How Does March Madness Betting Work?


Part of what makes March Madness so exciting is how unpredictable it is. There’s no telling what might happen once the ball tips off, but oddsmakers and sports bettors do their best. Maybe that’s what draws millions of spectators to the college basketball sports betting scene—so many unexpected things happen that an average sports viewer might feel like they, too, have a chance to win big.

To help you make sense of the insanity, we’ve gathered our top March Madness betting tips. This guide will help you place informed and strategic bets in the NCAA Tournament, whether you prefer to bet on single games or fill out a bracket. 

Betting Terms

Before we dive into it, we’re going to clarify the meaning of a few terms that will pop up a lot:


If a team is a “favorite”, then they are anticipated to win a game according to oddsmakers (and usually public opinion, too). In March Madness, favorites are often denoted by their seed or rank. Teams that are seeded No. 1 or No. 2 are ranked higher than those in the No. 15 or No. 16 spots.


Who of us hasn’t rooted for an underdog at one point or another? This term refers to a team that’s less likely to win a game according to March Madness odds. Even though they have a perceived disadvantage, bets on an underdog team often have a higher value (meaning you’ll win more money by betting on them).

Moneyline odds

If you’ve participated in sports betting before, then you may be familiar with the March Madness odds that you see with each game in a tournament. Odds are used to indicate which of the two teams is the favorite, and which is the underdog. The favorite will have a (-) symbol in front of the odds, while the underdog will have a (+).

Now that you’re familiar with the lingo, let’s get into how you can start profiting from March Madness betting:

Single Game Bets 

Your odds of predicting each game in the March Madness tournament are slim to none. But if you bet on a single game, those odds increase substantially.

Given the highly improbable chances of winning a March Madness bracket, single game bets are the most popular and the most profitable form of betting on March Madness for our sports handicapping services.

Recency bias refers to a perception distortion; we often place more importance on recent events than ones that happened long ago. This is because it’s easier to recall information that we learned recently. When you examine individual games, you can find deficiencies in the lines due to the recency bias of the average bettor. This can affect line movements. 

If you apply the recency bias to sports betting, you can see that oddsmakers may over/underestimate the ability of a team based solely on recent games, rather than their history.

Bracket Bets 

March Madness betting is known for its upsets and unpredictability—perhaps that’s why no one has ever made a perfect bracket. 

Bracket bets are a popular form of entertainment for casual sports fans. You can start at the beginning and work your way to the top, or begin by choosing the champions and working backward.

It’s nearly impossible to get a perfect bracket, which is why it has never been done before. The day that someone does win their NCAA Tournament bracket (if it ever happens) will go down in history.

But you can still win money as long as you have the highest score of your bracket pool. You can compete for cash prizes against friends or in a worldwide competition. A bracket pool among your friends or coworkers can make each round more exciting than the last.

If you’re looking for pure entertainment, you might consider a bracket bet. However, if your eyes are on profits, stick to single game bets.

The NCAA Tournament Structure

March Madness is a single-elimination tournament—that means if a team loses one game, they’re out! To help you bet on March Madness, here’s a brief breakdown of how the event is structured:

  • Selection Sunday. Before March Madness begins, all 68 teams are ranked (or seeded) based on their performance throughout the season.
  • The First Four. During the initial round, 4 of the 68 teams are eliminated. Then, the remaining 64 teams are divided into 4 regions: West, South, East, and Midwest. The regional teams are seeded from No. 1-16. But despite the different regions, all 2021 March Madness games were played in Indiana due to COVID-19. 
  • The Sweet Sixteen & The Elite Eight. Teams that advance from the first 2 rounds face tougher competition to reach the top, as more and more teams are eliminated.
  • The Final Four. So far, there has only been 1 year where all No. 1-4 seeded teams advanced to the Final Four.
  • The Championship Game. When only 2 teams remain, they battle it out in one intense game to determine the ultimate champion.

You can place a single game bet on most rounds in the NCAA Tournament, although some sportsbooks exclude the First Four. This is due to how unpredictable and volatile the games can be, which may create major losses for sportsbooks. The point spread can be so unpredictably large that oddsmakers don’t feel secure in their lines.

If you plan to submit a March Madness bracket, you’ll need to do so before the tournament begins.

How to Bet

When you participate in sports betting, there are a few things that you should know first: 

  • Betting websites

All major sportsbooks offer lines on March Madness online or in person. Each has a unique minimum and maximum betting amount.

At Kyle Covers, we recommend betting sites like Bovada, BookMaker, and Heritage. Depending on how much you want to bet, and how much juice (or cut of the bet) you’re comfortable giving to the site, you can choose a platform that suits your needs.

We caution our readers to choose their betting sites carefully—stick to trustworthy, reliable, and long-standing platforms.

  • Identify betting opportunities

There’s more to a team’s success than their seed in the tournament. Look at team statistics and not just their rankings. You can find mismatches that a team can exploit against their opponents. Pay close attention to a team’s performance over the entire season rather than their ranking alone.

  • Manage your bankroll

Everyone knows that the more money you risk, the more you stand to make. That being said, it’s important to practice good bankroll management—just because it’s the championship game doesn’t mean you should bet your entire account on it!

It can be easy to get lost in the hype of the NCAA Tournament—it’s part of the madness! But keep in mind that you should only bet as much as you’re comfortable with losing. It might be wiser to bet smaller amounts on several single games rather than wagering everything on one.

If you’re looking for more specific sports betting bankroll management advice, check out our article on the topic.

Types of March Madness Bets You Can Place 

Most spectators are familiar with the March Madness bracket, although not everyone knows about all the types of bets you can place on a single game. Not only do these bets allow you to leverage your specific knowledge, but they can be far more profitable than a bracket. Here are some of the most popular bets in March Madness:


Based on the odds set by sportsbooks, you could win a varying amount of money for betting correctly. Moneyline odds give you two important pieces of information:

  • They indicate which team is the favorite or the underdog.
  • They tell you what you can win if your bet is successful.

Let’s use the 2021 championship game as an example. The moneyline odds were Gonzaga -245 and Baylor +188. The favored team always has a (-) in front of the moneyline odds—if one chose to bet on Gonzaga, they would need to wager $245 to win $100. But if they went with the underdog, Baylor, they’d win $188 by betting $100. 

Since Baylor proved to be the champions, those who sided with them saw a hefty payout!

Point spread

Point spreads are widely popular in football and basketball betting. The odds are set to the same number on both sides; rather than choosing the outright winner, you’re betting on how much a team will win by. College basketball games tend to be high-scoring, so a team needs to work hard to cover the spread. You can bet if the favored team will win by a margin, or if the underdogs will lose but keep the score within a given number of points. 

Prop bets

Prop bets don’t necessarily have anything to do with which team wins or loses—instead, they’re a wager on whether an event will occur or not.

A few examples of popular college basketball prop bets include:

  • Which player will score the most points?
  • Who will be the tournament MVP?
  • How many assists will one player have?
  • Which game will have the biggest margin of victory?

Live bets

Seasoned sports bettors know how intense games can be when your money is riding on the outcome. But imagine placing a live bet, where the events that unfold before your eyes change the odds in real-time!

The outcome of a game can change at a moment’s notice, even if one team has had a strong lead for most of the time. Lines update after each score or significant event, so watch changes closely to identify betting opportunities. 

Over/Under (Totals Bets)

Instead of choosing which team will win, you can wager on how many total points will be scored in a game. Sportsbooks will give a total score for the match (which is usually over 100), and you decide whether you think that more or fewer points will be scored.


If you feel confident about your college basketball knowledge, you might choose to string together multiple bets, which is called a parlay. 

Even though this can increase your profit margins, it’s a risky move—in order for your bet to pay out, you need to win all of your bets. You can combine moneyline bets with point spreads to diversify your wagers and potentially boost your winnings.

