March Madness Betting

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2020-21 NCAA Basketball Betting Preview

The champions of Division I men’s college basketball have been crowned – sort of. With the abrupt cancelation of all remaining games for 2019-20, including Champ Week and March Madness, the teams who won regular-season titles in their respective conferences are the only champions we’ll have this year. That’s unless you’re in Florida; their senate passed a resolution on Friday declaring the Florida State Seminoles “champions by default.”

That edict won’t carry any weight when it comes to NCAA basketball betting. Sadly, the coronavirus epidemic has put the kibosh on the 2019-20 March Madness futures market, with no winner at the end of it all. But we still have odds to win the National Championship for 2020-21 here at Bovada Sportsbook. Here’s a closer look at the top three favorites for next year, along with three second-tier contenders and three viable long shots who deserve some attention.


2021 NCAA Basketball Favorites

1. Virginia Cavaliers (+900)

Despite what they say in Tallahassee, the Cavaliers (23-7 SU, 12-17-1 ATS this year) remain the defending national champions. And in a way, they picked a good time to rebuild – if falling to No. 17 in the polls counts as a rebuilding year. Head coach Tony Bennett had to replace three players who were scooped up in the 2019 NBA Draft, including De’Andre Hunter, who went fourth overall to the Atlanta Hawks.

Bennett has to be pleased with the results. Although this year’s team leaned heavily on seniors Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite, freshman guard Chase Coleman did show some defensive chops earlier in the campaign. And there’s a chance both Key and Diakite will return to Charlottesville next year if the NCAA decides to extend everyone’s eligibility for one more season, as their panel has recommended for all the “spring” sports affected by the coronavirus shutdown.


2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (+900)

Getting players to stay in Spokane might be a bit more difficult for Mark Few. The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (29-2 SU, 16-15 ATS) were well on their way to another top seed in the Tournament; two of their starters, junior forward Corey Kispert and sophomore forward Filip Petrusev, are projected to go in the second round of this year’s Draft. So is arguably their best player, senior forward Killian Tillie, although he’s on the bubble and might be tempted to stay if ruled eligible.

Otherwise, it’s hard to find a more consistent program on the NCAA basketball lines than the Zags. They have been to the Sweet Sixteen each of the last five seasons under Few, so we really can’t call them a “Cinderella” team anymore. And playing in the West Coast Conference improves Gonzaga’s chances of going to the Big Dance, even if the WCC is one of the stronger mid-majors in Division I.


3. Kansas Jayhawks (+1000)

Virus concerns aside, this should be the most interesting offseason Lawrence has seen in quite a while. The Jayhawks (28-3 SU, 19-12 ATS) were the No. 1 team in this year’s rankings when the music stopped, having won their last 16 in a row at 11-5 ATS. Now they’re back under the NCAA microscope. Bill Self and his program are part of the ongoing investigation into the 2017-18 corruption scandal involving representatives from Adidas, among others.

If Self and the Jayhawks can escape sanctions from that sordid affair, they still have to weather the potential loss of sophomore guards Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji, both expected to be taken in the second round of the Draft. Worse, senior center Udoka Azubuike has played his last college game – unless he’s ruled eligible for next year, and remains off the draft board. Azubuike was having an outstanding campaign after shaking off multiple injuries over his first three years in Kansas.


2021 NCAA Basketball Contenders

1. Baylor Bears (+1400)

Ah, what could have been for the Bears (26-4 SU, 18-12 ATS). They were No. 1 in the polls for five weeks before slipping to No. 5 just before the Big 12 tournament. Scott Drew had assembled arguably his best team since taking over the scandal-ridden program in 2003 – and that includes the 2010 and 2012 teams that made it all the way to the Elite Eight. Those teams were 3-seeds going into the Big Dance. Bracketologists had these Bears pegged as a 1-seed, and deservedly so.

The good news for Baylor fans: Sophomore guard Jared Butler is their only player expected to go in the Draft, likely somewhere in the middle of the second round. The bad news: Butler was their leading scorer this year at 21.1 points per 40 minutes. The Bears will also be praying that their top performer for 2019-20, senior forward Freddie Gillespie, is granted one more year of eligibility.


2. Michigan State Spartans (+1400)

As often seems to be the case, the Spartans (22-9 SU, 15-16 ATS) found themselves making a timely charge after a lackluster regular season, winning their last five straight at 4-1 ATS to improve their spot on the NCAA basketball odds board. That still left Tom Izzo’s program at No. 9 in the rankings, and a likely 3-seed in the Tournament. Michigan State were 2-seeds when they went to the Final Four last year, and 7-seeds when they did it in 2015, so we know they can step it up when necessary.

It’s still been 20 years since Sparty won their first and only national title with Izzo at the reins. All the MSU athletics programs have been affected to some degree by the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal; this year’s team, while well balanced, didn’t pack the same offensive punch as Kansas, or defend as well as Baylor. And they’re about to lose a talented player in senior point guard Cassius Winston, who figures to get drafted late in the first round. Life in East Lansing will be even tougher if junior forward Xavier Tillman sneaks into the second round.


