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NCAA Tournament Odds: Tracking National Championship Lines Before and During March Madness


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 crash-course in betting on America’s premier college basketball tournament.

Understanding How to Handicap Odds on the NCAA Tournament

The “7-game series” format of pro basketball, baseball, and hockey is considered the surest way to find out which of 2 opponents is the stronger team. But when pundits talk about a “Cinderella” seed in the March college basketball tournament advancing to the Final Four thanks to “1-game scenarios” against the big shots, they’re missing the broader angle on how the NCAA determines its Division 1 hoops champion.  

An NCAA Tournament is like an obstacle course without a safety net. By the end of the tourney, thousands of players and coaches’ careers change. Many student-athletes move on to the NBA or EuroLeague, or give up organized basketball forever. Part of what’s fun about “futures” gambling on the NCAA national championship winner is that the bettor gets to live out the journey of a program in winter and spring, from scrapping for a solid seed in the big dance, to warding-off underdogs in the early rounds, to competing in the Sweet Sixteen despite numerous bumps and bruises. 

Sure, maybe NC State couldn’t have beaten Clyde Drexler and Houston in 1983 if the NCAA championship had been decided by a 7-game series. That’s not the test that March (and early April) requires a college basketball team to pass. The test is to go 6-0 when everyone else can’t, and the Wolfpack went 6-0 to claim a national crown. 

What schools have the firepower, the size, the depth, and the coaching to withstand 6 straight opponents and reign supreme in the Final Four? Futures odds provide an enjoyable way to predict the ultimate winner. FanDuel Sportsbook is also glad to offer “future prop” odds on every viable NCAAM team’s bid to reach the Final Four even prior to the end of the regular season. If you’re unfamiliar with how futures odds are displayed and what the numbers mean, scroll for a round-up on “moneyline” odds, which are displayed identically to futures odds at all North American betting books. 

National-title odds for 100+ teams appear on gambling boards soon after each NCAA basketball cycle ends, but they’re always changing as events play-out on and off the hardwood.

What are NCAA Tournament Moneylines, O/U Totals, Spreads, and Brackets?

Moneylines are betting odds on a team to win straight-up, expressed in a number relative to $100. If UCLA carries (-300) moneyline odds, that means for every $300 wagered on the Bruins, the house will pay out $100 if UCLA wins. On the underdog side, moneyline odds represent the amount paid out on won $100 bets if the ‘dog prevails. (+400) odds equal a $400 payout on $100, (+2000) odds represent $2000 payout on the same risk, and so on.

A top seed’s 1st-round point spread will be shown with a “minus” symbol next to a whole number or a halved fraction, such as (-4) or (-4.5). 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. 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. If a college hoops contest finishes with the favorites winning by the exact margin displayed in the point spread at FanDuel, all bets are returned in an outcome known as a “push.”

Over/Under or “O/U” bets may be the simplest sports-betting market at the NCAA Tournament, since the wager combines both teams into a single category and asks whether the total amount of points scored in the contest will exceed or fall short of the O/U number. Over/Unders are often displayed as a halved fraction, like (143.5) or (143 ½), preventing a “push” outcome if the final score tallies exactly 143 or 144 points. There are few more-intense experiences than cheering for an Over/Under pick to pay off in the waning moments of a basketball game!

March is a month for brackets, too. Basketball pundits love brackets, and gamblers are starting to dig brackets too. In the old days, bracketology – the art of predicting not just a game, round, or region, but the entire outcome of an NCAA Tournament – was left to “soft” gambling sweepstakes and rip-off artists selling coupons and mixed beverages. FanDuel Sportsbook and other providers of legal sports bets are now happy to provide fillable NCAA Tournament prediction brackets and March bracket-games that give the consumer a fair shake against the bookmaker.

Legal Sports Betting and the NCAA Tournament

FanDuel users from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana, and retail customers at new FanDuel Sportsbook locations in Iowa and Indiana can take part in hardwood bracketology without needing a picture-perfect bracket to turn a profit, and without that extra “double-bonus” percentage held onto by the bookie – or the bartender. 

After all, mathematicians have said that the odds of predicting a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket are 1-in-9.2 quintillion. Not to speak for FanDuel’s hoops handicappers, but they’ll certainly manage to give our gamblers a fair-piece fatter odds of success in March.

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