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. Last year, an estimated $10 billion was wagered on March Madness. With the 2018 edition of the tournament unfolding before the Supreme Court’s May 14 decision to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), only an estimated three percent of that amount was wagered at legal, regulated, U.S.-based sportsbooks.
March Madness futures odds and tournament betting strategies
Given the aforementioned betting popularity of March Madness, futures odds on winning the National Championship have been made available for approximately 50 or so top schools on all major sportsbooks for some time.
That includes DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook and BetStars NJ. All three 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 heading into conference tournament week in March.
(Odds updated 3/10/19)
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:
How the NCAA Tournament works
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 tournament kicks off just two days following Selection Sunday and will unfold on the following dates/locations:
March 19 and 20
- University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio (Host: University of Dayton)
First and Second Rounds
March 21 and 23
- XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut (Host: University of Connecticut)
- Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa (Host: Drake University)
- Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Florida (Host: Jacksonville University)
- Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah (Host: University of Utah)
March 22 and 24
- Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, South Carolina (Host: University of South Carolina)
- Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio (Host: Ohio State University)
- BOK Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma (Host: University of Tulsa)
- SAP Center, San Jose, California (Host: West Coast Conference)
Regional Semifinals and Finals (Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight)
March 28 and 30
- West Regional: Honda Center, Anaheim, California (Host: Big West Conference)
- South Regional: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky (Host: University of Louisville)
March 29 and 31
- East Regional: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C. (Host: Georgetown University)
- Midwest Regional: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri (Host: Missouri Valley Conference)
National Semifinals and Championship (Final Four and Championship)
April 6 and 8
- S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Host: University of Minnesota)
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 for the first time this year:
And naturally, as has been the case for several decades, those in Nevada will also have the same luxury.
Then, there will be a flurry of sports betting legalization efforts unfolding at statehouses around the country during 2019 legislative sessions. Thus, hundreds of thousands of potential new bettors are expected to be part of the fun when the 2020 version of March Madness rolls around.
Based on recent progress and momentum, the following is a list of states that appear to have at least a fighting chance of implementing legalized sports betting in time for next year’s tournament: