Midway through March annually marks the beginning of college basketball hysteria in the States, better known as March Madness. This year the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, the center of the hysteria, kicks off Tuesday and runs till the 4th of April.
The NCAA Tournament has long been a major event not only among basketball fans but gambling enthusiasts as well due to it's unpredictable yet potentially lucrative nature. According to the American Gaming Association, it's projected Americans alone will legally wager $9.2 billion on the tournament this year, an astronomical feat considering sports betting is only legal in a few of the 50 states.
The following betting preview should help punters not as familiar with the anarchy of March Madness as they look to join in the volatile yet exciting NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament market.
The tournament features 68 US Division I collegiate (amateur) basketball teams participating in a single-elimination tournament to decide the National Champion. The amount of teams and match ups make for a tough betting market to crack but also provide opportunity for the most shrewd of punters to take home massive winnings.
The teams are ranked and divided into four regions (South, West, Midwest, East) based on their regular and post- season performances leading up to the tournament selection. The tournament was increased to 68 teams a few years ago and to account, two play-in games were added to decide the 63rd and 64th teams to enter the four region bracket. The four regions are then ranked 1 through 16 with four teams receiving the #1 seed rank and so on.
Like the EPL's FA Cup, the tournament format affords teams from small universities, known as mid-majors, the opportunity to earn a bid and compete with the premier teams of college basketball. These match-ups of powerhouse teams vs mid-majors have always baffled bookies as the odds will always favor the bigger squad yet each year the tournament features at least one, if not a few, unthinkable upsets by overwhelming underdogs, known as 'Cinderellas'. It's vital for punters to highly consider upsets when betting on this tournament.
The Jayhawks earned the number one overall seed in the tournament after a stellar 2015-2016 performance. After winning both the B12 regular season and tournament, Kansas is poised to bring home the University's 4th title but has the likes of a #2 ranked Villanova and rival #11 Wichita State waiting in the winds. Kansas wouldn't see either team till a little later in the bracket but will probably need to go through one to win the region.
888 Sports doesn't have the most generous odds on Kansas to win the region, so if you're looking for a little more favourable odds take a look at a #3 Miami (littered with veteran talent and an experienced coach) offered at 9/1 or #4 Maryland which, like Miami, has the tools to succeed in the tournament after spending part of the year ranked #1 in the country. 888 Sports offers 10/1 odds on Maryland to win the South Region.
The biggest surprise of the tournament selection was the #1 seed given to the Oregon Ducks, the first time the school has ever received the coveted tournament ranking. The team did win the PAC 12 regular season and tournament titles but was considered by many experts to be more suited as a #2 or even #3 seed based on their on-court performances. Regardless, the Ducks sit atop a loaded West Region that features a Buddy Hield-led #2 Oklahoma squad as well as SEC Champs #3 Texas A&M and an always competitive #4 Duke team.
The surprise #1 ranking for the Ducks hasn't swayed bookies as most still favor Oklahoma to win the region. It's recommended punters check out some lower ranked yet still talented teams in the region like a surprisingly talented, A-10 Champion #11 Saint Joseph's Hawks offered at 26/1.
The deepest region in the tournament, the East Region features two perennial basketball schools in North Carolina and Kentucky as well as two extremely talented 2015-16 teams in West Virginia and Xavier. Brackets like this year's East Region are what make this tournament so interesting. The unbelievable match ups expected to emerge from this region will bring not only incredible basketball but an unpredictable betting market.
With so many talented teams in the one region it's safe to pick one of the higher ranked teams as their odds aren't as low as if they were to be in a less competitive region. Xavier, who spent most the year in contention for a #1 seed slipped a bit at the end of the season pushing them down to a #4 ranking but this doesn't mean the team doesn't have #1-2 seed talent. 888 Sports offers the Musketeers at 17/2 to win the region.
The Midwest Region, like the West, features a #1 seed not favoured by the bookies. The Virginia Cavaliers failed to win the ACC title yet received the #3 overall tournament ranking due to an undeniable record against some of the top teams throughout the regular season. Unfortunately, those wins in the regular season didn't mean much in the conference tournament which has bookies nervous. Most punters will find #2 ranked Michigan State are favoured to win the region after an incredible 2015-2016 season only derailed by injury to their star player early on.
The West Region seems to be the weakest in terms of overall talent. The top 4 seeds struggle to stand up to the other brackets' top 4 yet this region features a team some consider the most realistic 'Cinderella' to reach the Final Four in Gonzaga. The #11 ranked Gonzaga team competed all year and is no stranger to the tournament the last few decades. 888 Sports offers 15/1 odds on the mid-major reaching the Final Four, the same odds as the #4 Iowa State squad.