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March Madness Bracket Cheat-Sheet: Use Odds as a Guide to Help Win

Instead of picking teams with the best mascot or based on your favorite color, use the sportsbooks as your guide to winning your March Madness bracket.

Looking to get in on the fun with NCAA March Madness? Why not fill out a bracket?

Here is a quick primer on how a March Madness bracket works, and how you can use the sportsbooks as the ultimate cheat sheet. Let’s have some fun.

How to Fill out a March Madness Bracket

Brackets are a popular way to bet, and anyone can win a bracket challenge. Remember, this is March MADNESS! You can expect the unexpected. Let’s break down how a bracket works.

A March Madness bracket starts with 64 teams. Bettors will pick a winner from each of the 63 games and get points for each correct pick along the way.

But, wait! So, you don’t know anything about college basketball? That’s OK. There are plenty of hints to help you make smart decisions along the way.

Next to each matchup, you will see each team’s seeding. A seed is quite simply a team’s ranking. The 64 teams in the bracket are split into four regions of 16 teams. Each region is ranked 1 through 16; the 1 seed is the most favored and the 16 seed is the least favored. In order to reward the top teams for a great regular season, first-round matchups pair the #1 seed with the #16 seed, the #2 seed with the #15 seed, and so on. A number one seed has only lost in the first round once in the tournament’s history - when UMBC upset UVA in 2018.

As each round progresses, you will get more points added to your total score for picking the teams who advance. Games in the second round are worth twice as much as games in the first round, and so on. There are a total of seven rounds, with the penultimate round being the Final Four, and the final round being the National Championship.

Using Odds to Fill out a March Madness Brackett

Here’s another hint: you can also use sportsbook futures odds as a cheat sheet to help you fill out your bracket!

At SI Sportsbook when you look at the odds for a game, a (-) sign indicates the favorite, while a (+) indicates the underdog. This plus the seeding can help you choose winners in each round. For example: SISB currently has Texas (-1205) favored vs. Colgate (+700) in the first round. The sportsbook is telling us the odds are great that the Longhorns will advance to the next round.

Another way to use the sportsbooks as a cheat sheet for your bracket involves points spread bets. If you see a spread of more than five points between competing teams in a given matchup, history tells us to bet on the favorite. If there is less than a five-point spread, and the favored team hasn’t won much in their last ten games or is very closely matched with the opponent, it could be a good time to bet on the underdog. In the above example of Texas vs. Colgate, the point spread is -13.5. Again, this is a major indicator that Texas will advance in the first round. However, in the game between Utah State  (-125) and Missouri  (+100), the points spread is a mere -1.5 points. This could be an opportunity to pick an upset with the Tigers. This can help you make some decisions when filling out the first round of your bracket.

You can also look at futures odds and work backwards! You can check in now on odds for the Sweet Sixteen, Final Four, and National Championship. If a team has a (-) sign in front of their odds, the sportsbooks think they are more likely to advance, and therefore they are going to pay you less money for that bet. If a sportsbook has a (+) in front of a team’s odds, that team is considered less likely to advance and the sportsbook is willing to pay more than your initial investment for that wager.

For example: if the sportsbook has Houston at -110 to make the Final Four while Kansas State is at +1000, you can assume it’s pretty likely Houston will make it to the Final Four, while Kansas State is more of a long-shot. What the oddsmakers think can give you an edge if you don’t know where to start.

The most important thing to remember in betting March Madness is that it’s called madness for a reason. No one will fill out a perfect bracket; in fact, the odds to fill out a perfect bracket are about 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, that’s 9.22 quintillion. So, don’t think about being perfect! Just have some fun, root for some underdogs, and enjoy the madness! 

Place your bets on the Men's NCAA Tournament on SI Sportsbook

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