The Super Bowl might be the showiest sports betting event in the US, but nothing matches the sheer mayhem and betting action of March Madness. The NCAA Men’s Division I basketball tournament stretches almost three weeks from mid-March to early April and is, in the hearts of many, the pinnacle of the US sports betting calendar.
There’s something for everyone — sports fan, sports bettor or otherwise — during March Madness. From picking your alma mater or your favorite mascot’s school to go all the way in a bracket pool, to the challenge of selecting individual games, parlays or a long-shot futures bet, March Madness has as many ways to bet on it as it does to make your pulse race.
The American Gaming Association estimates that over 50 million Americans will bet over $10.4 billion combined on March Madness 2020. Here’s everything you need to know to be one of them.
Daily fantasy sports behemoth DraftKings announced a partnership with Resorts Casino to offer sports betting back in New Jersey in 2018. It’s been one of the top two books in NJ since its launch. DraftKings subsequently expanded to:
The DraftKings app offers point spread, money line and totals bets throughout March Madness plus extensive alternate spread and totals for college basketball, which is unique. DraftKings will post money lines, point spreads and totals wagers for half as well as live in-play wagering once the game is underway. For live betting on March Madness, the DraftKings app is unmatched.
DraftKings also offers a robust stats portal that you can easily navigate to research relevant stats and betting trends for all the March Madness teams.
Daily fantasy sports leader FanDuel launched in New Jersey in September 2018 and took off. The app is similar in appearance and feel to its daily fantasy offering but is also informed by the institutional knowledge of FanDuel’s global parent company, Flutter (formerly known as Paddy Power Betfair).
Since its launch in NJ, FanDuel has also expanded to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana. The FanDuel Sportsbook app offers all the core bet types for the Big Dance, including point spread, money line and total points.
FanDuel also offers alternative point spreads and totals for the first half as well as live, in-play wagering. If you’re a futures bettor, FanDuel is also worth a look with plenty of enticing odds for mid-majors right now.
Both apps are available for iPhones/iPads and Android devices. The layout for each app is almost identical to the full online sportsbook, meaning whichever platform — mobile or desktop — you use, the experience is the same.
If the app is your preferred method of betting, you can use it for everything — registration, deposits, withdrawals, claiming promos and all betting itself.
Start with our links above to claim your free bets and get started.
Once the app is downloaded, simply tap to select your method and deposit funds. Your free bets will immediately be credited to your account upon deposit (or upon account registration, if no deposit req.)
If you live outside but close to a legal sports betting state (e.g. in NYC or Chicago) you can still download the app from your home and do all of the account management you need to. You can research, make deposits, withdraw funds, etc. You only need to travel across the border into New Jersey or Indiana to make your actual bets.
Once you’ve claimed any winnings, you can take them out in your home state. Register from New York or Chicago via the links below:
Futures are bets where the outcome is not determined until a future date. In college basketball, this traditionally means betting on who will win the National Championship before the season starts. However, sportsbooks take futures bets on college basketball teams throughout the season and into the NCAA Tournament, right up until the Final Four begins.
Just like money line bets, winners are paid based on the odds posted at the sportsbook at the time you made the bet. Of course, those odds can fluctuate heavily as a team’s chances of winning change. Futures represent the best way to bet on March Madness before the tournament tips off.
Besides betting on the future champion, you can also bet on:
Here are the current futures odds for the 2020 National Championship on DraftKings and FanDuel
San Diego State
Legal US sportsbooks all offer a variety of ways the public can bet on March Madness games, teams or the entire tournament, including:
There are no points involved in money line bets. When it comes to March Madness betting, you pick the outright winner of any NCAA Tournament game, and if you’re right, you get paid based on the odds posted at the sportsbook at the time you made the bet.
The odds on the favorite in each game are a negative (-) number representing how much you’ll need to bet to win $100. The odds on the underdog are a positive (+) number representing how much you’ll win for every $100 you bet.
The spread in a college basketball game is just like the point spread bet in a football game. Sportsbooks will set a line for each NCAA Tournament game, and you take either the favorite by laying the points or the underdog and receive them.
You just need to pick the winner with the posted line factored in to cash in on your bet.
You can also bet on any NCAA tournament game’s points total if picking a side isn’t necessarily your thing. The sportsbooks will set a line on the total number of points it expects both teams will combine to score.
