How To Spot March Madness Upsets

There are only a handful of events that capture the attention of not only the sporting world, but also of the general public. March Madness is one of them. It’s one of the biggest betting events of the year.

Now that online sportsbooks are live, llinois residents can now legally and safely bet on the March Madness action right from their own sofa while they watch the games (and upsets) go down.

There are plenty of theories out there on how to predict March Madness upsets and tons of questions on the right approach. One of the biggest queries that pops up is this: How do you pick out upsets before they happen?

In this complete guide, we’re going to point out the most common types of upsets and what to watch out for. We’ll also cover everything else you need to know about one of the year’s biggest sporting events. Let’s get to it.

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How does March Madness work?

March Madness is the name that has been bestowed on the annual NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. The March part of the name comes from when the tournament takes place, over a few wild weeks during that month, while Madness refers to the wildness of wall-to-wall hoops action in which anything can happen.

The roots of the tournament go back to 1939. Oregon defeated Ohio State in the inaugural edition, which featured only eight teams. Through the years, the field itself has expanded dramatically, right along with the interest in what transpires. Today, 68 teams are invited to the dance.

For 32 schools, the ticket gets punched if they win their conference. The remaining 36 teams are considered at-large bids and are selected by the NCAA D1 Men’s Basketball Selection Committee. The committee pours through tons of data such as records and strength of schedule to determine which teams deserve an invite.

350 programs are playing at the D1 level in college hoops, so it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Even when you whittle down the contenders to the top 20-25% of clubs, there is always some scuttlebutt about the teams that get snubbed. Despite that, the committee does its best to ensure the best of the best make it to March Madness.

March Madness seeding and brackets

Figuring out which teams are worthy of inclusion into the tournament is only part of the job for the committee. They also have to set up the bracket for the festivities. Beyond providing the basis for scores of competitions, the bracket lays out the schedule of the tournament as a whole.

The tournament field is divided up into four sectors: East, South, Midwest, and West. Inside each of those sectors will be 16 teams, which are seeded in order from 1-16. That accounts for 64 teams. So what happens to the other four?

The First Four was created in 2011 to give additional teams a shot at inclusion. Eight teams are paired up for four games, with the winners advancing to fill out the bracket in each sector. For the 16 teams in each group, here’s what the matchups look like for round one by seed.

  • 1 vs. 16
  • 2 vs. 15
  • 3 vs. 14
  • 4 vs. 13
  • 5 vs. 12
  • 6 vs. 11
  • 7 vs. 10
  • 8 vs. 9

The tournament itself is single-elimination. Winners advance to the next round, while losers go home and watch the rest of March Madness with the rest of us. Here’s the structure of the tournament along with the number of games for each round.

  • Opening Round: 4
  • First round: 32
  • Second round: 16
  • Sweet 16: 8
  • Elite Eight: 4
  • Final Four: 2
  • National Title: 1

For three glorious weeks, there will be 67 games. The semi finals are known as the Final Four, while the last game is simply known as the National Championship game. Those three games are some of the most heavily-bet contests of the year for all sports, while all of the earlier March Madness games attract tons of basketball betting action as well.

Which seeds perform the best at March Madness?

The March Madness field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and has since been bumped up to 68. The three-plus decades of action have left behind a ton of data to glean. Here are some of the main points to consider.

  • Of 70 possible spots in the Final Four, the lowest-seeded team to make it that far was a #11 (four times).
  • In the first round, teams seeded 1-4 have a win rate that’s tough to argue with.
    • 1: 99%
    • 2: 94%
    • 3: 85%
    • 4: 79%
  • Teams seeded 5-7 win 61-64% of the time in round one. The percentage drops to a coin flip for seeds 8-9, and checks in at 39% or less for teams seeded 10th and lower.
  • Seeds 14-16 are often bounced in round one. The winning percentage by seed in opening games is as follows.
    • 14: 15%
    • 15: 6%
    • 16: 1%

As you move through rounds, it’s a similar story. The top-four seeds have the top winning percentages, while the success level drops once you get past that point. Of the 70 possible spots in the title game, 61 of them have been filled by seeds 1-4.

The lowest-seeded team to make the final was #8, which has happened three times. In short, if you’re looking to go against the high seeds in March Madness, make sure you have built out a strong case for doing so.

How can you spot upsets at March Madness?

Every year at March Madness, upsets happen. It’s part of the fun – unless you’re on the losing side, that is. And it completely destroys your chances of winning a March Madness bracket contest. If you can get ahead of the curve and pick out some of them before they happen, it can make a huge difference to your bottom line. Here are some tips to use as you scout for upsets.

  • Study the matchups: To find the upsets, you need to dig into the games and find potential matchup issues. For example, a strong defensive squad with a poorer overall record could slow down the high-flying team with a top mark. In general, you’re looking for situations that could be problems for the favored side.
  • Compare recent form: What’s better: a team entering the tournament having lost three in a row or a squad that has won seven straight? The latter is the obvious answer, but you won’t be able to glean that just by looking at overall records. As part of your research, look into recent streaks and overall record over the last 10 games for both sides.
  • Review schedules and common opponents: When assessing the matchups, review to see if there has been any crossover on opponents faced during the regular season and study those results. Additionally, take some time to look at the strength of the schedule. A favored team with a great record may have built it up while feasting on cupcakes, for example.

When looking for NCAA March Madness upsets, it’s important to keep your expectations realistic. The small school darling can beat the big program powerhouse at times, but the stars have to align just right. Trust your research and don’t be afraid to pick out some dogs, but resist the temptation to reach for something that just isn’t there.

5  of the biggest March Madness upsets of all-time

Back in 1985, the first year in which the March Madness field was expanded to 64 teams, the result was a stunner. In the final game, #8 seed Villanova took down the heavily favored #1 seed Georgetown Hoyas to win it all.

