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March Madness is here and it is the single biggest sports betting event on the calendar behind the Super Bowl. Bettors in Las Vegas and elsewhere are all set to fire away at the games on the board for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Before you make that first move, however, here are some of the handicapping factors I seriously consider and take into account when betting on the NCAA Tournament.

Each game match-up itself is still the most important thing to me when betting each tournament game. You still have to do your normal handicapping due diligence on the match-up between the two teams involved: offense vs. defense, style of play comparisons, pace of play as well as strengths and weaknesses teams can take advantage of against their opponent or could run the risk of being exploited by their opponent.

However, the NCAA Tournament is unique in that many match-ups involve teams that rarely ever face off against one another, which is a great quality to me about March Madness every year. We get to see a true melting pot of match-ups where teams from a major conference take on smaller conference foes albeit in some cases some very talented and dangerous smaller schools.

How do I determine which of the smaller schools could threaten their more powerful, major conference foe? They have to match up well on the court against their opponent in a majority of the factors I mentioned above. When looking at smaller teams that have upset potential, I’m looking in particular for teams that are able to shoot the ball well, particularly from 3-point range (strong perimeter shooting is a key component to tournament success in my opinion and can change the complexion of any game in a hurry) and should also have a solid percentage as a team from the free throw line.

I also prefer the smaller teams having more depth and employ a deeper bench and player rotation than their opponent, and I also want to see a track record of these teams playing quality non-conference opponents during the regular season and also a track record of faring well against those teams specifically against the spread. Loyola Chicago in this year’s tournament is the epitome of a smaller, mid-major conference squad that checks a lot of the boxes I look for in a team that could knock off a bigger name program.

The Ramblers are a quality team that is well coached by Porter Moser. They can shoot the ball well, especially from the perimeter, which makes a dangerous team at this time of year; they guard and play defense with ferocity and they challenged themselves in non-conference play with games on the road against Boise State and Florida, including a victory over the latter; and of course the Gators are also an NCAA Tournament squad. Be on the hunt for teams like Loyola Chicago who may fit some characteristics of smaller, mid-major teams that could pose some problems for their opposition.

Pay attention to where each of the games are being played throughout the tournament. Venue and city matters, especially if a team doesn’t have to travel too far from their campus to get to their NCAA Tournament first round venue. Teams with shorter travel to their first weekend NCAA Tournament venue usually mean an influx of fan support and obviously less miles travelling in the air is a benefit too.

Teams with longer travel and in particular those teams that have to fly coast-to-coast have to leave earlier, which in turn takes away valuable practice and preparation time for those teams having to travel further distances to their NCAA Tournament site.

Be careful about blindly betting against teams that really struggled late in the season down the stretch. Oklahoma, Arizona State, Syracuse and Texas A&M all come to mind. The NCAA Tournament allows teams that scuffled late in the season to hit the reset button and everyone starts at 0-0 when the tournament begins. A team’s current form is not necessarily something you want to solely base your betting opinions on going into the tournament.

You have already heard plenty of national TV media chatter over the past 24 hours about how teams like Oklahoma, Syracuse and Arizona State among others do not belong in the NCAA Tournament. That can often present “bet on” opportunities with teams in this type of situation playing with a massive chip on their shoulder and digging in deep to prove everyone wrong about their inclusion in the Big Dance, while the opposition has been guilty on occasion of taking for granted their seemingly generous match-up of facing a team the masses feel doesn’t belong here.

We’ve seen multiple examples of teams that barely get into the NCAA Tournament and have people questioning the decision by the selection committee go on to win at least a game or two, if not more, in the NCAA Tournament. USC did it last year. A previous Syracuse team under head coach Jim Boeheim did it back in 2016 when the Cuse barely sneaked their way into the tournament field but ended up getting hot and going on a run all the way to the Final Four before bowing out in the national semifinals to North Carolina.

As with all tournament games, I am always going to handicap the match-up on the court fully, which is something I always do. It takes precedent over any other underlying factor but make sure to leave the door open for some of these teams the public believes don’t belong, as they can often become dangerous and potential “bet on” squads in the tournament; even more so if the match-up against their particular opponent is a beneficial one for them.

These are some of the more critical components for me when handicapping the NCAA Tournament. As always, there are many ways to go about formulating your betting strategies for this event in search of winners on the betting board and regardless of the route you take, I wish the best of luck to all of you as the Madness is set to begin!

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