What is March Madness?
March Madness is the nickname that has been bestowed on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, a yearly event which decides the top team in College hoops for the season.
The first-ever tournament to crown a champion was held back in 1939. Oregon conquered Ohio State that year to win the title in a competition that saw only eight teams compete. The structure would remain the same for the first dozen years of the tournament.
The field has continually expanded through the years. Since 2011, 67 teams have been invited to compete. For the 2019 tournament, Virginia took down Texas Tech to win the crown.
It’s a single–elimination tournament, so there’s no margin for error. One loss and you’re done, and anything can happen in the confines of a single game.
That opens the door for massive upsets, Cinderella teams getting hot, buzzer beaters that seal the deal, and a whole host of other surprises. All of that only contributes to the excitement and is a big part of the reason why there’s such massive interest in March Madness.
Bracket competitions don’t hurt in that regard. Office pools are a staple this time of year, and there are a number of massive contests to be found on the internet as well. Filling out a bracket is almost a rite of passage into the spring.
The betting aspect certainly helps to keep folks engaged as well. After all, many brackets get busted in the opening rounds. When you’re betting on the individual games, there’s no need to worry about that.
Of course, the best of both worlds approach involves a friendly bracket competition and maybe a swing at a massive online contest, as well as taking some cracks at the individual games you find most appealing. Naturally, you’ll want to try to predict the outright winner of the whole thing in the futures market too.
March Madness is incredibly exciting, tons of fun, and potentially profitable. Let’s take a closer look at how it all comes together.
Which NCAA Teams Qualify for the Tournament?
There are two ways to qualify for March Madness. The first is by winning a conference tournament, while the second comes from passing the muster of the tournament selection committee.
The first way is the most straightforward. At the conclusion of the College Basketball regular season, there are 32 NCAA Men’s Division I conference tournaments. The winners of those tournaments are automatically invited to the dance.
The remaining 36 teams are chosen by the NCAA selection committee. Members of the group weigh teams on overall strength and aim to choose the best remaining squads to round out the field.
An excellent regular season record helps in this regard, as does success against a strong schedule. Teams that excel during the season but come up short in conference tournaments still have great shots for inclusion.
Other teams aren’t as clear cut, but the committee does its best and relies on a series of metrics to choose which squads make the cut. The process isn’t devoid of controversy, as there are often teams that have a legitimate argument for inclusion that wind up on the outside looking in.
The full tournament is announced on what is known as Selection Sunday. Through the years, this has evolved into a must-see TV event as the entire field of 68 teams is unveiled for the first time.
How the NCAA Tournament Works
After the teams are selected, the action gets underway with four play-in games, which is also known as the Opening Round. The winners of these four contests advance to the First Round, which is when the action really heats up.
The first round begins on Thursday and includes 16 games. The first one tips off early in the day, while the last one doesn’t wrap up until late in the night. In between, it’s a wild scene with games going on in arenas all across the nation.
It’s the same story on Friday as the first round continues. Another 16 games are played over the same all-day format. Once the last game on Friday is in the books, half of the field will have been eliminated.
That leaves 32 teams to compete over the weekend in second round action. There are eight games spread out on both Saturday and Sunday. While that’s less than the first round, the action is still fast and furious all weekend long.
Once round two is complete, there are 16 teams left. This is known as the Sweet 16. There’s a break in the action before it kicks back up on Thursday and Friday with eight Sweet 16 games. Once again, the winners advance to the weekend.
By this time, it’s round four and there are just eight teams remaining. The Elite 8 compete over the weekend with the winners advancing to the Final Four the following week.
The Final Four games, also known as the national semifinals, take place on Saturday. The winners of those two tilts advance to the national title game, which is held on Monday.
All told, it’s 67 games over a glorious three-week stretch. The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament is one of the most exciting events in all of sports.
March Madness Brackets
The tournament is formatted into a bracket-style competition. There are four regions for the March Madness bracket, each of which has 16 teams that are seeded from 1-16. The winners of the four Opening Round games are playing for lower seeds, while the rest of the field has its spot locked in on Selection Sunday.
The four brackets are broken up geographically: East, South, Midwest, and West. As the tournament plays out, each team plays through its region with the goal of advancing to the regional final. The winners of the regional final games comprise what’s known as the Final Four.
That’s how the brackets work from a structural standpoint, and it’s also the same for the various pool competitions which surround March Madness. Once the field is set, participants in the bracket pool can start filling out their brackets.
Bracket competitions vary in shape and size. There are some that are winner take all, and others which pay out several places based on the top-scoring participants. The contests themselves are tons of fun, and potentially quite profitable for those who nail their brackets.
March Madness Schedule 2020
Here are the key dates you need to know for March Madness 2020.
- March 15: Selection Sunday
- March 17-18: First Four play-in games
- March 19-20: First round games
- March 21-22: Second round games
- March 26-27: Sweet 16
- March 28-29: Elite Eight
- April 4: Final Four
- April 6: National title game
Here are the host cities and arenas for the regional finals and Final Four.