Futures bets

Predict various outcomes of the NCAA tournament without betting on the entire bracket by placing futures bets.

Examples of these bets include betting on which teams advance to the Final Four or the Championship Game. Since teams need to win fewer games to reach the Final Four than the Championship Game, it’s considered the easier of the two bets. That being said, both are incredibly tough to predict.

It’s not as simple as choosing the best-seeded teams and placing your bets accordingly. As the tournament progresses, futures odds change in real-time.

To successfully bet on these games, you might actually need a crystal ball—or the time to do research and access college basketball tournament data. Check the sportsbooks often, as futures odds update with each game in March Madness!

If sportsbooks notice that people are only betting on one side of the line, they may adjust the odds or point spreads. For this reason, it’s best to bet on March Madness early to ensure you get the maximum payout.


Looking to give your sports bets an edge? Trying to spot the factors that most bettors and oddsmakers overlook? We’ve got a few strategies that can increase your chances of success: 

Find lines impacted by recency bias

As we mentioned earlier, recency bias is prevalent in sports betting. If one team is on a hot streak and crushing each team in its path, most people may assume that this trend will continue. However, recency bias may cause them to overlook factors that could lead to their downfall.

For example, how has the favored team performed against a given opponent in the past? Despite one team’s success in the NCAA Tournament, they may find it challenging to win against a specific college basketball opponent.

Find offensive/defensive matchups a team can exploit (who will be guarding who?)

Sports bets go beyond a team’s performance. If you want to find overlooked betting opportunities, look specifically at which players are facing one another. One player might be particularly weak against a certain player, which you can find out by examining individual plays.

Don’t overvalue a team’s rank coming into the tournament

This is especially important if you’re betting on a March Madness bracket. Choosing one wrong team to advance can spoil your entire bracket. 

On the same note, don’t undervalue a team solely based on their seed. Cinderella stories are common in college basketball, in which an underdog team blows away all expectations.

Go against the flow

Given the millions of people that watch and bet on March Madness, even oddsmakers aren’t immune to popular opinions. A team that’s well-known with a good track record may have their abilities overestimated, especially by casual sports fans.

In the NCAA Tournament, there’s no telling what might go down on the court. Unbelievable things have happened—for example, the time that a No. 1 seeded team lost to a No. 16!

Look for upsets

Millions of people bet on March Madness each season—but a much smaller number of them are actually successful. 

A casual sports fan may base their bets on the rankings of a team. While this isn’t a bad idea, it overlooks an important factor: upsets happen, and in college basketball, they happen pretty frequently.

Honing an eye for upsets can create lucrative profits, especially because underdog bets often come with a higher value. It’s pretty rare for a No. 1 seeded team to lose to a No. 16, but what about a matchup between a No. 5 seed vs a No. 12? Or a No. 11 against a No. 6? Find matchups where upsets are likely to increase your win rate.

Refer to a professional sports handicapper

After having read this article, you might realize just how much goes into placing a single sports bet. All the factors that surround a game will affect its outcome, from player injuries to fatigue and pressure from fans. 

Sports handicappers have the resources, time, and experience to identify picks with outstanding value. Kyle Covers gives sports bettors a clear advantage with data-driven picks. If you’re interested in sports betting, but hesitant to try it on your own, use a sports handicapping service to grow your bankroll.

As sports betting is legalized in more and more states, the pastime only becomes increasingly popular. When you combine it with a widely watched event like March Madness, you can understand why millions of Americans submit brackets and single game bets each year.

We hope you’ve found our March Madness betting tips to be helpful. If you’re interested in betting on the next NCAA tournament, using picks from a professional sports handicapper can increase your win rate. 

Kyle Covers offers All-Access packages for the NCAA picks, NBA picks, MLB picks, NHL picks, and NFL picks. The next time you want to beat the March Madness odds, use our expert picks!