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March Madness Final Four Betting: Ways to Gamble on the Final Weekend of March MadnessBy Kurt Boyer
As most FanDuel readers are aware, the 2020 NCAA tourney has been cancelled due to fears of the spreading Coronavirus. But if the sadly-shortened college hoops season has you pining for the hardwood, it’s not too early to get a jump on 2021.
Scroll ahead for a primer on betting the Final Four in April.
College teams want to win the Final Four. But by the time they arrive there, they’re already winners.
The celebration of reaching a Final Four bid is part of what makes the biggest college basketball tournament unique in sports. Yes, there are 2 rounds still to play, and 3 of the 4 entries at the Final Four are going to go 0-1 or 1-1 and miss out on a national title. At the same time the Final Four is also a milestone. With over 300 Division 1 college basketball teams vying to reach the NCAA Tournament and win it, a squad taking its place among the very best 4 programs is an honor in and of itself.
When teams lose in the Final Four, campus T-shirt distributors simply print-up “Final Four 20XX” shirts which imply that the school has won a championship. In a sense, it has.
Of course, when the Final Four has concluded, only about half the sports bettors of the world can be found celebrating. Gambling on the NCAA tourney is a sport all its own. What’s more, the Final Four presents special challenges in making accurate predictions and turning a profit.
You’ve been high on Cinderella throughout 4 rounds – but how do you feel about her chances vs Godzilla? You’ve bet the high side of Over/Under totals with success on tournament tip-offs in gymnasiums and arenas from sea to shining sea. But how’s about placing a bet on NCAA cagers in a stadium for a last minute curve-ball?
Scroll ahead for a crash-course in March Madness Final Four odds and betting markets.
March Madness Futures Odds: Predicting Teams to Reach the Final Four
Betting odds on potential NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball champions are well-known among fans throughout a college basketball season. Schools such as Duke, Gonzaga, and Kansas take turns holding a #1 AP ranking and the shortest line-to-win the national title.
You’ll notice that small conference-title winners do not get a whole lot of betting action in futures odds on the national championship. That’s because “Cinderella” teams are far more dangerous in the opening 4 rounds than when facing elite competition in the Final Four.
The history is striking. Only a single #4 seed has ever won the NCAA Tournament. Neither has a #5 seed earned the distinction. 3 teams seeded #6 through #8 have won, and no #9 or lesser seed has ever reached the NCAAM championship game!
But the Final Four still welcomes a ton of Cinderella bids, even if they almost always lose in the big venue. For instance, 3 separate #11 seeds have reached the Final Four in the last 15 years alone. That makes likely underdog seeds a lightning-rod for bets on futures odds asking if a school will make the Final Four.
Technically, a team has 1/4th of a chance to win the national title than its real odds to reach the Final Four. But because the syndrome of Cinderella teams making the Final Four and then losing is so common, you’ll often find that major-conference contenders’ futures odds in national-title and Final Four markets are closer in risk/reward than say, Loyola-Chicago’s championship betting odds when compared to the Ramblers’ shorter-than-4x factor line to make the Final Four whenever Sister Jean’s cagers play in the NCAA tourney.
Remember that Gonzaga was once considered a “Cinderella” too. Early-summer betting odds on the next season of NCAA basketball give speculators a chance to spot trends in the game before they happen. Just as the Bulldogs have given the West Coast Conference legitimacy, San Diego State has given the Mountain West a new name in basketball with a terrific 2019-20 campaign. Those who took SDSU at long Final Four futures odds back in July are not envious of bettors taking the Aztecs at 5-to-1 odds in March.
Final Four futures odds are displayed in “moneyline” form. If you don’t know what a moneyline is or have trouble reading moneylines, check below for a refresher.
March Madness Final Four Moneylines, Point Spreads, and Prop Odds
Moneylines are odds on a team to win straight-up, expressed in a number relative to $100. If Kentucky carries (-150) moneyline odds, that means for every $150 wagered on the Wildcats, the house will pay out $100 if John Calipari’s team wins. On the underdog side, moneyline odds represent the amount paid out on won $100 bets if the ‘dog prevails. (+200) odds equal a $200 payout on $100, a (+300) bet of $100 represents $300 payout on the same risk, and so on. If you are a purist who doesn’t care about stats, margin-of-victory, MVPs, or anything except predicting who wins a basketball game, the moneyline is for you.
Point spreads are another popular Final Four betting market, displayed with a “line” or spread on an individual game and payoff odds below or to the right.