- East Regional – Madison Square Garden, NY, NY
- South Regional – Toyota Center, Houston, TX
- Midwest Regional – Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
- West Regional – Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
- Final Four – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Types of March Madness Bets
There are a number of different ways to bet on March Madness. From picking the outright winner of the tournament to individual game matchups and a whole host of other options, you’ll have a slew of choices to consider.
Let’s take a look at the most popular ways to bet on the tournament.
- Futures: You can bet on the outright winner of the tournament. There’s an active futures market for NCAA Basketball and you’ll find odds listed all season long. Once the field is set, you may also find opportunities to bet on things such as the winner of each region, teams to reach the Final Four, and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
- Moneyline: For each of the individual games, you’ll find a simple moneyline bet in which you can place your wager on the winner. The favorite to win will be designated with negative odds, while the underdog’s odds will be positive.
- Point Spread: This bet revolves around a margin of points which is set by the oddsmaker. You can take the favorite minus the points, or the underdog plus the points. If your chosen side covers the spread, you have a winning ticket.
- Totals: Oddsmakers will place a benchmark total on each game. The betting public then gets a chance to have its say and decide if they like the total points scored to go Over or Under that number.
- March Madness Prop Bets: These are side wagers on something that may or may not happen during the game. You’ll find props for both individual player and team-based performance, such as whether or not a player will score a certain amount of points or what the total margin of victory will be.
- Live Betting: These are bets you can place after the action has already tipped off. Live betting has proven to be incredibly popular. The markets move fast and you will find a number of different opportunities to choose from during the course of a game, such as updated moneyline odds or total points scored in a half.
March Madness Betting Odds
For each of the bets you find on the wagering menu, there will be odds attached. Let’s take a look at the different formats you’ll come across.
For a futures bet, you’ll find each of the teams listed with their corresponding odds.
- Kansas +200
- Villanova +220
- Kentucky +240
And so on for all of the teams eligible. When it comes to the individual games, there are a couple of different odds formats. For moneyline, it’s just a favorite and an underdog.
- Alabama +120
- Marquette +140
When the point spread is involved, you’ll see the spread plus the odds.
- North Carolina +1.5 (-110)
- Florida State -1.5 (-110)
If it’s totals, you’re looking at the two choices with the odds listed.
- Over 5 (-110)
- Under 5 (-110)
When it comes to props and futures, the odds will resemble one of the formats listed up above. If it’s an instance with multiple choices, the odds will be similar to the futures market. For bets involving two selections, it’ll be listed like a moneyline, spread, or totals bet.
Legal Events You Can Bet On in the US
Teams with Most March Madness Appearances
There are a number of elite Basketball programs across the nation, so it should come as no surprise that there are several schools which are regular participants in March Madness. Here are the five colleges with the most NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament appearances.
- Kentucky, 58, eight national titles
- North Carolina, 50, six national titles
- Kansas, 48, three national titles
- UCLA, 47, 11 national titles
- Duke, 43, five national titles
Here are the programs with the most consecutive invites to the tournament, four of which are still going strong.
- Kansas, 30, 1990-present
- North Carolina, 27, 1975-2001
- Duke, 24, 1996-present
- Michigan State, 22, 1998-present
- Gonzaga, 21, 1999-present
5 Best NCAA Tournament Betting Tips
When it’s time for March Madness, opinions aren’t tough to come by. There are tons of theories on the best way to fill out a bracket and which kinds of teams to focus on for individual bets.
All of those opinions can lead to information overload, so train yourself to tune out the noise and focus on what matters. Here are five tips that can help point you in the right direction.
1. Overall Team Strength
Everyone loves a Cinderella story, but be realistic with your expectations. Higher seeds are where they are for a reason. The winning percentage is high for seeds 1 through four in early rounds, so only go against the grain if you have an excellent reason for doing so. Some programs are just stronger than others, so don’t try to force an upset that’s just not there.
2. Consider Recent Form
If a team qualifies for the tournament, they’ve obviously done something right. However, not all teams head to the dance in the same shape. Some squads are cruising and looking dangerous, while others limp in. Pay attention to how teams fared at the close of the regular season and through their conference tournaments for a sense of current state of play.
3. Pick Your Spots with Upsets
As mentioned, the stronger teams in the tournament are reliable performers. However, upsets are going to happen. The key is to pick your spots and zero in on the ones with the best chances of happening. Recent form can help in that regard, as a team that enters flying could be in line to advance over a powerhouse that has been struggling of late.
4. Things that Move the Needle
There are enough stats out there to make your head spin, and it’s pretty easy to get lost in research as a result. As opposed to doing that, focus your time on the things that really matter. Points for and against and schedule strength are simple indicators that can be very helpful. For tiebreakers, look towards better shooting teams, stronger defenses, and squads that have a depth advantage over their opponent.
5. Manage your Bankroll
March Madness is very exciting, and it can be quite easy to get caught up in the hysteria. Avoid the temptation to go overboard. Enter the tournament with a clear plan and budget, then stick to it. For example, you can allocate a certain amount of funds for each round of the tournament. If you do well in the early going, you can always increase play, but be careful not to give all of your winnings back.