How to Bet on March Madness Basketball

March Madness is one of the most exciting times of the year for fans of college basketball and sports bettors, as 68 teams do battle in their attempt to become the best team in the NCAA. 36 different teams have won this Championship in the 81 years it’s been running. The team with the most NCAA Championship titles is UCLA, who have taken the top prize 11 times.

How do the 68 teams get chosen? The 32 Division I conferences are all automatically given a berth, and the remaining 36 teams have to earn their spot through a selection committee that will pick, seed and bracket the NCAA tournament field. It’s called Selection Sunday, and this year it’ll take place on March 14. Once that field of teams is selected, oddsmakers will release the betting odds, point spreads and totals for the slated games.

Based on their regular season record, every team is ranked from 1 to 68. During the first round of March Madness, four of those teams square off in the First Four to fill the last two spots in the bracket. That leaves 64 teams across the four different regional divisions – sixteen in each.

Those sixteen teams are seeded from 1 to 16, according to the same ranking system. That ranking will set the matchups, with the first seed playing the last, the second seed playing second last, and so on.

March Madness is a classic knockout-style tourney. You lose, you’re out. As the two-week tournament progresses, 64 teams become 32, 32 become 16, and so on, until the Final Four teams play on April 2nd to set up the Championship game on April 4th.

2024 March Madness Schedule

Selection Sunday: March 17

First Four: March 19-20

First round (round of 64): March 21

First round (round of 64): March 22

Second round (round of 32): March 23

Second round (round of 32): March 24

Sweet 16 (regional semifinals): March 28

Sweet 16 (regional semifinals): March 29

Elite Eight (regional finals): March 30

Elite Eight (regional finals): March 31

Final Four (national semifinals & national championship): April 6, 8

March Madness Moneyline Betting

A bet on the moneyline is the simplest type of wager to make, so if you’re new to sports betting, this is a great way to get started.

A moneyline bet is a bet on who you think will win the game. Let’s use the game above as our example. At -503, the Alabama Crimson Tide are the clear favorites, which you can tell by the minus sign (-) used before the number. That minus sign tells you how much you’d have to wager in order to win $100, which in this example is $503.

On the other side, we see that the Texas A&M Aggies are the underdogs in this matchup, priced at +404. As it is always written to denote the underdog price, there’s a plus sign (+) in front of the number. That plus sign tells you how much you could win on a $100 bet. So in our example above, you see that a winning bet on the underdog Aggies could win you $504, including your original bet.  A positive moneyline tells you how much you stand to win on a $100 bet ($170 in the example provided here). On the other hand, a negative moneyline tells you how much you will have to bet in order to win $100 (in this case $200).

More about betting on the moneyline.

March Madness NCAA Point Spread Betting

Betting on the point spread makes wagering on sports a lot more interesting. Different from the moneyline bet, in which you’re betting on who you think will win the game, the point spread asks you to bet on how much a team will win or lose by. Point spread odds are shown in the example above and look like this:

Alabama -10.0 Texas A&M +10.0

To cover the spread, Alabama would need to win by more than 10 points. For Texas A&M to cover, they would need to win the game outright or lose by nine points or less. If the game is decided by exactly 10 points that is called a push and all point spread bets are returned to bettors.

In our example above, you will also see a number that tells you the payout on bets against the spread. In the Texas A&M vs. Alabama game, that number is -110, which means you’d have to wager $11 to win $100 when betting against the spread.

Point Spread Tie Rules (Push)

Oftentimes you’ll see a point spread that has a half-point added to the number. Of course, there’s no such thing as half a point in a basketball game, so why do we so often see point spreads with a (.5) attached to the score? Sportsbooks do this to make sure there isn’t a chance of a push, or a tie.

Arkansas -5.5

LSU +5.5

In this case, if you bet on Arkansas to win, and they win by 6, you win. If they win by 5, you lose. Same goes for a bet on the underdog. If LSU lose by 6 points, you lose your bet, and if they lose by 5 points, you’ll win. The chance of a tie or “push” has been eliminated.

More about point spread betting.

March Madness Over/Under Totals Betting

NCAA basketball games quite often end in lower scores than NBA games, which gives sportsbooks an opportunity to offer bettors something interesting to wager on – the Totals bet, or the Over/Under bet. This type of wager allows you to bet on the combined score of the game. Our example above shows the Crimson Tide vs. Aggies game we’ve been looking more closely at.

Alabama vs. Texas A&M

OVER 152.00 UNDER 152.00

You must decide if you think the combined score of this game will be more or less than the total listed, in this case, 152. If you think it will be more, you would take the OVER. If you believe it’ll be less, you would take the UNDER.

Learn more about Over/Under betting in our bet guide. 

March Madness Futures Bettings

One very exciting kind of bet that sets itself apart from the other types of wagers we described above by being available to bet on year-round, is the futures bet.

The number you see next to each team in our example above indicates the payout on a $100 bet if that team wins the Championship. So, in the above set of futures odds, you can see that the Gonzaga Bulldogs are the current favourite with +378 odds to win.

The Connecticut Huskies (+6300) have very long odds to win it all, which means you’re taking a bigger risk if you want to bet on them to do just that.  Once in a while, however, those calculated risks can pay off when a team surprises everyone and makes a very deep run into a tournament. Oddsmakers are looking at a huge number of factors when setting these types of odds, including everything from offseason personnel changes to how the team has performed in years past.

Throughout the year and regular season, the futures odds will move and shift according to game outcomes. That’s important to note if you want to get in early on a huge underdog team that you feel will have a breakout year.

March Madness Basketball Parlays

Parlays are multiple wagers packaged together on one bet card. An example of this would be betting on the Over for that Alabama vs. Texas A&M game AND making a bet on LSU to cover the spread in their game against Arkansas. The higher the number of bets in your parlay, the higher the payout if you win.

Check out our parlay calculator will show you how much you’d win based on the odds, the number of bets on your ticket and the amount wagered.

March Madness Betting Strategies

Something to keep in mind when putting together a strategy for making winning bets during the NCAA Championship tournament is that no one, ever, has correctly predicted every game winner during March Madness. A perfect bracket has never existed. Here’s why: the number of possible outcomes for a bracket is 2^63, or 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. That’s 9.2 quintillion. So, throw out the idea of picking the right winners across the board, and focus instead on a few of these reasonable strategies for betting on March Madness.

Mar 31, 2018; San Antonio, TX, USA; Loyola Ramblers guard Clayton Custer (13) passes to guard Marques Townes (5) during the second half against the Michigan Wolverines in the semifinals of the 2018 men’s Final Four at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Betting on the Underdog

One of the most captivating and cinematic aspects of tournaments like March Madness are what are known as the Cinderella team stories. Inspiring journeys taken by underdog teams that exceed every one of the expectations put upon them before the tournament begins. It’s one of sport’s greatest storylines, and it’s made even more fun by betting on these lower-seeded teams. One of the more recent Cinderella teams was the 2018 Loyola Ramblers, an 11 seed team that reached the Final Four and captivated fans around the world.

Betting on the underdog is a good strategy if you’ve done enough research to see a chance for the underdog team to actually make a decent run. Which leads to our next tip:

Do Your Research

For a tournament like March Madness, which features so many teams and so many players with future NBA careers on their minds, you can’t expect to get far in your bracket or win too many bets if you haven’t looked very closely at the teams and matchups.

Pay attention to more than just the team’s regular season performance. Look into their coaching staff, any shakeups or drama on the team’s roster, who’s been injured recently and/or frequently… these are just a few factors that can influence how well a team does during March Madness, and digging into the details can make you a far better bettor.