You simply pick whether the actual total will land over or under that line. Instead of worrying about which team is winning, the only concern you have for an over-under bet is the number of points scored in the game.
A more complex bet is a parlay, which consists of at least two separate wagers strung together. To win a parlay bet, one must win every part, or leg, of the parlay. If you have a parlay with five legs and four results win and one loses, the bet loses the same as if you went 0-5.
Parlays pay better than individually placed bets because to win a parlay, you must win every part, or leg, of that parlay. Parlays represent a great opportunity to bet small with a chance of winning big.
When looking at how to bet the tourney games, it’s important to follow the money. The opening lines are released for the Thursday/Friday games on Sunday night.
Pay attention and take note of any significant line moves leading up to the game. Again, books will adjust the lines based on liability to a certain side, and line moves that are > 1.5 points or more are significant.
Also, pay attention to the second-round lines. With games on Thursday, there is a quick turnaround for the teams to play on Saturday. The same applies to sports books. They don’t always “nail it” in terms of the second-round lines; again, pay special attention to all the line moves.
A word about the “futures” market. If you like a team to win it all, place the bet and hope for the best. But another approach is to bet that school in each game and roll over the winnings into each round.
A $10 futures bet on the Gonzaga Bulldogs at 10-1 will pay $100 if they cut down the nets in April. However, that same $10 bet in the opening round game will pay ~$19 if they win and cover their opening round game.
You can see that rolling the wins over each round will yield a much greater return over the course of the tournament. It’s something to consider.
In the early stages of the tournament, you can expect to see such “prop” bets as:
More fun props you might find include:
March Madness brackets are the traditional way most Americans bet on the NCAA Tournament. This involves filling out a 63-game NCAA Tournament bracket sheet prior to the start of the tournament and, in the past, paying a small sum to enter it into a pool at the office, local bar or social club.
Big online bracket pools run by ESPN and Yahoo, among others, have soared in popularity over the past decade or so and now that legal online sports betting has entered the pictures, online sportsbooks run massive bracket pools as well.
These can be either free or paid and can pay out six-figures+ to the winner. Learn more on our March Madness bracket challenges page.
Bracket pools are a fun and easy way to follow along with March Madness. A “bracket” is the 68-team form that can be completed online or printed out and completed by hand. These are easily accessible once the field has been chosen and seeded on “Selection Sunday,” which is March 15 this year.
The bracket needs to be completed in its entirety before the Thursday games begin at 11 a.m. ET. The object of the bracket is to predict the most winning outcomes throughout the tournament through to the national champion.
Essentially, each bracket is compared to others in the pool, and the one with the most winners picked correctly (or “points” assigned to games for each round of tournament) wins the contest.
There are two types of March Madness bracket contests:
Free bracket contests are run by virtually anyone these days, from media brands to promotional groups to restaurants (we see you, Buffalo Wild Wings) to actual sportsbooks.
Free bracket pools are always fun. In addition to the “free” nature of the contest, there are typically some great prizes for the winning brackets from real cash (and sometimes lots of it) to perhaps a trip to next year’s Final Four.
The drawback of the free contests is, of course, the sheer volume of entries. Last year’s ESPN bracket challenge boasted almost 12 million entries. Because everyone typically knows the same tips for picking March Madness brackets, and the tournament itself is also so unpredictable, your actual chances of winning a free bracket contest are, well, slim to none.
Paid entry bracket pools are typically conducted as part of a friend group, office setting, neighborhood, etc. The cost of entry is typically low (i.e. $10 or $20) and, with enough entries in the pool, there is a prize large enough to inspire some friendly ribbing or trash talking.
Many of the free bracket sites will also allow someone to register as the “commissioner” to organize a private pool. Once everyone is registered, the host site (i.e. ESPN or CBS) takes over with up-to-the-minute standings as well as scoring projections for the remainder of the tournament.
Both DraftKings and FanDuel offer both free and $20 buy-in paid contests that pay out a small percentage of the field. Learn more and sign up for an account to play via the links below:
Whether you are filling out a bracket for the 50th year or for the first time, there are some tried and true March Madness facts and tips to consider:
Upsets can, do and will happen. Picking all No. 1 and No. 2 seeds to advance to the Elite Eight is an unimaginative approach to the bracket. Expect some chaos and plan accordingly.
