March Madness Betting Strategies: Three Different Approaches
March 15, 2023
One of the most pivotal days of the college basketball season is upon us, Selection Sunday. Spawning from the NCAA Selection Committee’s choices will be countless competitive matches, underdog stories, and life-changing moments — and that’s just describing the betting action.
March Madness creates a plethora of opportunities to bet on how the rest of the college basketball season will play out. It all begins on Sunday though. Let’s get you ready for Selection Sunday and the various ways you’ll be betting March Madness.
Choosing Your College Basketball Betting Strategy
When it comes to betting on the madness in March, you have to first decide which path you will take toward profitability. Perhaps a casual betting approach such as an office pool. For some people it’s not the amount of money at risk, it’s the game theory and the thrill of trying to win. A $5 bracket challenge might be a nice sweat for some.
However, you’re at Unabated.com and chances are you’re not here for $5 office pool strategies. You’re here because you endeavor to win more money than that. That leads into the wide world of what sportsbooks will be offering for betting options on the tournament. There are many ways to bet on the tournament beyond just the No. 8 vs No. 9 seed matchups which invariably will be lined very close to PK. You have tournament props, tournament futures, and round futures.
If you are persona non grata at just about every sportsbook in the land and you desire a higher stakes wager to get your blood flowing, a calcutta auction might be your drug of choice. This person-to-person wagering format has been covered here before. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is an ideal setting for a very competitive Calcutta.
March Madness Office Pool Strategy
Let’s start with the old familiar office pool bracket. The biggest factor in choosing a strategy here is to know your competition. If it is a small pool, you can go ahead and pick high seeds and favorites. However, if it is a large pool, you need to go a bit contrarian to separate yourself from the herd.
In a large pool, you need to pick some underdogs and some upsets. The betting lines can sometimes point you toward the potential upsets based on seed. For a long time, the No. 5 vs No. 12 matchup was popular for upsets. Too often the selection committee would undervalue a team that qualified by winning or nearly winning their smaller conference. They’d be assigned a No. 12 seed. They’d match them against a good, but not great major conference opponent at a No. 5. We’ve all seen the narrative play out. The scrappy group of guys playing a tight system befuddle the more talented but less cohesive team from a Power Five conference.
If your office pool or bracket challenge is regional in nature, you’ll also want to fade the local teams and the popular schools. Too often, the casual fan is just going to pick the names they’ve heard before, and that will likely be the geographically local teams. Most of these office pool contest and bracket challenges are top-heavy in their prizes. You need to try to hit home runs here. There’s no consolation for picking at a winning percentage over the course of the tournament.
Best Betting Strategies For March Madness
If you want to get paid for merely being right more than half the time, then traditional sports betting is the approach you should take. There are so many different ways to approach betting the tournament that it’s almost like the Super Bowl in terms of breadth of market.
First, there are traditional college basketball odds allowing you to bet on sides and totals. However, the unique part of the NCAA tournament, as well as the NIT and other lesser tournaments, is that often the teams have not faced each other all season. This is when power rankings help compare teams to each other.
The most popular power ranking site is the venerable kenpom.com. This site feels like it’s been around longer than Jim Boeheim. Back in the day, kenpom basically made the betting lines for college basketball. Now, it’s been joined by other sites like barttorvik.com and haslametrics.com. These sites allow you to compare teams and see how they match up.
Prop Betting The Tournament
As we outlined in a recent article, not all states allow you to bet on college sport player props. However, the more popular form of prop bet in the tournament is typically based on seed numbers and conference. How many No. 10 seeds will win their first round game? Total wins by No. 1 seeds? How many ACC teams will reach the Sweet 16?
If you’re the type of player that likes solving prop bets by modeling out results, these types of bets are a lot of fun and can be very profitable. In his landmark book, Sharp Sports Betting, Stanford Wong dedicated a chapter to bets like these. He even had some useful tables about projected win rates of different seeds. The book is fairly dated, but this remains a viable blueprint on how to solve these bets.
