March Madness betting guide: It’s not just about brackets

March Madness 2022 at Fort Worth's Dickies Arena. (Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

March Madness isn’t just about filling out — and later trashing — brackets. There are more ways to bet the field in the NCAA Tournament, an event that will consume basketball fans over the next three weeks. Here’s a look at the favorites, underdogs and long shots.


Second-ranked Houston is the plus-135 favorite to emerge as the Midwest Region representative and play in Houston, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. That means a $100 bet pays $135. The next top team in the region is No. 5 Texas at plus-350.

No. 1 Alabama, also the No. 1 overall seed, is plus-150 to come out of the South. Next is No. 8 Arizona at plus-350.

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The most competitive region appears to be the West. No. 4 Kansas opened as a slight favorite but now shares that spot with No. 7 UCLA at plus-330. No. 9 Gonzaga isn’t far behind at plus-400.

No. 3 Purdue is at plus-300 to come out of the East, with No. 6 Marquette next at plus-370.


Oddsmakers agree with the NCAA selection committee that the No. 1 seeds are the favorites — Houston at plus-500, Alabama at plus-750 and Kansas and Purdue at plus-1,200 each. UCLA also is listed at plus-1,200.

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After that, oddsmakers favor Gonzaga, Arizona and Texas at plus-1,500 each and Marquette at plus-1,800.


If you’re looking for the next Saint Peter’s or Loyola-Chicago, check out these options.

Nineteen teams are listed at plus-50,000: Arizona State, Charleston, Colgate, Furman, Grand Canyon, Howard, Iona, Kennesaw State, Kent State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Montana State, Nevada, Northern Kentucky, Oral Roberts, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas Southern, UC Santa Barbara, UNC Asheville and Vermont.

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Alabama is a 23 1/2-point favorite over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and Kansas is favored by 22 1/2-over Howard in their first-round matchup. Beyond that, Houston is favored by 19 1/2 points over Northern Kentucky and UCLA by 17 1/2 over UNC Asheville.


The old saying is that life is too short to bet the under, but it’s often the wise play. Some of these totals may give bettors second thoughts before taking the over, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong move. The highest totals are Gonzaga-Grand Canyon, Missouri-Utah State and Texas A&M Corpus Christi-Southeast Missouri State at 155 1/2 each, Xavier-Kennesaw State at 153 1/2, Auburn-Iowa at 151 1/2 and Florida Atlantic-Memphis and Colgate-Texas at 150 1/2 each.


Just because the committee seeds one team over another doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the better team in the minds of the oddsmakers. Here are the games where the lower seed is the favorite on the early line: Tenth-seeded Utah State by 1 1/2 points over seventh-seeded Missouri, ninth-seeded West Virginia by 2 1/2 over eighth-seeded Maryland and ninth-seeded Auburn by 1 1/2 over eighth-seeded Iowa.


Circa Sports in Las Vegas likes the chances of the 5-12 opening-round upset trend continuing, posting the odds of a No. 12 seed winning at minus-510. Odds also are in the favor of a No. 13 beating a four-seed at minus-250. A victory by a No. 14 (plus-110), No. 15 (plus-195) and No. 16 (plus-745) aren’t as likely. The Big 12 has the highest total for number of tournament wins by a conference at 11.


Alabama has been the most-picked team in every round of ESPN’s Tournament Challenge bracket game, appearing in 96.9% of brackets to win the first round, 87.9% to get out of the weekend, 74.8% to win its Sweet 16 matchup, 53.6% to make the Final Four, 36.5% to appear in the championship game and 19.7% to win it all. All four No. 1 seeds take up the top four spots on brackets picking the winner. The fifth spot goes to West Region second-seed UCLA at 6.3%.