3. Creighton Bluejays (+1400)

After entering the 2019-20 campaign at No. 18 on the preseason poll, the Buckeyes (11-3 SU, 10-4 ATS) made it all the way to No. 2 before dropping back-to-back games of their own – first to West Virginia (+6.5 away), then to Wisconsin (+8 away). Chris Holtmann was named Big Ten Coach of the Year after his first season in Columbus; this is Year

He might be even more deserving if Creighton makes it this far again next year. They aren’t getting much of a sniff from the NBA draft experts, but the Jays do two senior reserves they might need to replace: guard Denzel Mahoney and center Kelvin Jones. Mahoney led the team in scoring at 21.3 points per 40 minutes, helping push Creighton into 2-seed territory for this year’s Big Dance.


2021 NCAA Basketball Underdogs

1. San Diego State Aztecs (+2800)

For a while there, the No. 6 Aztecs (28-1 SU, 18-10 ATS) were looking at a top seed, but ended up slipping to a projected 2-seed after losing the Mountain West title game to Utah State on March 7 (Champ Week losses aren’t reflected in the team records we’re using here, since those tourneys were canceled). Still, third-year head coach Brian Dutcher deserves ample credit for getting SDSU back into the Tournament picture after missing out last year.

Again, whether San Diego State will be this competitive again next year will depend in part on how the NCAA deals with player eligibility. Senior forward Yanni Wetzell and senior guard KJ Feagin were two of Dutcher’s starters this year, and both were useful two-way players – especially Wetzell, who transferred from Vanderbilt after the 2018-19 season. Meanwhile, junior guard Malachi Flynn, easily their top player, is probably going to the NBA as a second-round pick.


2. Ohio State Buckeyes (+3000)

The Buckeyes (21-10 SU, 19-12 ATS) were one of the more profitable teams coming out of the Big Ten, and they made it all the way to No. 2 in the polls at Christmastime before falling back to No. 19. Their third-year coach, Chris Holtmann got Ohio State into the Round of 32 in each of his first two seasons, and they had their sights set on a 5-seed this spring before the Tournament was canceled.

Too bad OSU probably won’t have either of the Wesson brothers on next year’s squad. Kaleb Wesson, a junior forward and this year’s top performer, is projected to go somewhere in the middle of the second round, while older brother Andre is a senior forward who won’t be back in Columbus unless the NCAA steps in.


3. West Virginia Mountaineers (+3000)

Last, we have the Mountaineers (21-10 SU, 16-15 ATS), who barely cracked the final rankings at No. 22 after dropping six of their last nine games SU and ATS. It wasn’t an ideal situation for head coach Bob Huggins; West Virginia did manage to beat Baylor in their final game, though, and their defense proved itself good enough to compete with anyone this year.

WVU will be less competitive, though, if senior guard Jermaine Haley doesn’t come back to Morgantown. Senior guard Chase Harler was also a solid two-way contributor for Huggins and the ‘Neers. Otherwise, West Virginia don’t have to worry too much about the NBA Draft, so let’s see what they can come up with during their shortened recruiting window.



*Odds as of March 24, 2020


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How to Bet on March Madness

Betting on March Madness is big business. It’s a feeding frenzy when the first NCAA Championship odds hit the board. Betting handle on basketball hit new records in Nevada last March, with a massive total of $430 million in wagers – almost twice as much as 10 years ago. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s happening online. Want to get in on the action? Here’s how to bet on March Madness, and how you can get the most value out of the college basketball betting lines.


March Madness Spread Betting

The most popular form of March Madness betting is the point spread. Before every game, a list of NCAA Tournament lines will be posted, with a spread attached. One team will be considered the favorite; to cash in, they’ll have to win by a certain number of points (known as the point spread). For the underdog to cash in, they’ll have to either win the game or lose by fewer points than the spread. For example, North Carolina was a 1.5-point favorite at last year’s National Championship Game, meaning they had to win by at least 2 points to cover – which they did.

Usually, one team or the other will win a basketball game against the spread (ATS), but not always. If the spread for a game is a “flat” number, i.e. a whole number, and the favorite wins by exactly that number of points, it’s called a push, and all monies wagered are returned to the bettors.

There’s an extra feature with point spread betting called buying points, where you have the option of moving the spread a half-point in either direction. You can only make this move onto a flat number; at last year’s final, you could have taken Gonzaga at +2 instead of +1.5, or North Carolina at –1 instead of –1.5. Buying points will help you turn some losses into pushes.


March Madness Betting the Moneyline

The moneyline is the old-school way of expressing the March Madness odds. Instead of betting against the spread, you simply bet on one team to win the game straight-up (SU). The Tar Heels were –125 favorites on the moneyline against Gonzaga, meaning you would have to bet $125 to win $100 (smaller and larger bets are allowed). The Bulldogs were +105 underdogs, and would have paid out $105 for every $100 wagered if they had won the championship. If you like an underdog to pull off the upset and beat the favorite SU, you’ll make more money by placing a moneyline bet, provided your team comes through for you.


