How to bet on March Madness: Brackets, spreads, parlays and more

It’s almost time. March Madness, probably the craziest sporting event of the year, is just around the corner. A pool of 68 basketball teams compete for one goal: a chance to fell the nets in Houston and be crowned national champions.

In a tournament known for excitement, mayhem and drama, we’ll see powerhouses and Cinderella alike making their mark on history.

There are a number of ways to bet on this year’s NCAA tournament and we’ll go through all of the ways to enhance your viewing experience.

How do I bet on March Madness?

Parity in the NCAA hits an all-time high. In recent years we’ve seen St. Peter’s reach the Elite Eight with 15 seeds, Chicago reach the Final Four with 11 seeds, and a No. 1 was dethroned by a 16-seed (UMBC).

An NCAA-record 11 unique seeds qualified for the Sweet 16 in 2021, followed by nine unique seeds in 2022.

Here are some tips for betting on March Madness.

money line

Money line betting and March Madness go hand in hand.

Brackets dominate in March and follow a win-or-go home process, so betting the money line (often abbreviated to “ML”) is an effective way to keep track of your original picks.

When you bet on the money line in the first two rounds, each team’s bet usually correlates to their status as a favorite or underdog. For example:

#1 Seed (-2,500): Bet $2,500 to win $100 (96.15% implied win probability)
Seed #16 (+2,000): Bet $100 to win $2,000 (4.76% implied win probability)

Seed #5 (-350): Bet $350 to win $100 (77.78% implied win probability) #12 Seeds (+275): Bet $100 to win $275 (26.67% implied win probability)

#8 seeds (-125): Bet $125 to win $100 (55.56% implied win probability)
#9 seeds (+125): Bet $100 to win $125 (44.44% implied win probability)

Betting against a top 3 seeded team is particularly risky as they don’t often lose in the first round.

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But there’s a reason we call it March Craziness. Remember, UMBC toppled Virginia No. 1 just a few years ago. And last season, No. 2 Kentucky lost to No. 15 St. Peter’s. So there is a precedent here.

As for the No. 4 vs. No. 13 matchups, the NCAA tournament has seen 29 upsets since expanding the field in 1985 — most recently North Texas over Purdue and Ohio over Virginia in 2021.

Photo by Darron Cummings/AP.

The infamous 12 has been known to spoil some parties. There have been 53 upsets in this category since 1985, with 12 seeds winning with a 35.8% clip. If that seems low, consider this: With four No. 5-No. 12 matchups per year, the average is more than one upset per tournament — two happened in 2022.

The #6 vs. #11 matchups have similar dates, but after that the numbers round down more evenly (and the odds reflect that).

As the tournament moves into later stages and odds makers get a better feel for teams, ML odds don’t necessarily reflect seeding as much. In 2021, No. 1 Illinois was a -350 ML favorite over No. 9 Loyola Chicago (+250), but the Ramblers won 71-58.

against the spread

So we’ve talked about excitement, but mostly the higher seeds will prevail.

If a #1 seed is -2,000, they’re a pretty useless money line bet. While a 16-seed has an insanely high ROI, there’s basically no chance they’ll win.

Since 1985, the average winning margin in No. 1 vs. 16 matchups has been around 24 points.

Let’s use that as a basis for betting on the spread, which is one way to get even odds on an uneven game.

If you noticed that a 30.5 one-seed was favored, it might be a good idea to place the 16-seed based on the historical average margin of 24 points. If a 14.5 one-seed were favoured, that might also be a smart bet.

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Of course, it is imperative to back up this decision with current factors. Injuries, current form and shot percentage, among other things, can play an important role in your betting decisions.

Spread betting during the tournament is a safer practice than taking underdogs straight up like you would when picking a bracket.

According to The Lines, the 5v12 matchup produced a 48-32 straight record from 2000 to 2021 in favor of the bottom seed. However, the 12-seed is 45-34-1 in spread coverage, meaning it was the far better ATS option.

If you like an underdog at +300, you should love him against the spread at +9.5. Money line bets can be tempting due to their higher payouts, but spread bets often produce better results over time.


Overall betting during the NCAA tournament generally reflects the same principles one would follow during the regular season.

Analyze team injuries, trends, shot percentage and foul tendencies to decide if the game will be over or under the given score in sports betting.

During March Madness, all matches will be played at neutral venues. Some teams tend to score a lot more at home than away – maybe their home crowd gives them energy – but that’s not taken into account here.

For example, the Colorado St. Rams saw the 12-2-1 when they were home this season, but away the over was only 5-7. On a neutral side, it can be difficult to know if these numbers matter.

How to bet directly on March Madness

In outright betting, the winner of the entire tournament is determined – without any strings attached.

At the start of the tournament, each team is assigned odds corresponding to their likelihood of winning the championship.

Since 1985, a single-seater has won the tournament 24 times (65%), followed by five two-seaters (14%) and four three-seaters (11%). In other words, 90% of all tournaments have been won by the teams seeded 1st through 3rd, meaning that 12 teams have the best chance of winning each year.

That feeling when you cut the net.  Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP.

In 2014, Shabazz Napier and the UConn Huskies won the No. 7 title. According to the Las Vegas Sun, they had +10,000 up for grabs early in the tournament.

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The odds change during the tournament. Some teams will cut their chances and be seen as bigger favorites when they went into the tournament.


If March Madness isn’t chaotic enough for you, why not play a few games?

Parlaying means combining two or more events (legs) into one bet. All legs must win for the ticket to be redeemed.

Could you parlay all 16 games played on day one? Sure, but that’s probably not the best way to do it.

Just for the sake of it, if you were to throw $1 on a 16-leg parlay and pick spreads of -110, the potential payout would exceed $30,000 – but the implied probability would be less than one-hundredth of a percent.

You would essentially throw change into a water fountain. But if you have a spare dollar, it could be a fun exercise.

Parlaying is all about finding what you deem very valuable across multiple games and using that value to inflate your ticket.

If you really like a six at -7.5 and a ten at +6.5, you can move the lines for more safety. For example, taking the six at ML and the ten at +10.5 could equal odds of +150.

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Avery Perri writes about sports betting for NorthStar Bets. NorthStar Bets is owned by NordStar Capital, which also owns Torstar, Star’s parent company. Follow him on Twitter: @AveryPerri

Disclaimer This content was created as part of a partnership and as such may not meet the standards of impartial or independent journalism.

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