Mar 8, 2021
Mar 8, 2021

March Madness 2021: Betting preview

What is March Madness?

How will March Madness 2021 work?

Who are the March Madness favourites?

March Madness 2021: Teams to look out for

March Madness 2021: Betting preview

After being cancelled for the first time ever last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, March Madness is set to make its highly anticipated return in 2021. Read on to get informed on how this year’s edition of one of the most high-octane highlights of the basketball calendar will work, as well as which teams to keep an eye out for.

What is March Madness?

March Madness, or the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament to give it its official title, is an annual competition responsible for crowning the best US college basketball team. The tournament, which has been held since 1939, is eagerly enjoyed by basketball fans and renowned for producing high drama, memorable moments, and plenty of upsets across 67 games in three weeks.

The main March Madness bracket is a 64-team single elimination tournament, culminating in the NCAA Championship game.

It is contested by 68 teams: the 32 ‘automatic’ champions from each Division I conference and 36 ‘at-large’ teams, which bid to participate and are chosen by the 10-person NCAA selection committee.

The latter are announced on the Sunday before the tournament commences at an event known as Selection Sunday, at which all 68 teams are also divided into four geographic groups (East, Midwest, South and West) and seeded.

The four lowest-seeded automatic and at-large teams then play off against each other in games referred to as the First Four, in order to qualify for the main tournament bracket.

The main tournament bracket is comprised of single-elimination games whereby the 64 teams play against others from the same region for the first round, second round, Sweet Sixteen (Round of 16) and Elite Eight (quarter-finals).

The last remaining team from each of the four regions than face off in the semi-finals, known as the Final Four, with the two winners going on to contest the NCAA Championship game.

How will March Madness 2021 work?

This year’s tournament will feature notable differences from the usual format. First of all, as the Ivy League cancelled all winter semester sports due to COVID-19, the 68 teams will instead be made up of 31 automatic entrants and 37 at-large bidders.

Secondly, instead of being held at venues across the US as per usual, it will be entirely contested within one state for the first time – Indiana. The Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will host each of the Elite Eight, Final Four and final games.

March Madness 2021 schedule

March 14: Selection Sunday
March 18: First Four
March 19 and March 20: First round
March 21 and March 22: Second round
March 27 and 28: Sweet 16
March 29 and 30: Elite Eight
April 3: Final Four
April 5: NCAA Championship game

Who are the March Madness 2021 favourites?

March Madness 2021 favourites



2019 performance

Gonzaga Bulldogs


Elite Eight

Baylor Bears


Second round

Michigan Wolverines


Sweet Sixteen

Villanova Wildcats


Second round

Illinois Fighting Illini



Virginia Cavaliers



Iowa Hawkeyes


Second round

Texas Tech Red Raiders



Alabama Crimson Tide



Houston Cougars


Sweet Sixteen

The Gonzaga Bulldogs (3.790*) were one of the favourites ahead of last year’s cancelled tournament and the market once again supports their chances of winning their first March Madness title. They have relentlessly led the NCAA rankings, courtesy of turning in an unbeaten non-conference campaign before topping the West Coast Conference standings.

Now in his 22nd year as head coach, Mark Few has an intimidatingly versatile squad at his disposal. Four of their starting five have averaged at least 11 points per game, with Corey Kispert (20.2 ppg) and Drew Timme (18.7 ppg) sharing lengthy spells as their leading scorer.

The Virginia Cavaliers are the defending champions, although many quarters have labelled their schedule this season as unchallenging.

The Bulldogs are an esteemed outfit in the competition, having been among the top five seeds for five of the last seven editions and progressed to the Elite Eight or further at three of the last five. Despite this, March Madness glory has consistently eluded them and they are often cited as being let down by a lack of experience on the biggest stage.

Many feel that the Baylor Bears (4.650*) possess the best chance of denying Gonzaga the outright No. 1 seed. The current Big 12 leaders have successfully kicked on from a productive 2019-20 season, and their 17 wins without defeat meant they were the only other team that could boast an undefeated record in 2020/21 as of mid-February.

They are deservedly revered for their impressive defensive prowess led by Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital, having rarely conceded more than 75 points this campaign. Scott Drew’s team can also rely upon a strong long throw ability, and their 44% success rate from three-point attempts is the highest in the NCAA.

However, the Bears endured a stretch of cancelled fixtures during February due to COVID-19 issues and as a consequence, they may enter the tournament lacking the match sharpness levels they would otherwise be accustomed to.

The Michigan Wolverines (10.010*) are currently rated as the next best team in the Kenpom rankings, although similarly they have endured a COVID-disrupted schedule. Juwan Howard has slowly but surely improved the team during his stint as head coach, rising them to the top of the Big Ten Conference standings this season.

Height is a prominent weapon in their arsenal, with a starting five including seven-footer freshman Hunter Dickinson, six-foot-nine Franz Wagner and six-foot-seven Isaiah Livers. The former has consistently been their leading point scorer, although his form somewhat tailed off following the turn of the year and he will need to regain it ahead of facing trickier opponents.

The Virginia Cavaliers (20.990*) are the defending champions, having defeated the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the 2019 final, after suffering the infamy of being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No.16 seed at March Madness the year before.

While they comfortably lead the ACC standings, some have suggested that their schedule this season has been primarily comprised of opponents with weak defences. More worryingly, they were convincingly defeated by Gonzaga 98-75 in December and suffered an embarrassing defeat to Virginia Tech the following month.

On a more optimistic note, Tony Bennett is still regarded as a coach capable of getting his team to perform to a greater level than the sum of their parts and they are among the most well-balanced contenders.

While the Illinois Fighting Illini (19.990*) cannot sport as impressive results as the aforementioned teams this season, they have come amidst what has been broadly rated as a very difficult schedule that the Kenpom rankings rate as the fifth hardest by standard of opponent.

On top of that, Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are rated as two of the brightest prospects across the NCAA and the pair have managed 38.4 points and 16.8 rebounds per game between them in 2020/21. Such numbers have been responsible for transforming an Illini offence often deemed to blunt their performances to one of the most feared in the country.

How to predict the March Madness winner

Predicting a perfect March Madness bracket is widely rated as one of the most notoriously difficult tasks in sports betting, which numerous models try and fail to do every year. However, there are a few trends which have served as somewhat reliable indicators for identifying potential March Madness winners.

March Madness has a tendency to produce low-scoring finals between regional No. 1 seeds.

As the tournament features single-elimination games, a well-balanced line-up is an inherent benefit. Since 2002, 11 of the 18 March Madness winners entered the tournament among the top 20 NCAA teams for both offence and defence according to the Kenpom ratings, whereas 15 were among the top 30. All of the teams mentioned above share this trait for the 2020/21 season.

Regional No. 1 seeds have also enjoyed a trophy-laden spell in recent years. Of the last 10 winners, seven were also No. 1 seeds for their region, although notably only two were the overall No. 1 seeds. Accurate seeding predictions can reap huge benefits for March Madness betting, and potentially assist you in identifying value ahead of other bettors.

It is also worth noting that March Madness has a tendency to produce low-scoring finals. Between 2008 and 2018, NCAA basketball teams averaged 67.8 points per game during the regular season and March Madness tournament. However, 13 of the 20 last finalists fell short of this, whereas seven of the last 10 finals witnessed 136 points or fewer.

You can bet on both on the outright winners and result of every game of March Madness 2021 with Pinnacle.

Odds subject to change

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