Everything You Need to Know to Bet on March Madness

By Paul Wilson
Published on March 15, 2016
NCAA March Madness

March Madness has circled around again, just as it does every year, and even though the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament looks much the same as it always does, we know better than to think the latest version will lack entertainment or thrills.

That is sure to come no matter the seedings, matchups or stage, but there may be a handful of things you don’t know about March Madness. For the casual observer it might just be a fun run through some interesting data or facts, but for the college basketball bettor, it’s probably must-know information.

In the spirit of yet another year of college basketball craziness, let’s take a look at everything you need to know to bet on March Madness:

Fill Out Your Bracket

Step number one, when it comes to March Madness, is enjoying it. There are loads of places on and offline where you can fill out a bracket and jump into a pool that awards prize money. Getting the entire bracket right is pretty much impossible, so never bet money on that anyways – especially when most of the contests are free to enter and award huge cash prizes.

The bracket itself isn’t about betting, so much as it is really just about having fun. Do some research, maybe even go full homer and pick your favorite school to make a run, and then submit your bracket. Once that is out of the way, do even more research and then read the rest of our March Madness prepper and go make some bets.

Note the Snubs

One thing that is very important to keep track of are the handful of teams every year that get “snubbed”, or miss out on March Madness despite being extremely deserving. Why is this important? Because for every quality team that didn’t make the NCAA tourney, there could be one that doesn’t deserve to be there.

By noting the snubs, you can get a good feel for a few teams that simply do not belong dancing with the big fellas, and that can help you make some easy picks as early as the first round. Good things to look for are teams with mediocre records, teams that made the tourney simply by winning their conference tournament, teams who may have made the tournament due to a legendary coach or teams that may have cracked the tourney due to a star player or two. The quicker you can weed out the frauds, the easier it will be to make some good picks in the first round.

#1 Seed Doesn’t Mean Easy Path

It’s tough to get too specific here as every single season is different, and a lot of what goes into a “tough path” is highly opinion-based. However, if we’re to go purely off “worst case scenarios” and seeding, even the #1 seeds can have a brutal path to get to the Final Four.

For instance, after winning the first game, the #1 seed is always faced with the winner between the #8 and #9 seeds. These teams are usually fairly dangerous and just got done playing a tough team that evenly matched them. That makes them a little more battle tested and can give them confidence going into a game they’re expected to lose. It can only get tough from there, as a #1 seed can – in a worst case scenario – then run into the #4 and #2 seeds in their side of the bracket, and ultimately could also have to face the #1 seed on the opposite bracket in the Final Four.

Needless to say, getting that top seed isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be. You get that first win out of the way, but depending on how your region’s bracket unfolds, even the second game could turn out to be a quick loss against a gritty opponent. It all usually depends on the luck of the draw, of course, as well as just how strong that particular #1 team is. But this certainly should make it obvious that just because a team earns a top-seed, does not guarantee them moving on past the second round.

They Also Don’t Lose Game One

It does, at least so far, guarantee them moving on out of that first round game, however. The #1 seed has never lost a first round game at any level, going a remarkable 124-0 in those matchups in NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament history. That’s a staggering record and it’s possible a blemish hits that record eventually – it’s just not likely.

The top seeds are not teams that are likely to be upset in general, while their first round matchup is always against teams that are quite inferior in terms of experience, talent and general level of play. They hail from far smaller conferences and simply are not good enough or battle tested enough to present a serious threat.

The impossible can happen, but based on history, there isn’t currently a safer bet in sports than a #1 seed advancing to the second round of March Madness.

#2 Seeds Can Lose

Unlike the #1 seed in round one, the second-seeded teams are not infallible. They usually do win, but seven times in history (at the time of this writing), a 15-seed has staged an improbable upset. Naturally, two-seeds are very good teams that have worked their way through powerhouse conferences, possibly even won a league or tourney title and/or have an amazing record.

Yet, seven times, a team that good lost right away.

