In college basketball, everyone seems to swear by rankings. Recruiting classes are rated before anyone ever logs a minute on the court. The Top-25 poll is constant media fodder during the season. And in the NCAA Tournament, teams are seeded one through 16 (from best to worst). In their own roundabout way, these rankings all help contribute to whether a team becomes a March Madness favorite or not.
But here's the thing that may come as a surprise to you: rankings don't matter that much. Instead of swearing by them, see them as they are — merely talking points for media and fans, alike. At the end of the day, games and national titles are won on the court, not on paper based on projections.
Over the course of this betting guide, we'll tell you what actually makes a school an NCAA Tournament favorite (spoiler: it's not necessarily hype or rankings). We'll also reveal other pertinent info about betting on these teams comes championship time.
Top Sportsbooks For Betting March Madness Favorites
By and large, online sportsbooks are pretty aligned when it comes to March Madness betting favorites. That means if Duke is favored to win the national title in one betting site, you can safely assume most other bookies will follow suit closely.
Despite that shared sentiment with tourney favorites, that's not to say all sportsbooks are one and the same. That actually couldn't be further from the truth as they vary greatly in wagering selection, the sharpness of lines, on-site features, rewards program, and so forth.
With those variables in mind, we've hand-picked the "cream of the crop" sportsbooks for March Madness favorites betting. Here's the three that deserve your hard-earned money:
March Madness Favorites at Bovada
Plain and simple, Bovada is an absolute haven for NCAAB odds. All season long, you'll find betting lines for a seemingly endless amount of college basketball games. This ranges from opening-season tournaments to conference battles to March Madness odds.
Bovada has favorites for March Madness pegged almost year-round. Heck, as soon as one NCAA champion is crowned, Bovada has odds for next year's winner within days. The lines are also offered at very bettor-friendly places.
Outside of its huge NCAA bet selection, Bovada also wins in the trust factor. This bookie has carved out a reputable name for itself after a decade in service. It's one of the most widely-used online sportsbooks, and obviously, that wouldn't be the case if it wasn't a trustworthy platform.
MyBookie's March Madness Favorite Picks
Earning a sign-up bonus has become a rite of passage of sorts for new bettors. Almost every sportsbook offers one in the same cookie-cutter fashion — register for an account, deposit money, and part of that deposit is matched by the bookie in free play. Yet, few of these welcome promos are as high quality as MyBookie's.
That's because MyBookie's will match a bettor's first-ever deposit dollar for dollar (100 percent). This trumps the industry-norm that is 50 percent. MyBookie's sign-up bonus can be topped out at $1000, which is a hefty sum in its own right.
This is a killer promo for those interested in gambling on March Madness favorites, which is completely doable on MyBookie. We mean, an extra $1000 in free play can really build the bankroll for the long NCAA season, especially when tournament contenders are shuffling in and out.
GTBets March Madness Favorites
The GTBets sportsbook menu is extensive — and we mean extensive. It's got the full gamut of sports and leagues for betting. Not surprisingly, college basketball has a huge presence in the betting catalog.
But here's where GTBets really outshines its competitors — its loyalty program, effectively called GameTimeRewards. Every wager made at the bookie earns rewards points from the site. This really lends itself well to NCAA basketball bettors given how many opportunities exist to gamble on the league.
Furthermore, these rewards points can be traded in for actual cashback that can be withdrawn or re-invested in the sportsbook. Think of it this way, at GTBets, it actually pays to play on the site.
Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of the three sportsbooks above. If you're looking for full-on site reviews and bonus details, glance at the table below. We've also included a few more bookie recommendations, ones that barely missed our initial cut.
2021 NCAA Tournament Favorites
The NCAA basketball championship picture is constantly being re-shuffled. Favorites emerge only to disappear or vice-versa. You'll see that constant movement reflected in the future odds to win March Madness. For instance, take a good look at the latest lines, which are current as of March 4, 2021:
|Illinois Fighting Illini||+1000||+1000||+1000||+1000|
|Ohio State Buckeyes||+1450||+1500||+1500||+1500|
A slew of events can influence who the tournament favorites are at the given moment. Those variables include reputation/hype, quality of recruiting class, win-loss record, injuries, and what side of the March Madness bracket they're placed into, among many others.
