March Madness is perhaps the craziest time of the year in the world of sports. The intensity and unpredictability of the men’s basketball tournament for the national championship is unmatched even by professional leagues’ playoffs. The quality of play isn’t as high, but that results in frantic, legacy-altering endings to games otherwise thought to be over.
No One Is Safe
No team and no lead is safe in March Madness. Perhaps the epitome of this fact is the 2018 Virginia Cavaliers, who lost to the 16-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County as the number-1 seed. That was the first and only time a 1 seed lost to a 16, redefining the word “upset.”
As a consequence of the NCAA Division I tournament’s unpredictability, betting on its outcome is intimidating. There may be a favorite to win it all and you may feel confident in your pick, but absolutely nothing is set in stone until someone is raising the trophy. That’s the nature of single-game elimination.
Making selections on the March Madness bracket is a major part of betting on the tournament as well. Some group pools in which invited contestants fill out an entire bracket and submit it score based on how many matchups and results are correct. However, like predicting the champion, selecting the bracket is far from easy.
The odds of getting a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion if making selections based on a coin flip, according to the NCAA. Those who make their selections based on actual basketball knowledge have a slightly better chance, but it’s still nearly impossible at 1 in 120.2 billion. The task has proved so elusive that, in 2014, famous billionaire Warren Buffet offered a $1 billion reward for a perfect March Madness bracket. Needless to say, good luck on that one.
Accurately predicting the winner of the tournament is far more feasible than getting a perfect bracket, so it’s important to know the odds before you place any bets this year. The University of Houston Cougars are the favorite at +500, followed by the Alabama Crimson Tide at +750, the Kansas Jayhawks at +1200, the Purdue Boilermakers at +1200, the UCLA Bruins at +1200, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs at +1500 (according to Fanduel).
Betting on Houston or Alabama are, of course, the safest bets. But keep in mind that anything can happen in March Madness, and there’s little point to having tons of confidence in your pick. Regardless of who you choose to win it all, don’t get too hung up on it.
Betting on an underdog isn’t a bad idea considering the unpredictability of the tournament, but you should make an informed decision if you decide to go with one of these. Take a look at the team’s stats, specifically how they do against top defenses, their record in close games or whether they or their opponent have injured players.
Having knowledge of history and its nuances can be helpful, too. For example, a 5 seed has never won the tournament and is the only top-8 seed to never do so, so if you choose San Diego State, Duke, Miami (Florida) or Saint Mary’s, know that you’re going against the grain.