March Madness Point Spreads Guide
For college basketball fans, March is probably the most awaited month of the year – for a very good reason. Since 1939, the month marks the start of the NCAA Division I playoffs, or simply March Madness. A total of 68 teams battle for Division I glory after four and a half months of play. Filling in the March Madness bracket is also an yearly tradition for nearly every college basketball fan, in the hopes of becoming the first to hit the legendary perfect bracket. But if you are looking for a chance to win in betting, then March Madness point spreads are one of the best betting markets available in college basketball.
If you want to know more about how to bet on March Madness point spreads, then this guide has everything you need.
What Is the NCAA March Madness?
First of all, what is March Madness? If you are a sports fan, then odds are you’ve probably heard the term at some point. But if you are new to college basketball, March Madness is simply the playoff tournament for NCAA Division I basketball.
The competition takes place in March, usually starting in the second week of the month, following the conclusion of the regular season. All 32 Division I champions qualify for the postseason, with another 36 teams selected by the NCAA committee.
March Madness was held for the first time in 1939. UCLA is the most successful team in the tournament history, winning 11 titles. The Bruins most recent win came in 1995. Kansas won the 2022 tournament, lifting the trophy for the fourth time in program history.
Here’s how the NCAA March Madness works:
- Of all teams, 68 qualify for the tournament.
- The four lowest-ranked teams and the four lowest-ranked conference champions play in a preliminary round, called First Four, to determine the 16th seed for the four regional brackets.
- First Round: the 64 teams are split into four regional brackets, and seeded accordingly. The number 1 team takes on number 16, and so on.
- Second Round: features the 32 teams advancing from the First Round. There is no re-seeding, since this is a fixed playoff bracket. If the number 1 seed advances, it will face off against the winner of the number 8 game versus the number 9 game.
- Sweet 16: the regional semifinals, with the 16 teams advancing from the Second Round.
- Elite Eight: the regional finals, featuring the eight teams advancing from Sweet 16.
- Final Four: the four regional champions advance to play in a single venue, which hosts the national semifinals and the final. Usually held on the first Saturday of April.
- Championship game: the two winning teams from the Final Four face off on Monday to determine the national champion.
There are 67 games in total, including the First Four round. Aside from betting, you can also fill in the March Madness bracket. The odds for a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. In 2019, Gregg Nigl, a psychologist from Columbus, Ohio, made history by correctly predicting every game through the first two rounds. Nigl’s streak went on for 49 games, falling in the Sweet 16. That remains the longest ever NCAA March Madness bracket streak.
NCAA March Madness Point Spreads Explained
If you are not familiar with point spread bets, here is a brief explanation. Each team is awarded a handicap, which is negative for the favorite and positive for the underdog. In order to cover the spread, the favorite must win by a margin large enough to overcome its handicap. On the other hand, the underdog covers the spread if it loses by a margin smaller than its handicap, or downright wins the game.
Point spreads for March Madness, just like in the regular season college basketball games, have what we call key numbers. Simply put, key numbers are the most common winning margins in college basketball games: in order, 3, 2, 5 and 4 points.
Bettors can also use points systems to help them out. Two of the most popular point systems available in college basketball are KenPom and Sagarin. KenPom ranks teams based on advanced stats, while Sagarin ranks them based on game scores. Most bookmakers nowadays follow these systems to create their respective NCAA March Madness point spreads lines.
NCAA March Madness Point Spreads Tips
- Let’s talk about the dreaded (or not, depending on your perspective) upsets. These are a March Madness staple. Upsets happen in every single edition. The biggest question is: just how many upsets should you bet on? When placing your March Madness point spreads bet, remember to always account for at least 12 upsets, which has been the average in the 64-team format (dating back to 1985). The 2007 March Madness had the fewest upsets, with four, while 2019 had the most, with 19.
- Use every tool at your disposal, from points systems to betting tips. With 64 teams competing (68, if you consider the First Four), there is a lot to keep track of, from injuries to potential sleeper picks.
- The most common upset is the #10 seed beating the #7 seed (39.5%), followed by the #11 over the #6 seed (37.5%) and the #12 over the #5 seed (35.4%). Remember to take that into account when placing your bets on point spreads for March Madness.
NCAA March Madness Point Spreads Examples
- The 2018 March Madness featured what is widely regarded as the greatest upset in the tournament’s history. UMBC, the 16th seed in the South regional bracket, comfortably defeated the #1 seed Virginia, 74-54. The Cavaliers were also the number 1 seed in the national ranking. Prior to that game, #16 seeds were a combined 0-135 against the #1 seeds. Virginia opened the game as a 20.5 point favorite.
- Let’s use the KenPom rankings to simulate a repeat of the 2022 March Madness final. According to KenPom’s updated rankings, Kansas has an adjusted efficiency margin (AdjEM) of 24.2, while North Carolina has an AdjEM of 24.06. That would make the Jayhawks 0.14 favorites. In order to calculate the spread using KenPom, you just need to subtract both teams’ AdjEM.
- Now, let’s do the same using the Sagarin ranking. Sagarin only takes the game score into account, but has four ratings available, each one being calculated differently. Using the Recent ratings, the Jayhawks (97.93) would be 5.1 favorites against the Tar Heels (92.83). Sagarin also has a home court advantage modifier, which adds 2.41 to the home team. The Jayhawks would be 7.51 favorites as the home team, and 2.69 favorites as the visiting team.
Pros and Cons of NCAA March Madness Point Spreads
- March Madness is one of the best sports events of the year. Filling brackets is a nice tradition, but betting on NCAA March Madness point spreads can net you more wins.
- With betting systems and betting tips at your disposal, navigating the NCAA March Madness bracket to find good point spreads bets becomes a lot easier.
- The upsets can make things a bit tricker, particularly in point spreads bets. While a narrow win still counts in moneyline bets, it might not be enough to cover the spread. That’s especially true in the first round, which has quite a few games featuring double-digit favorites.
- Garbage time scores are the bane of point spreads bettors, and it’s unfortunately not any different in March Madness. One-sided games can result in losing spread bets simply because of garbage-time points.
Whether you are a college basketball fan or not, there are lots of reasons to look forward to March Madness. And if you are into sports betting, point spreads betting in particular, then there are even more reasons to do so. The NCAA Division I tournament is one of the best sports events of the year, and betting adds to the fun and excitement. That goes double if you manage to predict an upset, which will likely bring a massive win as well.