Seasonality also plays an important factor in determining favorites. In the preseason or at the start of the campaign, since there's still little to no sample size of games to be judged on, you'll see hype drive the NCAA pecking order. But once the season wages on, a team's win-loss mark becomes the focal point. The more victories a school can string together, the more its March Madness title hopes swell in the mind of bookmakers.
If there's something to glean from the ebbs and flows of an NCAA hoops season it's this — don't put all your eggs into one basket. For instance, you might think now that Kentucky is poised for March Madness dominance because they've recruited two one-and-done players with NBA lottery potential, but what happens if one doesn't live up to the hype or worse, gets injured?
So here's our advice: always spread the wealth when betting March Madness favorites. Not only on the teams themselves but the time of year you're betting, too. So what your preseason pick of Kentucky didn't pan out? If Kansas emerges as a powerhouse before Selection Sunday, you can always pivot and wager on them instead.
After all, there's no shame in changing your mind based on new events. The true shame lies in "sticking to your guns" per se even when evidence mounts that you initially picked wrong.
The Do's And Dont's Of NCAAB Rankings
Let's circle back to the point we made at the get-go about rankings not really mattering that much. The keyword in the last sentence is "that much." Look there actually is a time and place for these rankings. Here's what we mean:
When Rankings Don't Matter: Top-25 Polls
Every week, the 25 best basketball schools in the country are voted upon by Associated Press journalists and college coaches. Given the weekly nature of the poll, it's more about which program is the "flavor of the week" at the time than anything else.
A single loss — even against a quality opponent or by a last-second shot — will topple a team in the poll. On the flip side, a non-Power 5 conference team can run through its so-so schedule and earn a high position based on win-loss record alone, despite the easier schedule.
At the end of the day, teams don't gain anything from a top-25 poll besides media talk. The Selection Sunday committee that sorts out the NCAA Tournament concern themselves more with "quadrant 1" wins or RPIs than any poll.
When Rankings Do Matter: Tournament Seeding
Unlike a top-25 ranking, teams actually do benefit from earning a higher seed in the March Madness tournament. In theory, higher-seeded teams have an easier path to the championship game since they're facing off against lower-seeded teams. But does that theory hold up? Well, sort of.
The NCAA Tournament didn't have one through 16 seedings until 1985 when it expanded the event field to 64 teams. Since then, the national champions have mostly been top seeds. Here are the exact numbers:
- #1 seeds — 22 titles (63 percent of all March Madness' won in that timeframe)
- #2 seeds — 5 championships (14 percent)
- #3 seeds — 4 titles (11 percent)
- #4 seeds — 1 championship (3 percent)
- #6 seeds — 1 title (3 percent)
- #7 seeds — 1 championship (3 percent)
- #8 seeds — 1 title (3 percent)
While you shouldn't blindly bet on favorites based on seeding alone, there is proof top seeds can back up that ranking, at least more so than a top-25 team or another less useful ranking system.
Other March Madness Betting Resources
Of course, March Madness betting is a meaty topic outside of tournament favorites. Here are some additional NCAA Tournament resources that can help you win the big bucks this time around:
- March Madness odds: Moneylines, spreads, over/unders, props, futures — this a deep dive on all the ways to bet on the "Big Dance."
- March Madness bracket predictions: We do our best to be fortune-tellers and predict the March Madness bracket. Unfortunately, no one can correctly pick every game correctly, hence the one to multiple quintillion odds of a perfect tournament bracket.
- March Madness futures: We touched on it briefly, but here's a more in-depth look at betting on NCAA Tournament future wagers.
- March Madness locations: All 67 games of the NCAA Tournament are spread throughout the country. Here's the lowdown on this year's hosts and what that means for your betting picks.
- March Madness tickets: For those that want to bet on the tourney AND be there live to witness it, this guide is tailor-made for you!