Some of you may wonder why Unabated doesn’t offer tools and resources to attack bets like these. Check out our article on solving March Madness prop bets, but otherwise, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. The folks at PoolGenius (which is a brand offshoot of TeamRankings.com) are doing a really sharp job of giving users the ability to solve prop bets like these. I’ll talk more about the shortcut that PoolGenius gives later in this article.
Futures Bets Aren’t As Futuristic Now
Another popular traditional sports betting method for attacking the tournaments is placing futures bets. Will Villanova make the Sweet 16? Will Houston win the South regional? The advantage of betting futures right at the start of the tournament is that the path is a simple Markov Chain for the bettor to work through. You can multiply out the implied probability to find approximate odds for a team to win your wager.
It’s also worth noting that this is a good time to remind you that creating a manual parlay where you roll over your winnings and bet from one game to the next will almost always exceed the odds that you’d get playing into a futures market. Try to look for futures bets that offer both a “Yes” and a “No” for the wager outcome. Far less juice baked into those wagers.
Calcutta Auctions For March Madness Betting
Thanks to an ESPN article by Jeff Ma back in 2015, Calcutta auctions have enjoyed a growing popularity. For those unfamiliar with a Calcutta auction, here’s a quick explanation of how they work:
A paytable is established which consists of percentages of the pot that is divided up by wins in each round as well as some prop bets to give some value to the lesser teams.
For instance, the tournament winning team may get 20% of the pot, advancement to the Final Four may be worth 5%. The team with the largest margin of loss may get 1%.
The teams are auctioned off in random order.
The resulting pot size is the aggregate sum of all the winning bid amounts.
There is a lot of game theory that goes into competing in a Calcutta auction. There are unique strategies for the early stages of bidding, the middle stage, as well as the end stage of the auction.
Since a calcutta is often 0% vig, they are often used by sophisticated bettors as a hedge against other wagers. Participants often swap shares of their assets as well to put themselves in better position.
It used to be a form of betting on March Madness that was reserved for higher-end bettors. However, lately, smaller-bankrolled bettors are getting together with friends and conducting Calcutta auctions. In many circles, it has replaced the traditional bracket pool.
Taking A Shortcut In Betting March Madness
We’ve outlined three very different forms of finding value when betting March Madness. Each of the three requires a fair amount of work from aspirational bettors. If you’re reading this article as we stand on the eve of this year’s tournament, you probably don’t have too much time to devote to building spreadsheets and theories for this year.
Instead we’ve partnered with the folks at TeamRankings.com and their new brand PoolGenius.com. They have tools targeting each of the methods outlined in this article. (To be clear, this is an affiliate link and Unabated does receive compensation for users who subscribe via the links in this article.) However, this is a product I endorse because I personally use it in solving March Madness wagers in many different ways. We’ve also negotiated a special discount for Unabated readers. You will receive a 15% discount if you sign up by Saturday, March 11, and a 10% discount if you sign up by Tuesday, March 14. These discounts are only available through Unabated. Sign up now and save a few bucks you can use toward an extra bet.
The PoolGenius My Brackets tool steps you through creating your optimal bracket depending on what type of bracket pool you’ve entered. It also gives you five other slight variations to your bracket in case your pool allows multiple entries.
This tool is an incredible resource for solving all those prop bets. It’s the round-by-round survival odds for every team in the tournament. They are also updated after every round.
Anything that can’t be answered using the survival odds screen can be answered in the data grid. It’s like a database of probabilities and percentages that can be used to attack various bets you’ll find in sportsbooks around the world.
On the recent Unabated Podcast, David Hess from PoolGenius demonstrated their Calcutta auction strategy tool. If you plan to participate in a Calcutta auction and you don’t have a spreadsheet that’s ready for everything you’re going to face, you need this tool.
Whether you use your own wits or use the tools and resources of a site like PoolGenius, tournaments such like March Madness offer a lot of potential betting value as we move toward spring. Hopefully we’ve given you some ideas you can use to find profitable bets.
If you’re still looking for some more ideas, come join the conversation in the Unabated Discord. There’s a lot of like-minded bettors in there sharing their tips and experiences.
This site is strictly for educational and informational purposes only and does not involve any real-money betting. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call 1-800-GAMBLER. This service is intended for adults aged 18 and over only.