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Just when that hangover from NFL season ending has dragged on long enough, March Madness arrives just in time.
The annual 68-team, single-elimination tournament determines college basketball’s NCAA Division I men’s national champion and includes 67 games spread over more than three weeks.
With so many games to pick, March Madness is one of the most challenging and exhilarating times for sports betting.
The first two days of the tournament (after the play-in games) include 32 games. That can make for two days of high drama and intrigue, especially for those who bet on the games.
Now, you can bet on March Madness legally in several states other than Nevada.
Online betting is legal in New Jersey, West Virginia and Nevada right now.
The best — and easiest place — to bet on March Madness in the US. Here are the NJ online sports betting sites where you can place a bet:
Sportsbooks issue predictions about the eventual winner of the game and also designate the expected margin of victory. You then have two options. You can wager that the favorite will win by a greater margin than the spread, or you can bet that the underdog will lose by less than the set margin or win outright.
Basically, you are putting a wager on which team you think will perform better than the sportsbook predicts.
Picking underdogs to cover the spread is the popular choice during March Madness.
A moneyline bet allows you to bet straight up on who will win each game without any point spread.
A sportsbook sets the moneyline for a particular game by issuing three-digit numbers for both teams. The sign and the number by each team’s name determine the meaning.
If a moneyline is negative (e.g., -210), then the number is the amount you must wager to win $100. If a moneyline is positive (e.g., +190), then the number is the payout amount for a $100 bet.
The plus and minus signs indicate the favorites and the underdogs the same way as with a spread bet.
NCAA Tournament futures come out before the start of each college basketball season and adjust throughout the regular season, conference tournaments and March Madness.
In addition to betting on the national champion — the most popular college basketball futures bet — other futures in March Madness include which teams will make the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight or the Final Four.
Futures are simple in that there are no point spreads or handicap. A positive side of futures bets is the potential return is significantly higher than that of a straight bet on a college basketball team in one game.
For futures, the payout works the same way as moneyline odds no matter which team you are betting.
Totals are a popular type of sports betting and are often called the over/under.
For a totals bet, a sportsbook will estimate the total number of points that both teams will combine to score. Once establishing the total, you bet on whether the actual total will be over or under the given estimate.
Bracket pools account for a sizable amount of the action during March Madness.
In betting pools, a group of people wager equal amounts on the tournament and then fill out a bracket before the tournament begins.
Those who correctly guess the most games or tally the most points will then win prizes. Many March Madness betting pools offer higher scores for games further into the tournament, like the Elite Eight, the Final Four and the championship game.
Parity is increasing in March Madness.
Think Loyola University in the 2018 Final Four, so take advantage of that parity early in the tournament when the point spreads are bigger.
For first-round games, betting on the No. 12 versus No. 5 seed games is the way to go. More than a third of all teams seeded at No. 12 have won during the round of 64.
That makes 12 seeds, as well as 11 and 13 seeds, good bets against the spread during the round of 64 and the round of 32.
Later in the tournament, pay attention to the team’s conference strength as well as momentum. Have they been just squeaking by or winning big?
Teams playing well into the third round are likely to keep playing well, regardless of seeding.
In the Final Four, the higher-seeded team wins — and typically covers the spread — 75% of the time.
Teams with weak road or neutral records often do not fare well in the tournament.
Most of the money is bet on the spreads of the games.
There will be a small amount on moneylines and totals, but fans love to bet big money on their team to win the national title. But not many teams worse than a No. 3 seed has won the tournament.
Many analysts say 50 million Americans bet on March Madness picks each year. The news media often reports on the billions of dollars in loss of productivity due to time spent filling out NCAA Tournament brackets and watching the games.
Forbes magazine estimates that the number of people worldwide who will place at least one bet on the tournament could be more than 100 million.
The American Gaming Association (AGA) expects $10.4 billion in wagers on March Madness this year. Amazingly, the AGA estimates that only 3% ($295 million) of wagers will be legal. The other 97% ($10.1 billion) is from illegal offshore books and bookies.
Connecticut’s 63-53 win over Florida in the 2014 tourney marked the end of a long run for favorites. It was the first upset in the semifinals since Michigan State knocked off UConn 82-73 as a 4.5-point dog in 2009.
Only four times since 2003 has a Final Four team been favored by seven or more points. Each of the last three underdogs in this spot has covered.
For the championship game, the biggest upset based on the spread since 1985 is Connecticut’s 77-74 win over Duke, when they were a 9.5-point underdog in 1994.
First Four play-in games started Tuesday, March 19.
First Four: March 19-20
First and second rounds: March 21-24
Sweet 16 and Elite Eight: March 28-31
Final Four and the championship game: April 6 and 8
The first 32 teams into the tournament automatically qualify by winning their conference tournament.
The remaining 36 spots are given to “at-large” teams. A 10-member committee of athletic directors and conference commissioners determines the at-large teams and finalizes the seeding and brackets.
Selection Sunday was March 17.
You can view the games live on CBS, truTV, TNT and TBS.
You can watch live, on your computer or smartphone, at www.ncaa.com/march-madness-live/watch.