The Super Bowl might be the most popular sports betting event in the United States, but the NCAA tournament isn’t too far behind it. With 67 games over a span of three weeks and all of them nationally televised, these are the games where everyone pays attention to college basketball in some form.
If you’re planning to make a bet on the NCAA tournament, there are a few good strategies you can use to maximize your chances of winning as often as possible. Whether you choose to bet on or against Iowa, Iowa State, Drake or any other teams in the bracket, these tips can give you the best chance of winning a few bets and making money off March Madness!
Bet On the Teams That You Know Best
The NCAA tournament is the time where you put all the knowledge that you’ve gained about teams during the season into practice. Unlike the college football bowl season, you don’t have to worry about players sitting out the postseason to prepare for the NBA draft in college basketball. That means the information you’ve gained from 30+ games of watching a team can be vital to your betting strategy.
If you’ve been watching Iowa all season long, you’ve likely got a good idea of how the Hawkeyes like to play and what their strengths and weaknesses are. That can be a big advantage when you’ve got only a day or two to learn about a team you might not have spent much time following.
In the second round, each team only gets one day to prepare for their next opponent, which means teams have to go with what they know. Knowing who each team is can help you figure out the way they might play in an unfamiliar situation.
Remember, over the course of the tournament, teams are bracketed to try to prevent rematches until they get deep into the event. You might get a situation or two where teams are playing for the third time, but more often than not, the matchup will be a first-time meeting. That lends itself to teams playing their game, making any knowledge you can get vital to your success.
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Don’t Fall In Love With Big Names
The blue blood schools have the reputation they do for a reason, but that doesn’t mean they’re great bets in the NCAA tournament. That’s because these are often some of the only schools that the general public knows, which limits the value available to them. The public is always going to place wagers on traditional favorites, such as Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA, Connecticut and Indiana.
As we know, when a lot of bets come in on one side, the sports books adjust the line to get action on their opponent. And that’s often where you can find a lot of value. A great example is last year’s national champion, Kansas. The Jayhawks might have won all six games they played, but they only went 3-3 ATS in the tournament. That’s in large part because the public placed a lot of wagers on the Jayhawks as a traditional favorite and the books offered plenty of points on their opponents.
Don’t Ignore the Coaching Matchups
Big team names are one thing. Big names in the coaching profession are another, because excellent coaches can make the difference in March. A great example is former Kansas and North Carolina coach Roy Williams. In 30 NCAA appearances, Williams only lost in the first round one time, and that one time was when he knew it was time for him to retire.
Great coaches can squeeze the most out of their roster and make a run when they get themselves a ticket to the Big Dance. This year, coaches like Eric Musselman at Arkansas and Tom Izzo at Michigan State could be X-factors in getting their teams to play above their seeds. Both men are proven winners, with the former having reached the past two Elite Eights and the latter having seven Final Fours on his resume. Both coach teams will likely be lower seeds and thus overlooked by the public. Don’t overlook them with your bets.
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Don’t Overload Your Betting Card
With four games going on at once on the first two days of the NCAA tournament, it can be easy to try to create parlays and go after a few crazy bets to try to win a lot of money at once. But this isn’t the time to go wild with your betting and try to learn too much about too many teams at once.
When you have multiple games going on during one window, it’s smarter to find the one or two games that you like most and try to get some action on that line. If you don’t have a good feeling about a certain game, pass on it and go with a different one. During the first weekend, there’s enough action that you don’t have to make bets on every game. Sticking to the games you feel best about gives you the best chance to win.
Get to Know the Cinderellas
Take a long look at the teams seeded between 11 and 14. These are often the teams that cause the biggest upsets in the first and second rounds, and they’re almost always going to be sizable underdogs with the sportsbooks. Everyone has a 12 seed beating a 5 seed, and for good reason: No. 12 seeds have won 36% of the time against No. 5’s, which means one or two of them usually wins the game straight up and two of them will likely cover.
No. 11 seeds are an even better bet than No. 12 seeds, but they don’t get publicized as often. No. 11’s have won in the first round 39% of the time, so if you’re looking for a moneyline upset, these might be the place to look. These are often veteran teams who have been here before and have stayed in school for three years or more, which can give them an edge against talented but youthful squads. Down the stretch, teams with veteran leadership are more likely to make the plays that make the difference.
One other thing to keep in mind: if a lower seed is favored to win the game, there’s almost certainly a reason for it. Over the past 20 years, a No. 12 seed has actually been favored to win by the sportsbook three times, and they’ve won the game every time. If you see a lower seed favored, take them to win the game and don’t think twice about it.
Remember the Sites Aren’t Totally Neutral
When a team gets to play in front of its fans, it makes a big difference. The NCAA usually makes an effort to keep teams away from their home fans unless they’re a top-four seed, but there are occasional teams who slide through.
A great example came in 2017, when South Carolina earned a No. 7 seed but was assigned to play in Greenville, S.C., a mere 100 miles from their campus. The Gamecock fans took over the arena and lifted their team to a mild upset of No. 2 seed Duke in the second round on their way to a Final Four berth.
Before you make a bet on any game, make sure that you take note of where the game will be played. For example, Alabama is likely to get a high seed and will almost certainly play in front of a partisan crowd in Birmingham as a result.
Teams want to give a good show for their fans, and backing an underdog against a top seed that’s got its fans in the stands is a dicey proposition. By contrast, if an Iowa team finds its way to Des Moines, they’ll potentially have an advantage over a higher seed and could be a good underdog play.
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Understand the Totals and the Teams’ Styles
Knowing the way the teams play makes a world of difference when you’re looking at the totals. Faster teams and teams that shoot a high number of free throws and 3-pointers will score higher amounts, while slower-paced defensive teams will struggle to get above 120 points total.
When it comes to basketball, there are plenty of resources to help you understand how teams like to play. Two of the best are Ken Pomeroy and Erik Haslam’s metric sites. Both sites break down how efficient teams are at both sides of the court and how quickly each team likes to play. These can help you spot lines from the sportsbook that might be off by a few points, and that can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Watch the Games For Opportunities
Iowa allows live betting on mobile apps and websites, so you’ll have plenty of chances to react to a game as it’s happening. Every game in the tournament is televised, so you’ll always be able to watch and get an idea of what’s going on with each team. Pay attention to momentum and body language, which can often tell you what’s likely to happen in the next few minutes.
When you like both teams, one great strategy is to wait until the first television timeout to place your bet and then back the team with better odds. Remember that basketball is a game of runs, and you’ll have lots of chances to bet on one side or the other as the game ebbs and flows. If you’re watching things unfold in real time, you’ll have a better chance to get a team at the right number.
Above all, have fun with your betting and stick to your strategy. If you’re smart with both your money and your plays, you’ll be able to maximize your money and make the most out of your March Madness this year!
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