2021 NCAA March Madness Betting Tips: How to Bet and What to Look For
To say I am pumped about the return of March Madness would be an understatement. Last year’s cancellation of the tournament left such a void in March that I ended up learning Sudoku as a hobby. Let me tell you, I’d much rather be trying to figure out if a game is on pace for the “over” or “under” to hit than be putting single-digit numbers in a square box and erasing them a million times because they are in the wrong spot.
March Madness may be one of the best tournaments in the world because you get people from all walks of life tuning in to see the drama unfold. Aside from Super Bowl, which leads the way with attention from non-fans, the bracket challenge that goes along with the NCAA Tournament has people talking like they know exactly what’s going to happen. It’s the only time of the year where you can get away with saying team X is better than team Y because they wear certain colored jerseys. It doesn’t matter what method you employ to pick your games. Nobody… and I mean nobody… is coming away with a perfect bracket. But trying to do so is half the fun.
Heading into this year's edition of the NCAA Tournament, there are a few teams that are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. You have Gonzaga, who dominated the West Coast Conference and ran away with the regular season and postseason title. You have Illinois, who won the Big Ten title by beating the No. 9- and No. 5-ranked teams in the country at that time. You have Michigan, who was ranked No. 2 before losing to Illinois on March 2, and before bowing out of the Big Ten Tournament in the semi-finals to No. 9 Ohio State. And you have Baylor, who finished the season with a 22-2 record but lost in the Big 12 semi-finals to the No. 12 Oklahoma State Cowboys. Each one of those four No. 1 seeds is extremely talented, but only one team will remain standing and be able to lift a trophy in April.
Your job, just like my job, is to figure out a way to profit off of these teams, whether that be by betting on them or betting against them to not cover the spread. The choice is ours, and we must make the right one.
If you are relatively new to betting on the NCAA Tournament… welcome. You will be given a quick run-down of what to do and what not to do come tournament time, with the goal being to help you win a little bit of money along the way.
For starters, let's take a look at the outright NCAA Tournament odds. These odds represent how likely or unlikely a team is to be the last team standing when the final buzzer goes off on April 5 in Indiana
Odds to Win National Championship
Gonzaga +210, Illinois +500, Baylor +600, Michigan +600, Houston +1600, Alabama +1800, Iowa +1800, Texas +2000, Oklahoma State +2500, Florida State +2800, Ohio State +2800, Connecticut +3000, Arkansas +3500, and Kansas +4000. The list goes on and on with nine teams posted at +50000.
As you can see, Gonzaga is the odds-on favorite to win their first-ever National Championship. Gonzaga has been the AP Poll No. 1 team all season long and they ran wild on teams during the regular season, finishing with a record of 26-0. If you want to bet Gonzaga to win the tournament, you will profit $210 for every $100 you bet. If you like the looks of Alabama or Iowa, you would profit $1800 for every $100 bet, etc.
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Don't get me wrong, I love a good futures bet just as much as the next guy, but the allure of this specific tournament is filling out your bracket and trying to correctly pick as many games right as possible. Filling out a bracket is much trickier than betting on individual games, as each correct selection on the bracket just has to win outright and not cover the spread.
What to Look for in a Bracket
If you asked 10 people for their power ratings of each team in the tournament, you may get eight different answers. Power ratings are important to take into consideration when filling out your bracket because they will be an up-to-the-minute indication of how a team is performing. Because each first-round tournament game features nonconference opponents, you can use your own power ratings to help determine which team had the better season or which team has an advantage at a certain position. Power ratings will differ from person to person, but the idea of using them as a tool will help you get your pulse on the teams you are going to be selecting in your bracket pools or wagering on with your sportsbook account.
Another thing to keep an eye open for when filling out your bracket is lower-seeded teams who are favored over higher-seeded teams. Going back to the keeping up with the bracket trends idea, you should understand that No. 10 seeds have beaten No. 7 seeds 55 times compared to 85 losses. While that may not seem like a great record, there have been several occasions in the past where the lower seed (No. 10) is favored over the No. 7 seed. The same can be said for the No. 8 vs No. 9 game and to some extent the No. 5 versus the No. 12 seed. Make sure you understand the point spread associated with each game and make your selections accordingly.
This year, No. 10 Virginia Tech is a PK against No. 7 Florida and No. 10 Rutgers is one-point favorites over No. 7 Clemson.
The very first thing you need to do before putting together a bracket is to look at the trends and percentages. We know that only one time in the history of the NCAA Tournament has a No. 1 seed has lost its opening game. That happened in 2018 when No. 1 Virginia lost to No. 16 UMBC. That will likely not happen again for a very long time. And as such, it's safe to pencil in all four No. 1 seeds to the next round. I like the idea of starting the bracket off with a .993 percentage trend on my side.
Furthermore, as I mentioned, you don't have to worry about a No. 1 seed covering the huge 20-point spread, as filling out a bracket is simply picking which team you believe is going to win the game and advance to the next round.
How To Make the Best Possible Bracket
With all the information above in the front of your mind, it's time to focus on the end of the tournament. As you can see by the odds, Gonzaga is the clear-cut choice to win the tournament. However, the reality of the matter is that the odds-on favorites very rarely win the tournament outright. So, what's the key? Well, it's to get as many Final Four teams right as possible. This will allow you to chalk up as many points as possible along the way and then have the opportunity to have your two teams battle it out for the title.
When I choose my Final Four teams, I look for teams who are great at protecting the ball (limiting turnovers), great three-point shooting teams, and teams who can knock down their free throws in crunch time. These three factors are crucial to success for any team in the tournament. If you can find a team(s) who check all those boxes, you could potentially have your Final Four teams all but selected.
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