March Madness: How to Bet on the NCAA Tournament

March Madness is one of the busiest and most exciting times of the year for sports bettors. Sixty-eight college basketball teams compete for the man's national championship across three weeks, with dramatic upsets and adrenaline-pumping finishes along the way. The electrifying and often unpredictable road to the Final Four is what has earned this season the moniker of madness.

So, how can you get in on the action?

Single Game

There are multiple ways to bet March Madness, the simplest being moneyline, point spread, and total bets on any single game.

A moneyline (ML) bet is a bet for a team to win outright, or straight up (SU). Looking at the odds, favorites are indicated by a (-) sign, while a (+) sign indicates underdogs.

A points spread bet, or betting against the spread (ATS), is a bet on whether a team will win with the handicap provided by the sportsbook. If a team is +3, you can add three points to their score at the end of the game to determine if they are the winner. Conversely, if a team is -3, they have to win by more than three points to cover this ATS bet.

UConn got to cut down the nets after winning the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

For example, if Florida is ( -3) vs. Colorado State (+3), and Florida wins 78-76, those who bet on Colorado State would cash their ATS tickets as Colorado State gets to add three points to their final total score. Those who simply bet the moneyline (ML) for Florida to win would also cash their tickets.

A points total bet – or over/under (O/U) – is simply a bet on whether or not the points total in the game will exceed or fall short of the line the sportsbook has set. These bets are a 50/50 proposition.

Each type of bet will also be listed with its payout. Besides indicating a favorite, the minus sign indicates your profit will be less than your original investment, while a plus sign indicates more profit.

To put it even more simply:

The minus sign indicates the favorite and the stake needed to win $100.

The plus sign indicates the underdog and the amount of money you would win if you placed a $100 bet.

For example, if you bet on an underdog with +130 odds to win and they do, you will receive 130% of your original investment. For a $100 bet, you will profit $130, bringing your total payout to $230. Conversely, if you bet $100 on a favorite to win at -130 odds, you would win $76.92, for a total payout of $176.92.

In this example, the person betting on the favorite has more to lose ($130) and less to win ($100). This is why sometimes the risk outweighs the reward when betting on a favorite. Always remember no bet is a guaranteed proposition.

Final Four

Picking the Final Four is a popular way to bet, not just with brackets but also at a sportsbook. You can bet on teams to make it to the Final Four at a sportsbook before the tournament even begins. This is called a "futures" bet.

What is a futures bet? Quite simply, a futures bet is exactly what it sounds like -- a bet on an outcome in the future. Why place a futures bet? Because the potential payouts are tremendous. Generally, the further in the future the event occurs, the better odds you will get for your wager. This year's No. 1 seeds are likely North Carolina, UConn, Houston and Purdue. They are considered the most likely to make it to the Final Four.

However, the only time in tournament history four No.1 seeds all made it to the Final Four was 2008 (North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis, and Kansas).

Also bear in mind that 2023 was the first time in men's NCAA basketball tournament history that all four No. 1 seeds (Alabama, Houston, Kansas, Purdue) failed to even reach the Elite Eight.

National Champion

Another futures bet you can make is as straightforward as they come. Quite simply: who will win it all? Bet now and if you make the right pick, your return will be no less than five times your investment according to the current odds at SI Sportsbook. Pick a favorite like Purdue to win at 8-to-1 odds, or just have some fun and bet your alma mater. I'll be putting $50 on TCU at 130-to-1. Max loss, $50. Max win? $6500. Most importantly -- max fun to bet on my Horned Frogs. 

Related: Men's Bracket Watch: Villanova on the Bubble, Mississippi State's Must-Win Situation


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