How to bet on March Madness: Brackets, spreads, parlays and more
Whether you want bet on Cinderella-sized upsets or on a favourite to win it all, there are several options for how to bet on March Madness. Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP.

March Madness is arguably the craziest sporting event of the year, and it's a cornerstone of a bustling spring sports calendar. A pool of 68 college basketball teams competes for one goal: A chance to survive a one-and-done tournament to be crowned as national champions.

The NCAA tourney is known for upsets, chaos, and drama. Every year, powerhouses and Cinderellas alike putting their stamp on history.

There are a number of ways to bet on March Madness, and we’ll go through all possibilities to enhance your viewing experience.

How to bet on March Madness

Parity in the NCAA is reaching an all-time high. Over the past few years, we’ve seen 15-seed Saint Peter's make the Elite Eight, 11-seed Loyola Chicago make the Final Four and two No. 1 seeds dethroned by 16-seeds (UMBC, Fairleigh Dickinson).

An NCAA-record 11 unique seeds qualified for the Sweet 16 in 2021 and that was followed up by nine unique seeds in 2022.


Moneyline betting and March Madness go hand-in-hand.

Brackets reign supreme in March, and they follow a win-or-go-home format. With that in mind, betting on the moneyline (often shortened to "ML") is an effective way to tail your bracket picks.

When betting on the moneyline during the first two rounds, each team's seeding typically correlates with their status as either the favourite or the underdog. For example:

No. 1 seed (-2,500): Wager $2,500 to win $100 (96.15% implied win probability)
No. 16 seed (+2,000): Wager $100 to win $2,000 (4.76% implied win probability)

No. 5 seed (-350): Wager $350 to win $100 (77.78% implied win probability)
No. 12 seed (+275):
Wager $100 to win $275 (26.67% implied win probability)

No. 8 seed (-125): Wager $125 to win $100 (55.56% implied win probability)
No. 9 seed (+115): Wager $100 to win $125 (46.51% implied win probability)

Betting against a top-three-seeded team is particularly risky, as they don't often lose in the first round.

But there's a reason we call it March Madness. Remember, UMBC toppled No. 1 Virginia back in 2018. Just five years later, No. 1 Purdue lost to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson. So, there is some precedent here.  

As for No. 4 vs. No. 13 matchups, the NCAA tournament has seen 30 upsets since expanding the field in 1985 — including six such upsets since 2018.

The notorious 12-seed is known to spoil some parties. Since 1985, 53 upsets have occurred in this category, with 12-seeds winning at a 34.9% clip. If that seems low, consider this: With four No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups each year, the average is more than one upset per tournament — two occurred in 2022.

The No. 6 vs. No. 11 matchups have similar data, but after that, the numbers round out more evenly (and the odds reflect that).

When the tournament progresses to later stages and oddsmakers develop a better feel for teams, the ML odds won’t necessarily reflect the seeding as much. In 2021, No. 1 Illinois was a -350 ML favourite over No. 9 Loyola Chicago (+250), but the Ramblers won, 71-58.

Against the spread

So we’ve talked upsets, but more often than not the higher seeds will prevail.

If a No. 1 seed sits at -2,000, they're a pretty useless moneyline bet. While a 16-seed has an insanely high ROI potential, there's very little chance of them winning outright.

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

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

If you noticed a one-seed was favoured by 30.5 points, it could be a good idea to bet the 16-seed based upon the historical 24-point average margin of victory. If a one-seed was favoured by 14.5, maybe that could be a smart bet as well.

Of course, it's imperative to back up this decision with factors unique to the team in question. Injuries, current form and shooting percentage, among others, can all play an important role in your betting decisions.

Spread betting during the tournament is a safer way to operate than taking underdogs straight up, as you would when picking a bracket.

According to The Lines, from 2000 to 2021 the 5-versus-12 matchup produced a 54-34 straight-up record in favour of the lower seed. The 12-seed is 47-40-1 at covering the spread, however, meaning they have been the far better ATS option.

If you like an underdog at +360, you should love them against the spread at +9.5. Moneyline bets can be tantalizing due to their higher payouts, but spread betting often produces better results over time.


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

Analyze team injuries, trends, shooting percentage and foul tendencies to decide whether the game will go over or under the projected point total.

During March Madness, all games are played at neutral sites. Some teams have a tendency to score far more often at home than on the road — perhaps playing to the energy of a home crowd — but that won't factor in here.

How to bet March Madness outrights

Outright betting involves picking the winner of the entire tournament — no strings attached.

Heading into the tournament, each team will be assigned odds corresponding with their likelihood of winning the championship.

Since 1985, a one-seed has won the tournament 25 times (64.1%), followed by five two-seeds (12.8%) and four three-seeds (10.3%). In other words, nearly 90% of all tournaments have been won by teams seeded Nos. 1-3, meaning 12 teams have the strongest likelihood of winning each year.  

In 2014, Shabazz Napier and the UConn Huskies won the title as a No. 7 seed. According to the Las Vegas Sun, they were +10,000 to win when the tournament began.

As the tournament progresses, odds will change. With each passing round, odds will shorten for the surviving teams no matter what seed they hold.


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

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

Could you take all 16 games played on the first day and throw them into a parlay? 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, picking spreads at -110, the potential payout would exceed $30,000 — but the implied probability would be less than one-hundredth of a percent.

Parlaying is all about finding what you perceive to be very good value over multiple games and using that value to inflate your ticket.

If you really like a six-seed at -7.5 and a 10-seed at +6.5, you could move the lines to ensure more safety. For example, taking the six-seed on the ML and the 10-seed at +10.5 could equate to +130 odds.

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