While that game is often pointed to as the biggest upset in March Madness history, there have been plenty of other shockers through the years. Here’s a look back at five of the biggest jaw-droppers of all time.

1. 2018: #16 UMBC over #1 Virginia

This is the only time that a #16 seed has defeated a #1 seed in March Madness. Virginia entered the tournament as one of the favorites, but UMBC had other ideas. This wasn’t just an upset, but a resounding win for the underdogs to the tune of 74-54.

2. 2013: #15 Florida Gulf Coast over #2 Georgetown

Florida Gulf Coast pulled out a 78-68 stunner over Georgetown in the first round, but the club wasn’t done just yet. This Cinderella team made it to the Sweet 16 before the clock finally struck 12 on the story.

3. 2012: #15 Lehigh over #2 Duke

The highly-regarded Blue Devils falling in round one? Yep, it happened here with a defeat at the hands of Lehigh. Duke would fall in another shocking upset in 2014 as a #3 seed when they fell to Mercer.

4. 1991: #15 Richmond over #2 Syracuse

This was the first-ever victory for a #15 seed in the tournament. Syracuse was among the favorites to win it all, but a memorable 73-69 defeat at the hands of Richmond put an end to those dreams in an emphatic fashion.

5. 1986: #14 Cleveland State over #3 Indiana

The legendary Bobby Knight was still in charge at Indiana, so no one suspected an upset to such a lesser foe was coming. And then it happened. Cleveland State walked off the court with a 73-69 win to advance to round two.

Lowest-seeded teams to Make Final Four

Since March Madness expanded in 1985, the vast majority of spots in the Final Four have been filled by the top-four seeds. Teams seeded 5-8 have made it here and there, but there’s a real big drop off after that point.

Just six teams lower than an 8th seed have made it to the Final Four over that span. Here’s a quick look at those squads and how they fared.

  • 1986: #11 LSU – lost in the semi-final to Louisville
  • 2006: #11 George Mason – lost in the semi-final to Florida
  • 2011: #11 VCU – lost in the semi-final to Butler
  • 2013: #9 Wichita State – lost in the semi-final to Louisville
  • 2016: #10 Syracuse – lost in the semi-final to North Carolina
  • 2018: #11 Loyola-Chicago – lost in the semi-final to Michigan

Online betting rules for March Madness in Illinois

Each of the sportsbooks open for business in Illinois has its own set of house rules for betting on college basketball. While many of the rules on settlement, placement, and other circumstances are standard across the industry, there may be some differences in certain spots. Here are the main points you need to know.

  • Bets are considered action at tipoff. In the event of a postponement, wagers may remain live if the game is completed in a reasonable period. For an outright cancellation, bets will be voided and refunded.
  • All bet settlements are based on official tournament results and statistics.
  • If the tournament doesn’t take place due to unforeseen circumstances, wagers will be voided and refunded.
  • Spreads and totals wagers, which are settled exactly on the number listed at bet time, will be treated as a push with wagering amounts refunded.

That covers the vast majority of what you have to watch out for, but we once again have to point out that quirks could pop up here and there. As such, it’s good practice to take the time to review the house rules and terms and conditions at the online and mobile sportsbooks you plan to play on.

And while you can’t bet on Illinois schools online, you can wager on Loyola Chicago, Illinois, etc. at retail sportsbooks this March.

Tips for handicapping March Madness

The NCAA Men’s D1 Basketball Tournament brings with it plenty of different sports wagering opportunities. There are a lot of games on the docket, and the sheer number can seem overwhelming. You don’t have to bet on each one.

Instead, take a measured approach and focus on the contests where you think there’s an edge to be found. Here are some additional tips to keep in your back pocket as you get set to handicap the next edition of March Madness.

  • Watch for line movement: Odds for each game in the tournament are released well before tipoff. From the initial release to game time, there will be movement in the numbers. Pay attention to what’s happening and examine the clues offered up by the movements. Line moves can help you figure out where the public money has headed and which side the books need.
  • Recent play trumps overall record: When assessing the bracket and scrolling through team records, it’s an instinct to give precedence to squads with better overall marks. It’s important to go deeper than that. Teams with good records could be backing in by losing several of their last few games, while clubs with poorer marks could be in the midst of a hot streak.
  • Prioritize stats that matter: There are a ton of different statistics available for analyzing college basketball. Digesting all of them will not get you any closer to picking winners. Instead of making your head spin, stick to what matters. Here are a few of the items on that list: true shooting percentage, defensive efficiency, and depth of rotation.

Handicapping can help you reach your goals with March Madness betting, but it’s also important to know what not to do. One of the top items on the list is this: don’t go overboard. March Madness is fun and exciting, but it’ll be less so if you’re betting out of your comfort level.

Stick to what works for you and put a strict budget in place. You can allocate some for each of the bet types you are interested in. Remember and stick to this simple point at all times: always bet with your head and never over it.

What to remember about March Madness upsets

March Madness is one of the most exciting sporting events of the year, and also one which draws a ton of action to the betting window. A good part of the excitement comes from the nature of the festivities.

There have been several stunning upsets through the years in which lower seeds have come out on top of one of the favorites. In the coming years, we can safely assume that there will be some more here and there.

However, teams that are seeded 1-4 have a great overall track record of success at the tournament, so picking out those diamonds in the rough is challenging, to say the least. When trying to find some, remember the following three points:

  • Look for matchup problems for stronger teams
  • Take stock of recent play and look for lower seeds on hot streaks
  • Research common opponents and outcomes of those contests

It’s not easy to spot upsets in the making, but diligence on the research front can help you predict some March Madness upsets that others may not see. That said, keep your expectations in check, and don’t try to create something that simply isn’t there.

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