Slam Dunk Advice on How to Bet the Tournament

Seven tips for maximizing your March Madness profits

This is the year. No, seriously, this is the year when the greatest three weekends on the entire sports calendar are going to end with you holding more money in your pocket than when they began.

No more reckless wagers. “Hey, you going to the counter? Go ahead and put $50 on whatever you’re betting!”

No more chasing losses. “I cannot BELIEVE I lost that bet. Crap. Well … time to double up!”

No more long-shot dart throws. “This 10-team parlay—I’m telling you, it’s a stone-cold lock!”

Nope. You’ve finally got this March Madness betting thing all figured out. Except, well … you really don’t. So rather than continuing to fool yourself, consider humbling yourself by studying this seven-step guide to betting the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which tips off March 13. No, we can’t guarantee these tips will nudge you closer to retirement, but we can guarantee you’ll be a more informed bettor. And in this endeavor, where anything over 50 percent is considered monumentally successful, that information can be enough to ensure that the big bulge in your pants at the conclusion of the Big Dance is a thick wad of cash and not a bunch of crumpled-up ATM receipts. …

App-ly Yourself

The days of waiting in Disneyland-long lines to place a bet at the sportsbook counter are over. Every major sportsbook in the state now offers a betting app, so visit a few before the tourney begins, sign up for an account, make a deposit and you’ll barely have to lift a finger to place all your action.

Play the Numbers Game

Wait, did he just say sign up for multiple accounts? Indeed. Why? Because the odds for both sides and totals vary from sportsbook to sportsbook. And since those odds are sharper than an ice pick during the NCAA tournament, getting the most favorable number is vital. Translation: Don’t lose a bet by a half-point when you don’t have to!

Don’t Be a Slave to the Seeds

You’re looking at those apps. You see that a No. 5 seed is barely favored over a No. 12 seed—or, heck, maybe that No. 5 seed is (gasp!) an underdog. Your immediate reaction is to unload the balance of your accounts on the 5 seed, because obviously they’re the better team and the oddsmakers goofed. Stop and slowly move your finger away from the Submit Bet button. Remember: Vegas oddsmakers are much more knowledgeable about the tournament than those suits in a boardroom who created the bracket. Remember also that perceived value doesn’t automatically translate into actual value.

Don’t Fear the Dog

Brace yourself for this newsflash: Underdogs actually cash tickets in the Big Dance. Quite frequently, in fact. In last year’s tournament, ’dogs went 34–25–3 against the spread—good for a 57.6 percent win rate. Of course, this doesn’t mean you just blindly bet on every underdog; it just means you shouldn’t be afraid to back them. And when you do …

Keep Your Eye on the Money (Line)

More breaking news: Underdogs don’t just cover the spread, they actually win games! So if you see a ’dog you like, consider making a money-line wager. That way, if your ’dog barks and wins the game outright, you maximize your profits.

Play the Game Within the Game

The most significant (and wildly popular) addition to the sports betting menu in the last few years has been in-play wagering. So besides traditional pregame, first-half and halftime action, you can now bet on lines that are adjusted throughout the entirety of each contest. And since March Madness games often have wild swings of momentum, in-play wagering occasionally gives bettors the chance to bet on both teams as underdogs. The upshot of this strategy? There’s a chance you can cash both bets—and it’s impossible to lose both.

Stay in the Moment

Most view the Big Dance as one long 67-game tournament, and in theory it is. In actuality? It’s a series of mini-tournaments that begin with the four play-in games and continue with the two 16-game opening rounds, followed by the Round of 32, Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four and, finally, the national title tilt. So as difficult as it might be, it’s important not to fall prey to “recency bias”—that is, assuming something that just happened is going to happen again. Example: Just because a No. 13 seed upsets a No. 4 seed doesn’t mean you automatically ride that 13-seed in the Round of 32.

You see, college basketball—like most sports—is all about matchups, and you should handicap (and wager) accordingly. Because if you place too much emphasis on history, chances are your bankroll is going to be, well, history.