March Madness Over Under Betting

Also known as the total, the over/under continues to grow in popularity on the March Madness lines. All you need to do here is bet on whether the combined final score of the game will go over or under the posted total. The over/under for last year’s title game was 155 points, so the Under was the winning bet. If North Carolina and Gonzaga had combined for exactly 155 points, it would have been a push – all monies returned, just like in spread betting.


March Madness Futures Betting

Don’t want to wait until the tournament to start betting? You can pick a winner right now. Odds to win NCAA Championship glory are available year-round in the futures section of Bovada Sportsbook. A futures bet is a bet on the winner of a major event placed before the event comes. At press time, the Michigan State Spartans and Villanova Wildcats are tied as +500 co-favorites to win the championship. Futures odds will be available all the way up until the tournament boils down to the last two teams.



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March Madness Prop Bets

Proposition bets, or prop bets for short, ask you to wager on something aside from the outcome of a specific game. These bets usually fall into two categories: team props, and player props. A team prop could be as simple as how far the Spartans will advance in the Tournament, while player props will ask you to wager on a specific individual performance, like how many points Michigan State guard Miles Bridges will score in a particular game. March Madness prop betting has become increasingly popular over the years, and you can expect to find more and more props on the NCAAB odds board as the tournament gets closer to the National Championship Game.


March Madness Parlay Betting

If you plan on making multiple straight bets (spread, moneyline or total) on the college basketball betting lines, you can increase your potential payout by combining up to 12 of those lines in a single bet known as a parlay. Your payout will rise exponentially if you get all your picks right – you can win over 2,300 times your original bet with a 12-team parlay. But you have to get every pick correct for your parlay to pay out. It’s all about managing risk versus reward; many bettors will stick to 2-team parlays, often combining the spread and total from the same game. Teams, in this case, refers to the Over or Under as well as the teams on the basketball court.


March Madness Teaser Betting

A teaser is a special kind of parlay that lets you move every single line by a certain number of points. When you’re dealing with NCAA Tournament lines, you can tease by 4, 4.5, 5, or 6 points. The more points you tease by, the smaller the payout gets; in return, you have a greater likelihood of winning. For example, if you had a 2-team teaser for last year’s Championship Game with Gonzaga at +6.5 instead of +1.5, and Under 160 instead of 155, you would have been paid out at –120. The maximum number of teams you can put in a teaser is 10, down from 12 for a standard parlay.

In addition to these teasers, there are special sweetheart teasers where you can move the lines by 10 points, or even 13 points. Added restrictions apply here; a 10-point sweetheart teaser must contain a minimum of three teams, while a 13-point sweetheart teaser requires at least four teams. Once again, the payouts get smaller the more points you tease by.


March Madness Live Betting

All the betting options we’ve mentioned thus far have to be made before the game in question starts, but you can also take advantage of the March Madness odds while a game is in progress. You can bet live on March Madness by clicking the LIVE MODE button at the top right of the odds page for the game you want to bet on; a separate window will appear, showing you the running point spread, moneyline and total. These lines will be updated throughout the game as play continues. Other prop bets may be available as well, like what the next point will be (a free throw, a 2-pointer or a 3-pointer), or whether a certain player will make his next shot.


March Madness Betting Tips


It takes a certain amount of cunning and strategy to beat the March Madness lines and make yourself a little money during the Tournament, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist – you only have to do better than the average person. And at this time of year, there are countless recreational bettors who just want to put a few dollars on their favorite teams, without putting too much effort into strategy. There will be more of these bettors as you get deeper into the tournament and the games get more important; the Elite Eight odds will be easier to beat than the Sweet 16 odds, and the Final Four odds will be softer still.


The most important thing to remember with March Madness betting is that it’s not you against the sportsbook. Your competition is the other bettors in the marketplace; if they put too much money on one team, the book will move the odds in order to get more bets on the other team, hoping to balance the action and make it easier to pay the winners, no matter what the final score is. As a general rule, recreational bettors tend to overvalue favorites, so the betting value is often with the underdogs.

There are a number of ways you can take advantage of these tendencies. If you’re thinking about making a bet on the March Madness futures market, your best value won’t be with the teams at the top like Michigan State; look further down the NCAAB championship odds list for a quality team with a little less brand-name recognition – maybe even a team like Gonzaga, who almost won the championship last year.


Once the tournament rolls around, you can usually find some betting value in the same games that smart basketball fans circle as “upset specials” on their March Madness brackets. These are usually games between the 4-seeds and the 13-seeds, 5 vs. 12, and 6 vs. 11. The teams with the higher-numbered seeds are usually the champions of smaller conferences that don’t get a lot of publicity, while the lower-numbered seeds are often “at-large” teams from the big-name conferences like the ACC and the Big Ten. Those at-large teams aren’t necessarily that good, and they may lack motivation at the Big Dance if they had bigger expectations for themselves coming into the new season.


That covers everything you need to get started with betting on the NCAA Tournament. You now know about the structure of the Tournament itself, the different ways you can bet on March Madness, and the betting fundamentals that will help you with your March Madness picks. For more information, make sure to consult the ever-growing treasure trove of college basketball articles and analysis here at Bovada, and best of luck on the hardcourt this year.


*Odds as of November 5, 2019


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