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College Basketball: How to Bet on March Madness

March Madness is the craziest time of year for sports bettors. It’s like the Super Bowl but instead of one big game to bet on, you have 68 Division 1 men’s college teams in the field waiting to make their mark on the NCAA basketball landscape. From the First Four to the Sweet 16 to the championship game, March Madness offers a chance for you to become the betting expert we know you can be.

We’ll provide the tools and handicapping info so you have everything you need to bet on March Madness like a pro.

How to Read March Madness Odds

When you check out any March Madness betting site, you’ll see odds displayed like this:

  • North Carolina -233
  • Kentucky +195

We use American odds but you can choose Fractional (1/5) or Decimal (1.20) if you prefer. Bettors in the U.K. are more likely to use fractions, people in Europe and Australia generally use decimals, and those in North America use the betting odds type that shares their name.

These odds are for a traditional moneyline bet. To make this type of bet, you simply have to pick a team to win straight up (SU). At -233, the Tar Heels are the favorite. You can tell this by the minus sign (-). At +195, the Wildcats are the underdog. You can see this because of the plus sign (+). This is universal across all sportsbooks. Dogs will always have pluses and faves will always have minuses.

If you decide to pick UNC and bet $100 on them, you’d get a payout of $142.92 – your original money comes back along with your winnings of $42.92. Conversely, that same $100 on Kentucky would give you $295 – your $100 is returned, coupled with your prize of $195.

Our Odds Calculator will show you what you’d win based on the offered odds and the amount you bet. You don’t have to bet $100. You have free rein to wager whatever your bankroll can handle.

Wagering on March Madness Games: Betting Options

We’ve already covered the moneyline and how to read odds at betting sites, so now let’s look at other popular NCAA Tournament bets you can make. Because there are seven rounds and 68 teams, you have ample opportunities to win some coin.

Point Spread: Choosing a Team to Cover

Unlike a straight-up bet where you are picking one team to win over the other, the point spread allows you to wager on how much a squad will win or lose by. Before the matchup, the underdog is given an advantage and the favorite a disadvantage to create a more even betting field. Spread odds would look like this:

  • Villanova -9.5
  • Marquette +9.5

To cover the spread, the Wildcats would need to win by 10 points or more. For the Golden Eagles to cover, they would need to win the game outright or lose by nine points or less

Totals: Combined Score Betting

Basketball games, whether they’re at the NBA or collegiate level, are high-scoring affairs. Totals betting, aka OVER/UNDER, gives you the chance to bet on the combined score of the game. When teams play each other, you’re looking at collective scores in the 100+ point range. Odds would look something like so:

UCLA vs St. Bonaventure

  • OVER 120
  • UNDER 120

Your job as a bettor is to determine if the pooled score will be more or less than the oddsmaker’s set number of 120. If you think it will be more than 120, you would take the OVER. If you believe it will be less, you would take the UNDER.

Futures: Who will Win it All?

Futures bets are wagers that can be made weeks or even months in advance of the event you’re betting on. In this case, you would make a bet on which school will win the NCAA national championship. Odds for this type of college basketball bet would be like this:

  • Duke +500
  • Stanford +650
  • Kansas +800
  • Xavier +1000
  • Indiana +1300
  • UTEP +1850
  • Michigan State +2000
  • TCU +2900
  • Purdue +3750
  • UMASS +5000

At the sportsbook, you would see a list of every NCAA men’s Division 1 team with their odds. For the purpose of this example, we’ll only look at 10 schools.

In this scenario, oddsmakers are predicting the Blue Devils (+500) to take the tournament by storm. UMass (+5000), on the other hand, is looking like they don’t stand a chance. When oddsmakers set the lines, they look at everything from how a team performed the previous year to offseason moves (players graduating, coaching changes). If a school played poorly in the past, you can count on their odds to be high.

The odds will shift as games are played. If you see futures odds that look good, grab them. Taking a team as a plus-money underdog (+) before they become a big minus-money favorite (-) could net you a huge profit if you win your bet.

Parlays: Bundling Your Bets

Parlays are multiple bets on one slip. For instance, you could take Gonzaga SU, Virginia ATS, and the OVER for Syracuse vs Marquette. Moreover, you can add bets from other sports to your betting slip like an NHL puckline or a soccer wager like the Asian Handicap.

Our Parlay Calculator will show you how much you’d win based on the odds, number of bets on your ticket and the amount wagered.

Props: Keeping your Bets Entertaining

Short for “proposition,” props are bets you make on the occurrence or non-occurrence of specific player and team milestones that may not directly correlate with the outcome of the game. These are bets like:

  • How many minutes will Player A play?
  • Will the game go into overtime (OT)?
  • How many assists will Player B have?
  • Player C vs Player D: Who will score more points?
  • Which team will make the most three-point field goals?

Live Betting: Making Wagers while the Game is Unfolding

Watching March Madness games is even more fun if you bet on them while they’re unfolding. Live betting lets you bet while the game is taking place. Odds are released before every quarter starts and let you capitalize on new spreads, moneylines and totals. There are also live odds for props. If you see live action you like, take it quickly. Live odds disappear as soon as they appear.

What’s the difference between filling out a bracket and making a prop bet?

Although they may seem similar, brackets and props are not related. A bracket is a grid-type contest where you would try to accurately predict the results of each March Madness game from the first round to the championship. As we mentioned above, props are special bets on players and teams and don’t necessarily affect the results of the game.

March Madness Basketball Betting Tips

  • The chances of filling out a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion, but that doesn’t mean you can’t win some coin in other ways by making smart bets.
  • Look at a team’s road and neutral-site records both SU and ATS (against the spread). A school can be a monster during the regular season, but if they racked up most of their success because of their dominance at home, they could be overvalued in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Of the pairings, focus on the No. 5 seed vs the No. 12 seed matchups. For whatever reason, around a third of the No. 12 seeds have won their opening games against fivers, making them good bets ATS at the same time. Usually, at least one twelver will win outright, and these schools often have up to 10 points with which to work on the spread.
  • Lower seeds at No. 10, No. 11, No. 12 and even at No. 13 can be solid wagers ATS as underdogs, especially if they’re champions from mid-major conferences. These schools are champs for a reason, and the gap between conferences is smaller than ever since the tournament operates on a one-game, winner-take-all format on a neutral site.
  • For additional betting tools to help you handicap your tournament bets, check out our Consensus, Betting Trends, Standings, and Team Reports pages. We also have Free Picks if you have “betting block”. It’s like writer’s block but for sports betting.

Now that you know how to bet on March Madness, go sign up at a sportsbook and get started. Those college basketball bets aren’t going to win themselves!