Top 10 ways to bet on March Madness
By Gary Trask
Here are 10 ways we recommend you could partake in the Madness that is the NCAA men's basketball tournament, beginning this week. And it doesn't matter if you’re a diehard fan or not. As long as you love action, most of the suggestions below will more than serve their purpose.
10. Fantasy player drafts
While daily fantasy sports operators do not offer NCAA contests (although FanDuel is introducing a free Bracket Pick’em contest this year), that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own March Madness fantasy league. Now, drafting a team may be a challenge, since the average fan doesn’t know the individual college basketball players as well as they know the skill positions in the NFL or the NBA, but this is still a very cool way to enjoy the tournament.
The best way to approach is to use a snake draft and have each participant select a predetermined amount of players that form a team, most likely a five-, eight- or 10-man roster. Players earn fantasy points based on a scoring system that includes points scored, rebounds, assists, and more, if you so choose.
The trick here is drafting players who are not only going to fill the box score with big-time stats, but also play for a team that’s going to survive and advance and play multiple games. For instance, the leading scorer in the country this season was Oklahoma freshman guard Trae Young (27.4 points per game), but the Sooners were one of the last teams to make it into the field, so they could be gone well before the Sweet 16 – meaning you may only get one or two games from Young.
9. Blind bracket draft
Let’s stay with a few more draft-related pool options. The easiest one is to get 64, 32, 16 or eight people and conduct a blind draw with each person getting the same amount of teams (with 64 people, it’s one team per person; with 32 people it’s two teams per person, and so on). It’s advisable to draft the teams one region at a time, so you can avoid people getting too many teams in one section of the overall bracket.
Once teams are drafted, you can award points in a number of different formats, with the later round games worth more points. The person with the most points at the end of the tournament is declared the winner.
#MarchMadness begins in 2 weeks! There's no better place than #LasVegas to take in the action. Here are 10 viewing parties to choose from with a variety of price points and locations: https://t.co/SmuxBONps3 pic.twitter.com/o6R8fWsXdx— Gary Trask (@casinocityGT) February 28, 2018
8. Blind bracket draft (with a twist)
This is a personal favorite for a couple reasons. First, just like the blind bracket draft format above, there is no skill involved or knowledge of college basketball needed. Secondly, this format brings the point spread into play on each game, which always makes the proceedings more interesting, even in games expected to be blowouts.
As with the draft above, each person receives the same number of teams via a blind draw. But now, instead of the winner of each game moving on and the loser being eliminated, you find a common source for the pointspread on each game, and then the team that covers the spread moves on to the next round.
So, for instance, in this year’s bracket, it may not be such a bad thing if you are handed the mighty Retrievers from that basketball powerhouse Maryland Baltimore County. The America East Conference champion is making its second NCAA tournament appearance and drew Virginia, the No. 1 seed in the entire tournament, in the first round. But here’s the catch: If MBC loses to Virginia as expected, but covers the 23-point spread, you would inherit the Cavs in the next round, and hang on to them as long as they keep winning and covering.
The person holding the team that wins the national championship wins the pool.
7. Square pool
Here’s another option that involves zero skill and makes every game interesting.
You’ve likely heard of a square pool for football games. The same rules are applied here. Using a 10x10 grid, each block randomly receives two numbers: one for the winning team and one for the losing team. So if Kentucky beats Davidson in the first round by a score of 66-59, the person with the numbers of winning team “6” and losing team “9” wins that game. Whatever numbers you receive at the start of the tournament are your numbers for all 63 games of the tournament.
So, let’s say, each square in the pool goes for $100. That’s a total purse of $10,000, and you can break down the payments however you like. All 63 games could pay out the same, or, in the most popular format, the games are worth increasingly more as the tournament moves along. For instance, the first-round games could be worth $50 each and the second-round games worth $100 each. Moving forward, the Sweet 16 games would be worth $150 each, the Elite Eight games worth $250 and the Final Four games worth $1,000. The Championship Game would then pay out a handsome $2,600. That adds up to $10,000.
Whatever you decide, the beauty of this pool is that there will be 63 winners overall, and everybody has multiple chances to win. And unlike a football square pool, where you can receive what are perceived as “bad” numbers like 2, 5 or 9, there’s no such thing as a "bad" number in basketball.
Another pool very popular during football season is the survivor format, and it also works very well during March Madness. Everybody in the pool has to pick one team to win every day for a total of 10 days (or you could do one per round for a total of six picks), but you can’t use the same team twice, and that’s where the strategic planning comes in.
For instance, you probably don’t want to pick a team like aforementioned Virginia in Round 1, since they are huge favorite and you will be much better served to use them in later rounds.
