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Joe Freda has been an avid gambler and writer for the past two decades, covering casino and sports wagering. His efforts include several years of articles at Sportsbook Review and Don Best Sports, while enjoying trips for blackjack and poker throughout North America and the Caribbean. Freda can be reached at or through Twitter (@ReloadSports).


Football season has come to an end, making sports-betting action on basketball hit its fast-breaking strides. The NCAA Tournament looms with the field of 68 squads looking for glory, while both professional and recreational gamblers hope to "run the table" themselves.

Many betting options for "March Madness" make the brackets spell out dollar signs, showcasing a variety of wagering choices. The menu includes futures odds, proposition bets, straight wagers, parlays, and teasers.

Futures Odds: Getting Down Early

Las Vegas sports books and offshore gaming sites have had odds all season long on which college basketball team will cut down the nets in April's Final Four at Houston's NRG Stadium. While futures bets can indirectly have some sizable vigorish to them, taking an early position can open up hedging chances down the lengthy tournament's stretch.

At press time, the North Carolina Tar Heels are the betting favorites at 6.5/1 odds. UNC's Roy Williams looks for his third championship after coaching titles in 2005 and 2009. The ‘chalk' is lukewarm at best here, with other top contenders picking up steam.

North Carolina's Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke leads a trio of 7/1 choices next, with the Blue Devils joined by the Kansas Jayhawks and Michigan State Spartans in rounding out the betting board's top four. Duke won last year's "Big Dance," while Kansas and Michigan State have not prevailed since 2008 and 2000, respectively.

The Oklahoma Sooners are presently at 8/1, looking for their first championship after falling to the Spartans in last year's "Sweet Sixteen." Oklahoma's first two losses this season came on the road at Kansas and Iowa State, while mildly holding onto the nation's No. 1 ranking.

Mark Turgeon's Maryland Terrapins (10/1) lead off the double-digit long shots, hoping for their first Final Four run since sweeping the tourney in 2002. The "Terps" came into the year with high hopes as the Big Ten Conference's preseason favorite, while the Purdue Boilermakers (16/1), Iowa Hawkeyes (20/1), and Indiana Hoosiers (45/1) have also made waves in the nation's Top 25 rankings.

If you are going to bet futures, think of the tournament as a horse race with 68 stallions gunning for the finish line. You will have top seeds notching early blowout wins, while a few upsets are sure to happen as well. As with any gambling, money management is key and spreading out a handful of light futures bets should be part of the arsenal.

I suggest focusing your attention on specific conferences, which may have been underrated by the odds makers, and noting squads that have shown promise without high octane. Big victories gain attention in the rankings and seedings; however, you can often find teams that had more heart than their final results or records indicate.

The Big 12 Conference has had some flashy battles to watch this season, but can Oklahoma or Kansas make a run come March? I would prefer the Big Ten for early wagers right now, with its pack of challengers staying out of the scoring spotlight and sitting back a bit undervalued.

Remember also that conference foes are generally spread out away from each other in "March Madness," shaping up to give your Big Ten tickets some survival through the brackets. Additionally, the Big Ten is hosting the Midwest Regional in Chicago and seeding committees should position a couple of the group's hopefuls for a clear path to prevail.

Betting Individual Games: Overview of Options and Strategies

Prior to the brackets being announced, be sure to have your betting funds ready as point spreads can swerve fast. Sports books will not hesitate to move numbers as they attempt to draw action on both sides of each matchup, while occasionally sticking an extra half-point out if they have their own "lean."

Popular favorites should generally be avoided as tourists visiting Las Vegas will try their luck on overvalued choices. Pacific-12 Conference teams can especially have a "west coast bias" to their odds, while early rounds can often have squads from opposite coasts traveling far and wide on short notice. The betting public will have their share of cashed tickets against bookmakers, but the minus 110 ‘juice' on typical wagers will add up through the tourney.

I tend to focus my attention on underdogs in individual games, taking points with the hope of matchups staying close enough to cash. The final two minutes of a college hoops battle can sometimes feel like a slot machine of late fouling, while lopsided affairs can have buckets in "garbage time" deciding the millions of betting tickets out there.

Laying points with favored ‘chalk' can sometimes look appealing, but so-called "traps" can be set by the sports books' lines. You will sometimes find favorites trying to put games away early, and then ending up in hot water after a few bad calls. "March Madness" is as much about emotions as all of the baskets that connect. Shooting can be streaky, and even the most senior gunslingers can eventually fall flat with letdowns.

One area that I also like to focus on is making second-half wagers, which can be among the most profitable options. Sometimes a popular team will find itself in a close halftime score, making gamblers ‘chase' for a comeback with an impulsive second-half wager. I will wait about 10 minutes for those to all come in, and then pound the other side with some good value.

Some bettors like to include the ‘total' among their wagers, choosing the ‘over' or ‘under' of the combined score in a game. Many ‘shops' also offer team ‘totals,' giving a chance to bet on how many points one of the two squads in a matchup will put on the board. I have tried to stick with the ‘under' in ‘totals' throughout my sports betting career, but tend to stay away from these during the "Big Dance." There have been enough late three-pointer's connecting to sink those tickets, giving ‘over' bettors some lucky money.

Parlaying and ‘teasing' multiple games also tend to be popular around this time of year. Some bettors hoping for a high return on a sparse wager will not mind buying a parlay ticket, with the odds snowballing into large sums. Parlays can also stretch a limited bankroll through a few extra matchups of action, as well as set up an occasional hedging or ‘middling' opportunity if odds move later on.

‘Teasers' should generally be avoided as you can only move the ‘line' by four points in basketball (as opposed to six points in football). If you attempt to play ‘teasers' or "buy" points for extra vigorish, it would be best focusing on matchups with a lower point spread. For example, moving a 1.5 point underdog up to getting 5.5 points or vice versa for a favorite. It is still a losing proposition as many hoop duels fall nowhere near the ‘line,' and you would often be much better off with betting straight up or parlaying.

Money-line betting is also available for matchups for bettors wanting to collect based on an odds return as opposed to point spreads. The money lines are always worth a look as occasionally a sports book will have its "algorithm" of point spread to money line differing just a bit. Sometimes a popular choice can be parlaying several money-line favorites together, hoping they all win their battles straight up. I tend to leverage money lines in just putting small amounts on underdogs, supplementing a much bigger wager on the point spread side itself.

Overall, you can have your share of chances to make profits over the course of the "Big Dance." It takes the right combination of discipline, handicapping, and watching the big boards for the best opportunities. Some Las Vegas sports books also give complimentaries to its guests on these dates, while offshore ‘shops' will generally award bonuses to attract action. If you have had a rough time at the blackjack tables lately, look no further than expanding your horizons with some betting on the hardwood.

Summary: Top Takeaways for March Madness Betting

  • Lock in a few early futures wagers on mid-range long shots with value.
  • Be ready to line shop among Las Vegas and offshore sports books.
  • Consider underdogs through individual games and avoid popular ‘chalk.'
  • Keep multiple-game parlays and teasers betting to a minimum.
  • Mix in second-half point spread bets. Show no fear being a contrarian.
  • Money management is key. Keep betting units light enough to last through the buzzer-beating losses and bad beats.

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