Look to history for some guidance. Since the NCAA Tournament field was expanded to 64 schools in 1985, here’s a summary of the opening round matchup results:
The Nos. 12, 13 and 14 seeds are matchups you should pay special attention to because a 12, 13 or 14 will win at least two to three games, as suggested by history. You just need to select the right matchups.
Know the tough conferences and the hot hands. The major college conferences (i.e. ACC, Big Ten, Big 12) will send multiple teams to the tourney. Don’t overlook a school just because it finished in the middle of the regular season conference standings. The challenging schedule may have prepared it well for the battles of March.
Also, look at which school is riding a hot (or cold) streak into March Madness. A team that had to win its conference tournament by beating four opponents over four consecutive days may just carry that energy and momentum into upsetting a higher-seeded opponent in the opening round.
“Perfect” regions happen about one-third of the time. Keep this in mind when you fill out a bracket with your prediction of region seeds 1, 2, 3 and 4 all merrily advancing to the Sweet 16. You should consider some upsets in the opening rounds as an upstart No. 6 or No. 7 seed can really separate your bracket from the others.
Don’t be shy about picking your alma mater, but back it up. If you’re lucky to have your alma mater qualify for the Big Dance, congratulations!! Don’t spend hours agonizing as to how your school may fare in the bracket process; instead, play two bracket entries: one with your “heart” as a proud alumnus of a national champion and the other with your “head” that is the realistic view of your school’s chances.
NCAA Tournament schedule: The 2020 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament runs from March 17 (First Round) to April 6 (Championship Game). Here’s a look at the complete March Madness schedule:
|Selection Sunday||N/A||March 15|
|First Four||Dayton, OH||March 17-18|
|1st/2nd Rounds||Albany, NY||March 19/21|
|1st/2nd Rounds||Spokane, WA||March 19/21|
|1st/2nd Rounds||St. Louis, MO||March 19/21|
|1st/2nd Rounds||Tampa, FL||March 19/21|
|1st/2nd Rounds||Greensboro, NC||March 20/22|
|1st/2nd Rounds||Omaha, NE||March 20/22|
|1st/2nd Rounds||Sacramento, CA||March 20/22|
|1st/2nd Rounds||Cleveland, OH||March 20/22|
|Midwest Regional||Indianapolis, IN||March 26/28|
|West Regional||Los Angeles, CA||March 26/28|
|East Regional||New York, NY||March 27/29|
|South Regional||Houston, TX||March 27/29|
|Final Four||Atlanta, GA||April 4|
|National Championship||Atlanta, GA||April 6|
Network streaming: CBS All Access, CBSSports.com, and CBS Sports app via phone, tablet and connected TV devices (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Chromecast)
Streaming services (varies by market): DirecTV Now, Fubo TV, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV
Think betting on March Madness isn’t a big deal? According to a study released by the American Gaming Association last year:
Collectively, American adults are expected to bet close to $10 billion on the annual college basketball tournament. The AGA study also found:
The total amount bet on March Madness — including legally, illegally and via tournament pools — according to an estimate from the American Gaming Association.
The amount of money bet on March Madness in 2019 in Nevada. The amount of legal sports betting went up exponentially across the board for March Madness 2019 as a number of states now have legal wagering that did not the year before.
The total amount that would be bet on March Madness if legalized in every state, both retail and online, according to Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. That wagering would generate more than $1B in gross gaming revenue, according to EKG.
March Madness is all about brackets. However, even for the most skilled basketball bracket enthusiast, the odds of winning the top prize are outrageous. The NCAA estimates the odds of anyone putting together a perfect bracket, correctly picking winners in all 63 games on the NCAA Tournament schedule before the first round begins, are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Naturally, with odds like this, it has never been achieved before.
The number of times a No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed in the men’s tournament. In 2018 UMBC became the first school to pull off such an upset in defeating Virginia.
The estimated number of sportsbooks in the US where you can place a legal March Madness bet in 2020. In addition to Nevada, legal sports betting takes place in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Iowa, New York, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Oregon, Indiana, Delaware, Mississippi and New Mexico.
March Madness is one of the greatest sporting events on the planet. The combination of a single-elimination format, the potential for upsets, the potential for buzzer-beaters, and the highest of stakes mean that drama can strike during any game and any matchup.
