The 2020-21 NCAA college basketball season tipped off on Nov. 25. This begins a four-and-a-half month journey that will culminate with the 2021 Final Four. This year’s March Madness tournament will take place at one centralized location due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last season, 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 cancelation 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 cancelation 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
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. Gonzaga was the top favorite entering the 2020-21 season at FanDuel Sportsbook with odds of +700.
Here is a look at March Madness odds for 2021.
NCAA title odds: Futures report
Gonzaga (+700): Gonzaga was 15-1 and well on their way to being a top seed in the 2020 March Madness tournament before the Big Dance was called off. It makes sense they’d remain near the top going into 2020-21, bringing back a large chunk of last year’s crew.
Villanova (+850): They lost their top player to the NBA Draft (Saddiq Bey), but Nova rosters an extremely deep group that includes four other double-digit scorers.
Baylor (+1000): Jared Butler returns as one of the top players in the country to not declare for the NBA Draft. The Bears have size on their side this season. Their size helped Baylor rank 15th in offensive rebounds a season ago.
Iowa (+1000): Luka Garza. That’s where all the storylines and hype surrounding the Hawkeyes’ program comes from. He was nearly a shoe-in for the top overall pick in the NBA Draft, but decided to return to Iowa for his senior year. Prolific players win teams titles. Garza is a prolific player.
Virginia (+1100): Technically, Virginia is still the defending champion. They lost their leading scorer from last season, Mamadi Diakite, to the NBA but return most of their roster. Virginia’s got the talent, coaching, and experience to make another tournament run.
The Next Group
Kentucky (+1200): Despite an upset loss to Richmond, the Wildcats are never far from the top of odds tables. They lost three players to the draft, but signed on another recruiting class that’s top in the nation. It’s always rinse-and-repeat for Kentucky.
Duke (+1600): Another perennial contender. Their top three scorers are gone to the Association, but Duke’s always ready to reload. Sophomore Matthew Hurt is primed for a huge year as the next leader for the Blue Devils.
Kansas (+1800): This section should probably be called, “The Bluebloods.” Kansas was the undisputed best team in the country last year and was the heavy favorite to win the National Championship. Marcus Garrett is poised to lead this group this year, as he’s +1000 to win the Wooden Award at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Illinois (+1300): Their offense was on full display in their first two games and the Illini escaped with a third win against Ohio. Illinois is living up to the hype despite some questioning the preseason ranking.
Creighton (+2300): The Jays finished first in a tightly-contested Big East last season and return a ton of production. Marcus Zegarowski is a Wooden Award favorite after scoring over 16 points per game a season ago. Creighton was a dangerous team offensively, making them an intriguing team coming into this season.
Ohio State (+2800): They were the underachieving team of the year last season, but the Buckeyes were making a late-season push. Momentum is everything in March, something Ohio State definitely had. E.J. Liddell didn’t make much noise throughout the season, but he was instrumental in their late-season run– scoring 17 points and securing 12 boards against Illinois.
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.
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 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.