This is where major research comes in with the 15-seed squads, as some of them are in a lot of ways just as good (if not better) as the higher profile school they’re taking on. They just get less press, have less talent at first glance or play in a small conference.

Look for teams that can run and shoot the lights out from deep, or teams with ridiculous size and depth down low. Teams that can randomly get hot from outside can be tough to deal with, while bigger schools are usually the ones with the elite power forwards and centers that can man-handle smaller schools. When they run into a smaller school that has plenty of talented bigs, however, things can get tricky. It works both ways, however, as smaller schools who don’t have that size can win a shootout if their shots are falling. Those lopsided matchups can look daunting for the lower seed on paper, but they’re precisely the types of matchups that have the potential to go in the underdog’s favor.

Play-In Games Don’t Matter

Or do they? It’s true the play-in game to decide the last 16-seed team that gets to face a #1 seed doesn’t matter. As we’ve touched on, no 16-seed squad has ever beaten a top-ranked team in the first round and judging by the sheer coaching and talent gap, it’s very possible it may always be that way.

But the other play-in game, yeah, that means something. In fact, since the inception of the First Four, the non-16-seed play-in game has produced a winner that went on to advance at least to the round of 32. Does that mean for sure every year that the winner of that second First Four game will win their first round game? No, but it does mean that you can’t write them off without seriously considering the possibility.

The big reason why is momentum. That first game gives that winner an edge in terms of confidence and chemistry. They could just as easily be tired or the wrong team could end up winning that game, but overall, a lot goes into giving that team a mental edge as they prepare for the first round.

Final Four Sleepers

One thing we see a lot is a sleeper team running all the way to the Final Four. What we don’t see, of course, is a sleeper team winning the Final Four.

What a “sleeper team” is depends on your own definition, but usually any team seeded around 5 or lower probably qualifies. The lower the seed, the more magical the ride, but keep this in mind: only 14 teams seeded 7th or worse have ever even made it to the Final Four.

The lowest seed to ever play in the title game was 8th, and the lowest seed to ever win the whole thing was 7th. In fact, only two NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament champs were ever worse than a 6th seed (7th and 8th) and it’s fairly unlikely we’ll see a lower seed win anytime soon.

Unlucky #5

As important as it is to know that the ultimate winners haven’t gone very low in terms of seed, it’s also probably good to know which higher seeds haven’t achieved the dream just yet.

Despite three #5 seed teams making the national title game, none have ever won. We’ve seen winners with the #1, #2, #3, #4, #6, #7 and #8 seeds, but never from the #5 spot. The more time passes, the more likely we get closer to that blank score being filled, but to this point it hasn’t happened.

Nothing Beats the First Round

No betting advice to see here, just an opinion that is probably best regarded as fact. The NCAA tourney really can get more exciting as you go on, but often we will see upsets fall by the wayside and the action we experience in the first and even second round ultimately ends up being the best part of March Madness.

Why? Because the field is at it’s biggest, allowing for more games and more upsets possibilities. Teams have not made themselves known yet in the tournament, which makes just about everyone fairly vulnerable. Playing styles are not completely spoken for and teams are facing opponents they’ve either never faced or possibly haven’t even heard of.

This actually can be a problem for college basketball betting when it comes to the NCAA tournament, simply because a lot of these games can easily go either way. You can be winning your bet one second, and the next a buzzer beater sends the crowd into a frenzy, and your head into your hands. It’s a highly volatile spot to bet in, but it’s also the most enjoyable part of the tourney, and it’s probably not even close.

Overall, the big takeaway from March Madness is that it truly can live up to it’s name and be, well, madness. That’s the hope, at least, so betting on a full bracket or even every game individually really isn’t encouraged. It’s just an impossible slate to get right across the board, as it’s a live-or-die mentality and too many of the teams haven’t even faced each other before. That being said, it makes for a ton of fun and when you do it right, can also be a pretty enjoyable betting experience.

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