But all March Madness bettors know an upset that doesn’t work in their favor can be a money pit nightmare. So, ahead of listing the five biggest upsets in the history of the basketball tournament, what truly makes an epic upset?
The essential aspect of any upset is the unexpected. So, the list below doesn’t only include cases of lower-seed teams defeating higher seeds.
Seeding the tournament is an imperfect practice. A 25-win, mid-major team might receive a lower seed than a big conference team with a worse record due to the mid-major team’s lower strength of schedule.
The problem with this approach to seeding is that strength of schedule does not necessarily diminish a team’s abilities. So, sometimes a lower seed’s victory is not an upset, but merely a reflection of a truly good team seeded too low.
Instead, upsets occur when both teams’ histories would suggest a different outcome. In some cases, the entire history of the tournament suggested that the other team would win.
Each of these five games has its section and description. However, for those who are in a hurry, here’s a quick list of them:
It would be difficult to argue that this game is not the greatest upset in the history of the tournament. In 2018, the 16-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County made history by winning its opening game against the top-seeded University of Virginia.
In 136 contests between No. 1 and No. 16 seeds, the 16-seed has won precisely once — this time. Before the Terriers won, 1-over-16 was the surest of bets in all of sports.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of UMBC’s historic victory is the final margin. Far from a buzzer-beater, the Terriers ran the Cavaliers off the court, winning 74-54.
UMBC went on to lose its next game, a nine-point defeat at the hands of Kansas State. However, the school can rest comfortably in the knowledge that its place in history is forever secure.
Before UMBC, the highest seeds ever to win an NCAA Tournament game were 15 seeds. So far, a No. 15-seeded team has won its opening match eight times. None of those victories was more shocking than the University of Richmond‘s escape from the Syracuse Orangemen.
Richmond’s win gets the nod as the most significant because of its status as a trailblazer. Much like UMBC, the Spiders had to contend with the knowledge that no team had ever accomplished the task of defeating a No. 2-seeded team in the first round.
The game itself looks more like the kind of game that would yield a huge upset. Syracuse came out flat, and Richmond took an eight-point lead into halftime.
From there, Richmond slowed the game’s pace down and clung desperately to its lead. In the end, the plan worked, and the Spiders sneaked into history with a 73-69 win.
In more recent times, a Villanova win over Georgetown would barely make the news. However, back in 1985, the Wildcats’ two-point victory over the Hoyas was the embodiment of the impossible.
Villanova defeated Georgetown 66-64 after a grueling two halves of play. In doing so, the Wildcats became the only No. 8 seed ever to win the national championship.
What made the ’Cats’ run so much more improbable was that the team caught fire seemingly out of nowhere. Villanova limped into the tournament with 10 losses on its record, including a 15-point meltdown against St. John’s directly before the tournament.
The Georgetown team Villanova defeated had been the prohibitive favorite most of the season. All five of its starters went on to play in the NBA, including all-time great center Patrick Ewing.
But, in the end, it was the Pennsylvania team that had its date with destiny.
Two years before Villanova’s miracle run, North Carolina State University played out a similar drama with the University of Houston. If anything, the manner in which NC State prevailed has stayed with the American sports conscience far longer.
To recap, the No. 6 seed Wolfpack were locked in a tight battle with the top-ranked UH Cougars. The Cougars boasted a high-flying lineup that featured two future NBA Hall-of-Famers (Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon), which had allowed the team to earn the nickname “Phi Slama Jama,” in reference to its aerial prowess.
However, the game came down to a 44-second stretch in which the teams were locked in a tie, and NC State allowed time to dwindle into the single-digits. With about six seconds remaining, NC State’s Dereck Whittenburg launched a long shot from nearly the half-court line, but his shot missed the goal entirely.
NC State’s Lorenzo Charles stayed alert, though, and rose up to put the ball back on a quick slam dunk. The score put NC State up by two with no time remaining and secured the school’s second (and most recent) championship.
As is the case with Villanova, a deep March Madness run is not a surprise for Duke University. However, there was a time when Duke was merely a perennial also-ran.
That narrative changed in 1991 when Duke captured its first title in school history. To do so, the team had to defeat one of the all-time great teams in the national semifinals.
The University of Nevada-Las Vegas entered the 1991 tournament as the defending national champions and undefeated. Its five starters each went on to have NBA careers, and the team’s towel-biting coach, Jerry Tarkanian, was one of the best-ever to roam the sidelines.