The last person standing wins the pool, but remember to implement some sort of tiebreaker rule before the tournament starts, as there could be more than one person alive after the dust settles when the Championship Game is played on April 2.
Often used in golf, a Calcutta format turns the field into an auction.
There are many variations and price points that can be used, but the basic gist is this: All 64 teams are put up for “bid” in random order. The number of wins each team records determines the percentage of the overall pot that is awarded back to each participant and this is, of course, weighted heavily.
Only one team will win six games and take home the championship, so 45% of the pot could go to that team, with 25% going to the runner-up, which will record five wins. Four-win teams, which would be the two teams that lose in the semifinal round, would take home 15%, and then it would drop from there with three-win teams getting 10%, two-win teams 3% and one-win teams 2%.
Yes, this is definitely for the more hardcore players out there. And while it’s the most complicated item on our list, it also may very well be the most exciting, especially the auction itself.
4. Draft teams
This is another format we love because it calls for a live draft that inevitably turns into a night out and often a ton of trash-talking between friends.
Ideally, you’ll get eight or 16 people for this pool. Using a snake draft, each participant drafts the same number of teams and gets a certain amount of points for each win, with the later rounds worth more than the early rounds. The player with the most total points at the end of the tournament scoops the pot.
My friendly suggestion here is to not weigh the points so much toward the championship game that all a person needs to do is draft the eventual champion to win the pool. Make those late-round picks in the draft worth something, so a person who drafts a 15-seed that goes to the Sweet 16 is rewarded appropriately.
3. Confidence pool
Plenty of variations can be used for the confidence pool, but whichever one you choose, this is a great option and it doesn’t matter how many people play.
In our opinion, the optimal way to handle it is to have each participant pick 16 teams and rank them 1 to 16, with 16 as the “highest” rating. So, for instance, if you think Kansas is going to beat Villanova in the championship game, you would rank the Jayhawks 16th and Nova 15th, and so on. Each time the Jayhawks win a game, you would get 16 points, meaning if they do indeed win it all, they would rack up a total of 96 points for you (six wins times 16). Each time your lowest-rated team wins, you could get one point. The person whose eight-team roster collects the most points wins the pool.
As mentioned, there are an array of other formats with this pool. You could even go as far as to have everyone rank the entire field from 1 to 64. Just make sure you have a good site (or someone who is an Excel wizard) to keep track of the action.
2. Head to Las Vegas
If you’re a sports bettor, March Madness in Las Vegas is a “must” on your bucket list. The best part about being in Sin City for the NCAA tournament is that the options to bet on the game are endless. Same goes for the viewing parties held throughout the city.
In addition to the traditional point spread, over/under and money line wagers, you’ll also have more “exotic” options available such as first half, second half, player props, last-longer bets and, of course, in-play betting, which continues to surge in popularity.
If you are going to Las Vegas for March Madness this week, we strongly suggest you take the time and make the extra effort and open up a few mobile sportsbook accounts. They are legal to use as long as you are within Nevada state lines, and they will save you time and money. The lines at the sportsbook ticket counters this week will be outrageous. Hour-long waits are not uncommon, which once prompted Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino Sportsbook Director Jay Kornegay to tell me with a laugh, “That’s a long time to wait in line to lose 50 bucks.”
Of course, the bettors in Nevada won’t be the only ones with game-by-game action on the games. The American Gaming Association claims that more than $10 billion will be bet on this year’s tournament, with only about $300 million – or 3% – wagered legally through Nevada sportsbooks.
1. Old-fashioned bracket pool
It’s the most common pool in the land and with so much variance in the tournament, there’s a good chance that the woman in the mailroom of your company who has zero interest in basketball will do better than any hardcore hoop fan in your office pool.
Once again, there are multiple ways a bracket pool can work, with varying point systems. Most increase the value of the games as the tournament. Some even award bonus points for calling upsets.
Whatever the case, before filling out your bracket – or in most people’s case, brackets, plural – this week, we strongly suggest you read our Top 10 tips to winning your NCAA pool column from last year, featuring sage advice from data scientist Ed Feng, author of the book How to Win Your NCAA Tournament Pool. Feng created an algorithm based on his Ph.D. research at Stanford that takes the margin of victory in college basketball and football games and "accurately adjusts" for strength of schedule, resulting in his team rankings found on his website, ThePowerRank.com.
Feng's take on filling out your bracket is unique, and his analysis and explanation are quite interesting. He's also been successful. Each year, Feng releases the "win probability" of each team in the tournament. In the 15 tournaments played since 2002, the eventual NCAA champion was ranked either No. 1 or 2 in his rankings eight times.
Enjoy the Madness!