A favorite’s point spread will be shown with a “minus” symbol next to a whole number or a halved fraction, such as (-4) or (-4.5), symbolizing the school’s expected margin-of-victory. Bettors picking the favorite “against a spread” of (-4) points must hope that the team wins by more than 4 – a 1, 2, or 3-point victory or a straight-up loss loses the bet, while a 4-point victory for the favorite causes bets to be returned in an outcome known as a “push.” An underdog’s point spread is displayed with a “+” symbol plus the points “spotted” to the less-touted team. Underdog point-spread gamblers are hoping that the team will “cover” by winning by any margin or losing by any margin smaller than the point spread.
Next to a Final Four point spread are payout odds on each team’s bet to-cover, usually around (-110) odds or otherwise close to a 1-to-1 risk and reward.
Prop odds should be available on individual player performances prior to the Final Four tipping off. Bets can be placed on “Over/Under” lines such as Udoka Azubuike’s chances to score more than 20 points for KU in an NCAAM semifinal. If you think the Jayhawks’ opponents will find a way to stop all 7 feet of Udoka, wager the Under. Or, take the Over and cheer for the big guy to have another colossal game in the paint.
Confused as to what Over/Under lines are? Never fear – the O/U line is designed to be easy to understand.
Over/Under or “O/U” bets are the simplest sports betting market available, asking whether the total amount of points scored in the contest will exceed or fall short of the O/U number. NCAA Tournament gamblers find Over/Unders displayed as whole numbers or halved fractions, like (143.5) or (143 ½), the latter style of O/U line preventing a “push” outcome if the final score tallies exactly 143 or 144 points. Once again, payoff odds are listed next to the “O” and the “U” in an Over/Under, usually (-110) odds or a similar number.
Avoiding pushes is great. Nobody likes a tie in sports or at the sportsbook. But the Final Four comes with its own special challenge in handicapping O/U totals.
How a Stadium Venue Affects Betting on the Final Four
They call it the Dome Effect. Like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, there is an open question as to whether it is even real.
In sports betting, anything that gamblers think might be real can always affect the odds. That means at the very least, the Dome Effect affects real money.
Do shooters have a tough time draining shots in the domed stadiums Final Four games are played in? The issue was brought to the public’s attention 2 years after the NCAA switched to an “Open Dome” Final Four staging that can fill a stadium with 70,000+ strong.
In 2011, sharp-shooting Butler reached the NCAA D1 national championship game at Reliant Stadium as a #2 seed, only to lose to UConn 53-41 with 1 of the worst shooting performances in school history. The Bulldogs shot under 20% from the field.
America wasn’t very happy with that kind of outcome in a national title game, but “Under” gamblers were! O/U totals on Final Four and D1 championship games began to shrink as bettors counted on the weird setting and depth-perception issues to help keep players’ jump-shots from landing inside the rim.
Math experts and statisticians maintain that the Dome Effect is overrated. They point out that shooting-% metrics on open-stadium seating games vs games in tiny gyms and large arenas are inconclusive, and that teams fare just about as well from beyond the arc in all kinds of venues.
However, the sight-adjustment of shooting in a massive space is not the only factor holding offenses down in the Final Four. Nerves and an immense crowd roar also play a role. Perhaps the Cinderella squads are at a mental disadvantage as well as an athletic one when April rolls around. Defense flourishes when ballers are out of rhythm.
Last but not least, a generation of great defensive coaches has been steering defense-first squads to the Final Four every season. As discussed elsewhere on FanDuel’s March Madness blog, Virginia was roundly criticized for playing cautious, conservative basketball and allowing underdogs to hang around too long after 2018’s stunning 1st-round loss to #16 seed UMBC. But the Cavaliers believed in the process under coach Tony Bennett, and defended the basket with iron discipline in 2019’s run to national championship.
There’s no question that the pageantry, the pressure, and the Dome Effect of the Final Four can affect a school’s ability to score – but only if the team allows it to happen. Bettors should scout for vulnerable Final Four squads whose offenses rely on rhythm, timing, and a slick transition game. Methodical half-court basketball often rules the day – another reason why big, strong top seeds are dominant in the Final Four.
Weak underdogs make strong favorites on the moneyline and point spread. But don’t forget about the O/U when a team might lose its shooting nerve in a dome. Virginia’s ability to shut down Cinderella has helped produce as many “Under” outcomes as winning points spread bets over the past 2 years.
More on the March Madness Bracket at FanDuel
Bracketology will rule the landscape until a field is chosen on Selection Sunday. After that, everyone will get started trying to predict how the 68-team bracket will progress.
From the First Four to the Final Four, we’ve got it covered. Click around for more from FanDuel’s blog on the big dance, and find tips on successfully picking a bracket from the most trusted name in Fantasy sports and legal sports betting.
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