So, the Runnin’ Rebels had plenty of confidence and swagger entering the tournament. The Final Four matchup with Duke likely didn’t cause much concern, since UNLV had defeated the same team by 30 points in the national championship game the year before.
However, some key additions to the Duke squad meant that the Blue Devils could hang with the champs. Two key free throws by Christian Laettner with 12.7 seconds remaining sealed the most improbable of victories, and handed UNLV its only loss of the entire season.
The University of Virginia bounced all the way back from its devastating loss to UMBC in the first round in 2018 to win it all a year later. The Cavaliers beat Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime to claim their first NCAA men’s basketball title. Auburn and Michigan St. rounded out the Final Four, which was played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County beat Virginia to become the first ever No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament’s first round. A No. 11 seed, Chicago-Loyola, made the Final Four. However, Villanova beat Michigan 79-62 in the championship game at the Alamodome in San Antonio to win its second title in three years.
Upstart Gonzaga made its first-ever Final Four and championship game appearance. However, the North Carolina Tar Heels beat the Bulldogs 71-65 in the championship game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, to win the school’s sixth National Championship.
The Villanova Wildcats beat the North Carolina Tar Heels 77-74 courtesy of a last second three-point basket in the championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston. This marked the first time ever the championship game was decided by a buzzer-beater. Oklahoma, led by Buddy Hield, and Syracuse also made the Final Four.
Kentucky entered the tournament unbeaten but lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four. Duke defeated Wisconsin in the championship game 68–63 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to win its fifth National Championship.
For the first time ever, not a single No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 seed made the championship game. Instead, it was a No. 7 seed, the Connecticut Huskies led by Shabazz Napier, that beat a No. 8 seed, the Kentucky Wildcats, 60-54 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Florida and Wisconsin rounded out the Final Four.
Florida Gulf Coast University beat Georgetown and San Diego State to become the first No. 15 seed to make a regional semifinal. The Louisville Cardinals beat the Michigan Wolverines 82-76 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to win their first national title since 1986. That title has since been vacated by the NCAA for recruiting violations.
For the first time ever, two No. 15 seeds defeated two No. 2 seeds in the first round. The Kentucky Wildcats were the only No. 1 seed to make the Final Four. However, Kentucky did go on to win the championship game 67-59 over the Kansas Jayhawks at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Not a single No. 1 seed made the Final Four for the first time since 2006. West Region No. 3 Connecticut was the highest remaining seed and went on to beat the Butler Bulldogs 53-41 in the championship game at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
The upstart Butler Bulldogs made their first-ever Final Four appearance. However, Butler lost to the Duke Blue Devils in the final game, marking Duke’s fourth title, 10th championship game and 15th Final Four appearance. The final score in the championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Butler’s hometown of Indianapolis was 61-59.
The North Carolina Tar Heels were a No. 1 seed and went all the way, beating the Michigan State Spartans 89-72 in the championship game at Ford Field in Detroit.
All four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four for the first time. In the championship game, the Kansas Jayhawks beat the Memphis Tigers 75-68 in overtime at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
The University of Virginia defeated Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime to win the 2019 title. This is noteworthy in that Virginia, a No. 1 seed in 2019, bounced back after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed when No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County pulled off the upset in the opening round in 2018.
Sixty-eight teams. The 68 teams in the tournament include 32 teams that receive automatic bids for winning their respective conferences. The remaining 36 teams are given at-large bids by the NCAA selection committee based upon their performance during the season.
Villanova, an 8 seed, upset No. 1 seed Georgetown in 1985.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, also the home field of the Atlanta Falcons (NFL) and Atlanta United (MLS).
Six, since the field expanded to 64 in 1984-85. The last school to accomplish this was North Carolina in 2008-09.
Just under 50% of the 35 preseason No. 1 teams since 1984-85 have advanced to the Final Four. (Note that Michigan State was the 2019-20 preseason No. 1 team).
Here’s the full breakdown of how the preseason No. 1 teams have performed in the NCAA Tournament:
Many experts consider this year’s tournament to be one of the most wide-open in recent memory.
Consider that as of late February, the preseason consensus top five schools of Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville and North Carolina had performed modestly, with a combined winning percentage of just under 70%.
Several artists have performed this tourney-closing theme song, including
The odds for a perfect bracket are staggering: