A total of 68 teams make the NCAA Tournament each year. A selection committee selects and seeds each team based on how they performed throughout the year. The selection process and seeding is subjective, so it always creates some controversy on sports talk shows and social media.
March Madness Brackets
Filling out your brackets is the most exciting part of March Madness. Many people enter office pools or betting pools with friends and family each year.
While every pool is different, players earn points based on how well they project the outcome of the Big Dance. The player(s) with the highest point totals at the end of the tournament win money.
There are four brackets (East, West, Midwest, and South) with 16 teams in each bracket. For those of you who aren’t math majors or don’t care to pull out your calculator, that is 64 teams total.
But didn’t we just say 68 teams make the NCAA Tournament? We did!
Prior to the first round, a four teams compete in a play-in round otherwise referred to as the “Opening Round.” The two winners in those games advanced to the first round.
Teams are seeded from 1 to 16 based on their regular season resume, with 1 being best and 16 worst. The teams with the highest seeds have the easiest path to go deep. That is because they face lower seeded teams early on.
A #1 seed always plays a #16 in the first round. Only once as of 2019 has a #16 seeded defeated a #1 seed. That occurred in 2018 when UMBC shocked the basketball world and defeated Virginia.
5 Best NCAA Tournament Betting Tips
By the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around, most sports bettors have a good understanding of how good each team is. You’ll know the strengths and weaknesses of most teams by March. If you haven’t been following college hoops throughout the season, you best do some research so you aren’t just winging it with your bets.
Tip #1: Ride the Hot Shooting Mid-Majors in Early Rounds
Mid-major programs never get much respect from the public or the sports media. So, when a good mid-major faces a Power 5 team, the P5 team is usually favored and seeded higher. But you can find some great value in these games especially if you spot a mid-major that can light it up from the perimeter. Even though the major college team is likely more talented and athletic, in the NCAA Tournament, a bevy of three pointers often neutralizes the talent deficiencies.
Tip #2: Don’t Waste Money on the Directional Schools
I like to refer to schools such as Central Michigan and other never-has-been’s as “directional schools.” These are teams few people outside of the parents on the team know jack squat about. While it’s tempting to throw money at every game, save your cash for games involving teams you have actually watched or at least have a pulse on how good they are.
Tip #3: Don’t Blow Your Wad in Early Rounds
You need to plan for three weekends of basketball. That means you shouldn’t fire your entire barrel on opening weekend games. Some of the best games to bet on occur in the Sweet 16 and beyond. If you have a tough first weekend and spent the entire bankroll, you’ll be sitting on the sidelines during the NCAA Tournament’s biggest games. Use your head!
Tip #4: Playing Close-to-Home isn’t as Big of Advantage as Most Think
We aren’t saying that it doesn’t help to have a pseudo-homecourt advantage in the NCAA Tournament. Of course it does. But we can assure you the oddsmakers have already figured in that advantage when setting the lines. Don’t base your wagers on how close a team is playing to its home campus. Take into consideration match-ups, injuries, etc. instead and review the odds for March Madness.
Tip #5: Bet Against Teams Limping into the Tournament
Just because a team had an impressive season with many big wins and a great record doesn’t mean they’re destined to run deep in March. The fact of the matter is there are a couple of teams each year that flame out the first weekend simply because they’re out of gas. If you spot a team that appears to limped into the tournament but had an overall impressive season, betting against them is often a good play in March.
Types of March Madness Bets
Now that you understand what March Madness is all about, let’s start discussing the fun stuff – gambling. Millions of Americans bet on the NCAA Tournament each year. There are different ways to bet on the Big Dance other than through an office bracket pool.
The first type is a futures bet. You can wager on a certain team to win it all or make the Final Four. It’s tough to predict the winner, however, because the NCAA Tournament is a one-and-done event. One misstep and your team is out.
Other NCAA Tournament bets – and these are the most standard – include bets on the spread, moneyline, and over/unders.
When betting against the spread, your team must win that individual game by at least as many points as the spread. Or, if you bet on the underdog, they can’t lose by more than the spread. So, if you take Wisconsin +3.5, the Badgers have to keep the score within three points or you lose.
Moneyline bets are also referred to as straight-up wagers. You’re simply betting on a team to win the game, regardless of how many points they win by. You can get some good value betting the moneyline on underdogs if you have a knack for finding upsets.
And the final type of wager is the over/under. In this case, you’re betting on the total combined points scored in the game, either over or under the line.
NCAA Tournament Rounds and Play-In Game
The NCAA doesn’t like it when fans refer to the Opening Round games as “play-in” games, but that’s exactly what they are. The tournament opens two days before the First Round with two games with both winners advancing to the real First Round.
The first game is between the two worst teams in the tournament and the other involves the two last at-large bids. Once the play-in games are complete, it’s on to the First Round of 64 teams. Winners in that round advance to the Second Round of 32 teams and then the teams left standing compete in the Sweet 16. Things get serious in the following round – Elite 8 – and then even bigger when the Final Four begins. On the final night of the NCAA Tournament, the last two teams standing battle to be crowned national champions.
Which NCAA Teams Will Qualify for the Tournament?
There are a handful of teams that you can pencil into the Big Dance just about every year. Teams such as Duke and Kentucky are perennial national title contenders and their fans know before the season even starts that a trip to the Big Dance is a near lock. Here is a list of teams that have the most NCAA Tournament appearances heading into 2019 March Madness.
||Number of Appearances
UCLA, most of which came under legendary coach John Wooden, holds the record for most national titles. The Bruins were unstoppable during the 1960s and 1970s with superstar players such as Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
Duke has been the top program in the country for the past 30 years. The Blue Devils have won five national titles since 1991 and, except for a couple of down years in the mid-1990s, have dominated the ACC and all of college basketball for many years.