One of the most exciting sports events of the season is on the cusp of the beginning: March Madness. Selection Sunday is March 13 and games will begin days later with the First Four in Dayton and the 64-team field beginning March 17.
Betting on March Madness can be tricky. Finding the right amount of upsets, the right favorites, and trying to find enjoyment in the event aside from finishing ahead when the ball is tipped for the final time in New Orleans.
Looking back at past tournaments, there is an average of 12.4 per event since the 1985 64-team field. On four occasions there have been 16 upsets.
Score some cash early in the tournament by picking upsets on the first weekend. On average, 6.2 upsets occur in the first round with another 3.7 in the second round. Beyond that, it’s rare to see upsets after the first weekend.
There are three first-round seed upsets that happen more than any others. They are A 10 seed over a 7 seed (57 times, 39.5%), 11 seed over a 6 seed (54 times, 37.5%), and a 12 seed over a 5 seed (51 times, 35.4%).
After that, it gets a little tricky but the most common second-round seeded upsets are a 6 seed over a 3 seed (29 times) and a 7 seed over a 2 seed (26 times).
Another thing to consider when filling out a bracket or betting on teams, and especially futures, is how teams perform on the road. Beyond their road record, being a top-50 defensive team and having a road-effective field goal percentage of 54% was key to teams becoming automatic qualifiers a season ago.
Of course, the road environments were mostly nonexistent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s still a good measuring stick and allows for a fun test: contenders, pretenders, and teams to watch.
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Gonzaga (24-2) – +400
The Zags have the best odds to win the national championship, having lost to Baylor in the title game a year ago. They’ll be hungry to return and are on a mission. They are 5-0 on the road and 3-2 in neutral-site games with wins over Texas Tech, UCLA, and Central Michigan. Those losses were to Duke and Alabama.
They are the country’s top-scoring team and 57th defensively. They are also second with a 59.7% efg%. Backed by Chet Holmgren, Drew Timme, and Andrew Nembhard, they are consensus favorites.
Purdue (24-4) – +1,000
The Boilermakers are having a great season and Jaden Ivey is a walking highlight reel. Zach Edey may be the toughest matchup at 7-foot-4 and they’re 5-3 on the road. They have depth, shooting, and everything a great team needs, except a great defense. Purdue is 176th in points allowed per game, 148th in opposing field goal percentage, and 209th in opposing 3-point percentage.
They are sixth in scoring and one of the most efficient teams in doing so, touting a 57.5% away efg%. But their defense could cost them despite being a high seed.
Baylor (23-5) – +1,800
The Bears hope to defend their national title but recently lost defensive anchor “every day” Jonathan Tchamwa Tchachoua for the season. Still, they have a top-50 offense and top-35 defense and are 7-3 on the road and 3-0 on a neutral court with impressive wins over Michigan State, Villanova, and Oregon.
Though they aren’t one of the top shooting teams in away efg%, they are at a 51.1% rate and everything else says they’re poised to make a run.
Teams to Watch
Texas Tech (22-6, +2,200) has not fallen off at all this season after Chris Beard’s departure. In fact, the Red Raiders swept Baylor and get it done defensively. UCLA (20-6, +2,000) has a top-60 offense and top-50 defense. The Bruins are 6-4 on the road and feature Johnny Juzang and Tyger Campbell off last year’s Final Four team.
Loyola-Chicago is on the bubble if they aren’t an automatic qualifier, but have the 19th best defense and are coming off a Sweet Sixteen trip. St. Bonaventure was a league favorite and has great continuity despite a disappointing season. South Dakota State (26-4) converts a lot of 3-pointers and plays with great pace, which causes their defensive metrics to suffer.