The 2019-20 NCAA season was on its way to having a remarkable and surely unpredictable ending before it was cut short by the global COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time, the NCAA Tournament was canceled. It had survived World War II, Black Monday, and half a dozen virus outbreaks; but for the first time since 1939, the NCAA would be without a true champion.
The cancellation of March Madness was not only a major blow to TV viewership and ticket sales, but it erased the biggest sports betting event of the year. The American Gambling Association (AGA) reported that $8.5 billion was bet on the 2019 March Madness tournament. According to Legal Sports Report, sports gambling in the US jumped an average of 6.8% through the beginning of 2020 following a swath of passed legislation decriminalizing sports gambling. Based on those numbers, it can be projected that the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament lost nearly $9.1 billion in bets.
With the historic decision to call off the NCAA Tournament firmly in the books, let’s take a look ahead to the next basketball season, where it’s never too early to speculate.
March Madness futures odds
Given the aforementioned betting popularity of March Madness, futures odds on winning the National Championship have already been made available for all of the top schools on all major sportsbooks.
That includes DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook. Both operators will undoubtedly have a generous array of wagering options on each March Madness game, including moneyline bets, point-spread bets, over/under bets, parlay bets, prop bets, teasers and in-play bets.
Those wagering options will be made available at a later date. However, here are current futures odds for the top projected tournament participants in the 2020-21 season.
2020-21 college basketball futures odds
San Diego State
Teams to watch in 2020-21
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes had a fairly inexperienced roster in 2019 and paid for it with a brutal stretch that included injuries and some bad losses. But just as the regular season was wrapping up, Ohio State turned on the burners. Superstar Duane Washington is likely to return and the addition of Harvard’s Seth Towns, who chose the Buckeyes over Duke, gives Ohio State a major sharpshooter with good size. They were already a solid dark horse team to make a solid run in the 2020 tournament and they return bigger and badder than this past season.
Virginia ripped off eight consecutive wins to end the season, including over #7 Duke and #10 Louisville. They were quietly the hottest team in the nation and return virtually everyone next season. Per DraftKings, the Cavaliers opened third in odds to win the title in 2021, bolstered by the addition of Marquette’s Sam Hauer (14 ppg, 7.2 rpg in 2019-20). An elite wing scorer was the missing piece that crippled Virginia, who ranked second to last in the nation in points per game (57). After what might be considered a championship hangover, expect the Cavaliers to be flirting with the top five all season long.
The formula for Kentucky basketball over the past decade has been simple: bring in the most talented and athletic freshman with the intention of losing most of them to the draft. However, after missing out on a chance to get their first March Madness experience, we can expect some of them to return to school next season. Just one of Kentucky’s top five scorers is projected to leave for the draft, and they bring in the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation. At +1200, Kentucky holds odds favorable for bettors looking for a solid early pick.
Kansas falls behind Wisconsin, Creighton, San Diego State, and Iowa in odds to win the NCAA championship in 2021. Their projected losses are heavy– USBWA All American Devon Dotson and Big 12 Player of the Year Udoka Azubuike– but the Jayhawks have been a four-or-better seed in the NCAA Tournament every year since 2000 and haven’t missed the tournament since 1989. While uncertainty is a major factor in Kansas moving forward, it’s hard to discount a team that’s appeared in 14 Elite Eights in that same timespan.
5. North Carolina
Roy Williams and the Tarheels are probably thankful that the NCAA Tournament selection never even happened in their worst season since 2001. UNC was riddled with injuries all year long and hadn’t played a single game at full strength. Star guard Cole Anthony is out for the NBA, but lead scorer Garrison Brooks returns with the third-ranked recruiting class. UNC also returns players like Anthony Harris, who scored 19 in his fourth game as a Tarheel before exiting due to injury. Williams might have aged a few years during this season, but the worst is firmly behind UNC.
6. East Tennessee State
ESTU finished their best season in school history (30-4) and were on their way to their first NCAA Tournament since 2017. The Buccaneers were on watch as an excellent candidate to notch their first tournament win with their electric scoring ability and solid defense. They showed major potential when they took Kansas down to the wire early in the 2019-20 season and allowed the Jayhawks to shoot just 1/14 from beyond the arc. These players are hungry and with the NCAA granting seniors another go-around, expect ETSU to pick up right where they left off.
Obi Toppin is out, leaving Dayton without the AP Player of the Year. Without such a vital piece to the team, it would only make sense that Dayton’s glory year is over. Coach Anthony Grant thinks otherwise. Under Grant, Toppin increased his points and rebounds per game and a reduced number of fouls to less than two per game, indicating excellent coaching. Grant will be shorted the credit for Dayton’s best record in school history, and the AP Coach of the Year is out to prove that Dayton is here to stay. Even without Toppin, the Flyers return 60 ppg of production.
Titles favorites might be a bit lofty, but the Bears return a heck of a crew. One of the nation’s best players, Jared Butler (16 ppg), is coming off a stellar season and returns alongside MaCio Teague (13.9 ppg). Tristian Clark battled injury all season long and looks to return in place of departing Freedie Gillespie. Baylor dropped two of their last three, and looked to be headed in the wrong direction going into tournament season, but expect them to make another run next year and secure a Big 12 title.
The Big East was one of the most interesting conferences in 2019-20, with Creighton tying with Seton Hall and Villanova for the Big East regular season title; the top spot traded hands more times than a game of Spoons. Creighton is projected to return all five starters from this past season, making their already-daunting defense even scarier. The Blue Jays should be the favorites to win the conference, and could make an ideal quiet team to make a run at the Final Four.
10. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders were written off after a loss in the National Final in 2019 and after much of their leadership and production left for the NBA. However, Chris Beard rallied his squad for another respectable season that included wins over #1 Louisville and #12 West Virginia. Texas Tech returns over 60 games of experience in his starters and brings in the 11th-ranked recruiting class per 247Sports. Tech dips back into the graduate transfer pot, where they managed to pull pivotal players like Matt Mooney. As long as Beard is in Lubbock, Texas Tech is in the conversation.
March Madness betting sites
How the NCAA Tournament works
March Madness is a 68-team, single-elimination tournament that annually crowns college basketball’s NCAA Division 1 men’s national champion.
The event is aptly named, considering it features a frenetic 67 games over a 19-day period. The participating schools are announced on “Selection Sunday”, along with the exact seeding and brackets. This year, Selection Sunday unfolds March 17.
The annual college basketball rite of spring is sports betting’s most prolific multi-day event. Below you’ll find the current betting odds for the favorites to win the NCAA Tournament, along with key tournament details and betting strategy to help you during the month-long madness.
The first 32 teams to gain entry into the tournament do so automatically by winning their conferences. The remaining 36 slots are filled by “at-large” teams. A 10-member selection committee consisting of athletic directors and conference commissioners undergoes an arduous and multi-layered process to determine the 36 at-large teams and subsequently finalize seeding and brackets.
This year, the committee will employ the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) as its primary sorting method for determining at-large entrants. The NET replaces the RPI (Rating Percentage Index), which had been utilized since 1981.
The NET utilizes the following metrics:
- Game results
- Strength of schedule
- Game location
- Scoring margin
- Offensive and defensive efficiency
- Quality of wins and losses
The NCAA has a detailed, step-by-step breakdown of seeding and bracket protocol on this page within its website.
March Madness dates and locations for every round
The 2021 tournament kicks off just two days following Selection Sunday and will unfold on the following dates/locations:
First Four (March 16-17)
Dayton: University of Dayton Arena
Round of 64 (March 18-19) & Round of 32 (March 20-21)
Providence: Dunkin Donuts Center
Boise: Taco Bell Arena
Detroit: Little Caesars Arena
Dallas: American Airlines Center
Wichita: INTRUST Bank Arena
Lexington: Rupp Arena
Raleigh: PNC Arena
San Jose: SAP Center
Sweet 16 (March 25-26) & Elite 8 (March 27-28)
Minneapolis: Target Center
Denver: Pepsi Center
Final 4 (April 4) & Championship (April 6)
Indianapolis: Lucas Oil Stadium
March Madness betting history
The first NCAA basketball tournament took place in 1939 in Evanston, Illinois. Since then, 36 teams have won it all and five teams have won the tournament at least five times (Indiana, Duke, UNC, Kentucky, UCLA). Since seeding began in 1979, number-one seeds have won the tournament 24 times and have accounted for almost 49% of all championship appearances. Just three times has a team seeded lower than four won the title, and no team seeded below eighth has won, nor made a championship appearance.
Since betting lines were released for NCAA tournament games in 1985, underdogs have covered 44% of the time, winning outright 29% of the time. Games have gone under the total in 56% of games. Since 2010, games have gone under the total in 70% of games and favorites have covered in seven out of ten games. Three teams have won more than one championship since 2010 (Duke, UConn, Villanova), but none have won back-to-back titles (despite Butler & UNC appearing in back-to-back title games).
Since 2000, the top overall seed has made the championship game just four times but won the game three of those times (75%). In total, top overall seeds in the tournament have comprised of just 8% of the total Final Four teams (missed 13 out of 20 years). Besides 1-seeds, 2-seeds have the most championship appearances since 2000 (7 times), followed by 3-seeds (6 times), and 5- and 8-seeds (2).
Just eight percent (52/640) of all Sweet 16 teams have been seeded 11 or lower, and only 2.8% of teams in the Elite Eight were seeded 11 or lower. Four 11 seeds advanced to the Final Four (Loyola Chicago, 2018; VCU, 2011; George Mason, 2006; LSU, 1986). UMBC is the only 16-seed to upset a 1-seed in the tournament’s history (2018), and just eight 15-seeds have prevailed (5%). In 2015, two 15-seeds upset 2-seeds (25% of all such upsets) and two 14-seeds upset 3-seeds.
Using historical data when filling out brackets and betting March Madness, err caution; stats should be used in the long-run but when choosing individual games, be sure to study matchup statistics. The most important thing to remember, though, is this is March Madness, and anything can (and will) happen.
Tournament betting strategies
The historical ATS data for each team in tournament play is just one of countless data points that can constitute March Madness betting research. Other factors that can hold considerable relevance include:
- A team’s late-season performances, including in their conference tournament
- Key injuries
- A team’s defensive proficiency, as this typically has more carryover into tournament play than a high-powered offense
- “Fading the public” when the line appears to be significantly affected by a team’s popularity, as opposed to actual recent performance
- Examining various tournament-specific historical trends, such as how high-seeded mid-majors have done in each round in terms of straight-up wins and losses.
Another overarching data set that could prove highly valuable is the performance of each seed in each round versus the spread. Courtesy of BoydsBets.com, below is an overview of historical first-round performance by seeds 1-16 against the number:
Where can you legally wager on March Madness this year?
Bettors physically located within the following states will be able to place a legal sports wager on March Madness games:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Then, there will be a flurry of sports betting legalization efforts unfolding at statehouses around the country during 2020 legislative sessions. Thus, hundreds of thousands of potential new bettors are expected to be part of the fun when the 2021 version of March Madness rolls around.
Based on recent progress and momentum, many states appear to have at least a fighting chance of implementing legalized sports betting in time for next year’s tournament.