The 2021 NCAA Tournament is about to tip off and prospective bettors will be spending the next couple of days analyzing everything about the bracket and trying to find the best matchups to target and bracket-busting sleepers to rely on.
It won’t just be in bracket pools and competitions that most are looking at though. Bettors will be looking to exploit some prop bets and find ways to cash in on some of these big upsets as well.
As always, there are some classic March Madness prop bets available in 2012. Is a 12 seed going to upset a 5 seed? Will a First Four team make it to the Sweet 16? Those tend to be two of the most popular props on a yearly basis. But fans and bettors alike can try to predict the seeding of the winner, which teams might make a Final Four run, and a whole lot more ahead of the tournament.
Here’s a look at some of the better tournament prop bets to consider, including some longshots to advance in the tournament.
March Madness prop bets 2021
Will a 12 seed advance past a 5 seed?
- Yes -370
- No +290
The 12-5 upset is a staple of everyone’s March Madness bracket. You’ve gotta pick at least one, right? Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been exactly five years where a 12-seed has failed to win. That’s it. While one of those years is fresh in recent memory — it happened in 2018 — it’s still extremely rare that at least one No. 12 seed doesn’t advance. In fact, it’s far more likely that multiple 12 seeds will advance, as that has happened 18 times in the 34 NCAA Tournaments since 1985.
The value may not be great here with Yes -370, but it’s the obvious pick here, and history tells us it should be easy money.
Will any First Four team make the Sweet 16?
- Yes +285
- No -375
The First Four started back in 2011. In its nine-year history, four teams have advanced out of the opening round and made it at least to the Sweet 16. Those have happened in four different seasons, so that means that 44 percent of the time, the “Yes” side of this bet would hit. Of course, it’s worth noting that no First Four team even made the Round of 32 in 2019 and while a First Four team has made the Sweet 16 in four different years, only 4 of 36 teams have actually made it. That’s a mark of 11.1 percent. That would explain why there’s a little extra juice on Yes here.
Still, Yes looks like an appealing option, especially since the Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State Spartans are in the First Four and are prime for an upset. We’ll take a chance based on them alone and hope that if they can’t make noise UCLA, Wichita State, or Drake can make a mini tournament run.
Odds of each seed winning the tournament
- 1 seed -159
- 2 seed +440
- 3 seed +900
- 4 seed +950
- 5 seed +1300
- 6 seed +1300
- All other seeds +1750 or higher
DraftKings Sportsbook lists only 1 through 11 seeds as having a chance to win the tournament (though betting on a 10 seed was unavailable as of this writing). Since 2000, a No. 1 seed has won the tournament 14 times making them the obvious favorite here. The value isn’t great, but history would suggest that the likes of Gonzaga, Michigan, Illinois, or Baylor will have a good chance to take home the title.
Beyond that, 2 and 3 seed have won five of the other six title games since the turn of the millennium with the No. 3 seed actually holding a slight advantage with a mark of three wins. The only other seed to win since 2000 was the surprising UConn Huskies who saw Shabazz Napier lead them to a victory over the 8-seed Kentucky Wildcats.
It’s hard to recommend betting on any team outside of the top-three seeds. Maybe you could take a chance on the No. 8 seed (+1500) if you’re a believer that blue blood North Carolina can go on a title run, but generally, sticking to the top-three is probably the best move. Of those groups, the 2s and 3s provide the most value, but we’ll give the Iowa, Ohio State, Alabama, Houston group of 2 seeds a slight edge over the Kansas, Arkansas, West Virginia, Texas group of 3 seeds. Either option is appealing though, so feel free to take a chance on which group you like the best.
Each 1 and 2 seed’s chances of making Final Four
- Gonzaga -210
- Baylor +115
- Illinois +145
- Michigan +220
- Houston +350
- Iowa +350
- Alabama +390
- Ohio State +480
Of the No. 1 seeds, Gonzaga would appear to have the clearest path to the title, as expected. They are the top seed in the tournament, after all. However, there’s little value with the West Coast Conference team, so it’s probably best to bet elsewhere here or consider betting Gonzaga to win the whole tournament at +200 if you like them enough to reach the final four.
Michigan may be the best bet of the other No. 1 seeds. They have the longest odds, but there is some upset potential with the 2 seed in their region, Alabama, having to face Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels and 3-seed Texas getting to face either Michigan State, UCLA, or BYU early. For that reason, Michigan seems like a decent bet, though they could be tested early in the Round of 32 against the winner of St. Bonaventure vs. LSU.
Of the No. 2 seeds, Iowa is the most appealing. They have Roberto Garza, a Wooden Award candidate, and could be the team to beat in the West region if Gonzaga stumbles. The only 2 to avoid would likely be Alabama, as there is some upset potential with them early. They are a good team, but the path is too dangerous to take a chance on them at this stage.
NCAA Tournament winners best bets: Top seeds
- Gonzaga +200
- Michigan +800
- Iowa +1700
- Oklahoma State +3500
We don’t need to rehash why Gonzaga, Michigan, and Iowa are solid bets here. If you’re willing to bet them as potential Final Four candidates, you should be willing to be on them as potential winners. Having three options clustered on one side of the bracket may not be ideal, but they all have a chance to win.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is a nice sleeper. They are in Illinois’ draw and would have to get through the Fighting Illini and the Houston Cougars to make noise, but they have the potential No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham, at their disposal. If he can get and stay hot, the sky is the limit for the Cowboys.
NCAA Tournament winners best bets: Sleepers
- LSU +10000
- UNC +10000
- Syracuse +15000
If you want to get a little crazy, these three teams all have some upside. LSU ranks fifth in offensive efficiency, per the KenPom rankings, and they nearly won the SEC Tournament title over Alabama. They’re way underseeded as a No. 8 seed. If their offense gets hot, look out.
UNC is another 8 seed to consider. They’re coached by Roy Williams who is 15-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with UNC. We’ve seen lower-seeded teams with good coaching go on late tournament runs, and if UNC can get by Wisconsin and Baylor in their first two games, they will have a shot to go on a deeper-than-expected tournament run.
The last two times that Syracuse has been a double-digit seed, they have gone to the Final Four and Sweet 16. Not too shabby. Jim Boeheim could spark his team and give them a chance to go on another unexpected deep run after they snuck into the tournament. They could be worth a roll of the dice at that price.
And if you’re wary of taking a chance on any of these teams to win the tournament, at least consider them as value options to make the Final Four or Sweet 16 (if the latter becomes available). Those props pay out well too, as you can see via the table below.
|Team||Final Four odds||Winner odds|