The annual NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, also known as March Madness, is one of the biggest events in U.S. sports. Each game draws millions of viewers, and the TV ad revenue generated by the tournament exceeds that of the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL.
It might seem odd that a college basketball tournament would draw so much interest, but much of this is due to March Madness betting. People love to wager on the games, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in a white-collar setting who doesn’t fill out a tournament bracket and throw a few bucks into the office pool.
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2016 & 2017 March Madness Tournaments
As I write this article, the 2016 NCAA tournament is currently underway. Upsets have already played a big part in the early stages, with 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 seeds all advancing over higher-ranked opponents. Michigan State, ranked #2, was sent packing by a #15 seed, which is just the eighth time such a victory has occurred in tournament history.
The Sweet 16 has been decided, and the remaining #1 seeds include Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, and Kansas. Duke sits at #4 in the West Regional, and they’re scheduled to take on Oregon. The Ducks barely got past Saint Joseph’s in the previous round, so I expect their number to be up against the Blue Devils.
Gonzaga and Syracuse are the lowest-seeded team still remaining at #11 and #10 respectively. They’re playing each other in the round of 16, ensuring that one of them advances to the Elite Eight (and a likely showdown with #1 Virginia). I expect Gonzaga to move on, especially after seeing their 23-poiint upset over #3 Utah.
I like the North Carolina Tar Heels to win the tournament, as they seem to improve in every game. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson are a solid tandem, and Coach Roy Williams always has a trick or two up his sleeve.
The 2017 March Madness tournament is a full year away, so it’s a bit premature to make too many predictions at this point. It’s hard to bet against Duke and Kentucky, though, as these two teams are consistently among the best when it comes to recruiting. Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles should be solid for the Blue Devils for years to come, and the Wildcats should get a boost from the addition of point guard De’Aaron Fox.
How March Madness Works
Taking placing in March and early April, the tournament is made up of the best men’s Division I college basketball teams in the United States. This is a post-season tournament, which means that conferences around the nation have already crowned their champion for the year.
In fact, the winners from 32 of these conferences are given automatic entry into the event. The other 36 teams are chosen by a committee during Selection Sunday. This creates a field of 68 teams, which is reduced down to 64 after four matches (known as the “First Four”) between the lowest four automatic bids and the lowest four at-large teams.
When only 64 teams remain, they’re divided into four regions and seeded from #1 to #16 within their respective region. The top-rated team in a region plays the lowest-rated in a single game, with the winner advancing and the loser being eliminated. A bracket is used to determine who plays in each round.
The second round of the tournament is known as the “Round of 32,” while the regional semi-finals have been dubbed the “Sweet Sixteen.” This is followed by the “Elite Eight” and the “Final Four.” When only two team remain, they compete in a single game on primetime television to determine the national champion. UCLA holds the record for the most titles, although teams such as Duke, Kentucky, and Connecticut have been more dominant in the last 20 years.
Betting Options for NCAA Basketball Tournament
March Madness is second only to the Super Bowl when it comes to betting in the United States, and sportsbooks love to rise to the challenge with a multitude of wagering options. If you’re planning on placing a few bets, here are some of the most common selections you can expect to see:
- Futures – Offered up to a year in advance of an event, futures allow for long-range sports predictions. In the case of the NCAA tourney, the most common options are the winner of the overall tournament and the regional champions.
- Winner – The bettor has to pick the winner of a specific game. This might be straight-up with a moneyline wager, or with a scoring adjustment thanks to the point spread. In some cases, bettors also have the option of picking the winner of just the first or second half.
- Over/Under – The oddsmaker sets a combined score for both teams in a game, and it’s up to the bettor to decide if the actual score will be higher or lower.
- Prop Bets – This type of wager comes in an almost endless variety, from the first player to score in a game to the over/under on the number of slam dunks.
- Live Betting – A growing craze among online gamblers, the live betting option allows wagers to be made while a sporting event is being played. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, it requires an extra layer of analysis and intuition in order to be successful.
Brackets continue to be a major part of the NCAA tournament, and there’s even been a contest in recent years offering $1 billion to anyone who can fill out a perfect bracket. Before you get too hopeful, keep in mind that the odds of doing so are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. These are higher odds than getting 20 out of 20 on keno (which nobody has ever done), winning an Oscar, or becoming President of the United States.
Biggest March Madness Spreads
The first games of the annual NCAA basketball tournament are all about favorites and underdogs. While the latter usually get smoked, bettors can still come out on top of these lopsided matches thanks to the point spread. To illustrate my point, here are the five biggest point spreads in the history of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. Please note that all of these are #1 seeds against #16 seeds.
- In 1999, Duke was a 46.5 point favorite when they took on Florida A&M. While Duke rolled over their opponents by a score of 99 to 58, it still wasn’t enough to cover the spread.
- In 1998, top-ranked Kansas took on Prairie View. The Jayhawks were favored by 37 points, which they managed to cover by destroying the Panthers 110 to 52.
- 1997 saw the Kansas Jayhawks take on Jackson State, and the former was favored by 36. While Kansas managed to pull off the 78-64 win, it was closer than most imagined and definitely not enough to cover.
- Duke played Monmouth in the first round of 2001, and the Blue Devils were favored by 34.5. The final score was 95 to 52, which was a comfortable 43-point margin of victory.
- The Duke basketball juggernaut once again makes the list, this time with a 2000 game against the Lamar Cardinals. Duke was favored by 34 points, but they only managed an 82-55 win to advance in the tournament.