All in One Bracket Betting Guide

Basketball Betting Brackets Guide

One of the most popular and fun betting styles when it comes to basketball, specifically college basketball, is bracket betting. Every year the college or NCCA basketball champion is determined by a 64 team tournament run in March. This tournament is commonly referred to as March Madness, The Big Dance, and a whole slew of other names that barely do it any justice.

For college sports fans or any sports fan for that matter, it is one of the greatest times of the year. Billions of dollars are bet every year on the event, and one of the most popular ways is the bracket bet. To fully understand this type of bet and how to get involved, we need to make sure you understand the details of the tournament first.

The March Madness Tournament

Division I college basketball decides their champion in March and early April of every year. 64 teams are invited to play in a single elimination style tournament played over the course of a few weeks. There is a rigid selection process for teams to get into the tournament as just making the tournament field is an accomplishment of its own. The first 32 teams selected receive automatic bids (entry) for winning their conference tournaments which are played right before the big tournament. 30 of the remaining 32 slots are awarded by a selections committee that votes based on a wide variety of criteria to give the slots to the best teams that deserve it. The remaining two slots are given to the winners of two play-in games. The four teams deserving of the last two slots will play, and the winning two teams will secure the last two slots in the tournament bracket.

Teams are placed into four different regions based on seeding. The four best teams are given number one seedings and are each placed in one of the four brackets. The same goes all the way through 16 with each region having 16 teams ranked 1-16. The teams are matched up to play based on a lot of criteria, but the main gist is the better your seed, the easier your route to the championship. For example, the one seed gets to play the 16 seed in the first round. This should be a much easier game for them than having to play any of the other teams in their bracket. This is done to reward regular season play.

Once teams are placed into the bracket, that is their fixed spot for the tournament. There is never any reseeding at any point in the tournament. Each region will play down to a winner who will then face the winner of one of the other regions. The two winners of those games will face off in the championship. The tournament is single elimination. Lose one game, and you are out.

The stages of the tournament are referred to as different rounds. The first four games to get the last two slots in the 64 are referred to as the First Four Games and are NOT considered the first round. They tried to refer to this as the first round for a couple of years, and it was too confusing. Each team will play twice in a weekend if they win their games. Here are the different rounds and how many teams are playing in each.

First Weekend

Round of 64

This is the opening round with all 64 teams competing.

Round of 32

This is the second round of the tournament with all winners of their first game competing.

Second Weekend

Sweet 16

This is all the winners of the Round of 32 competing.

Elite 8

This is the fourth round of the tournament with the Sweet 16 winners competing.

Third Weekend

Final 4

This is the fifth round of the tournament and a remarkable achievement for a team to reach. The winners of these two games will play for the championship.


This is the final game. The winner of this single game is the Champion.

Basketball Bracket Bets | How They Work

Basketball bracket bets are simple and complex all at the same time. Most of all they're a lot of fun. After the teams have been selected and put into their slots on the bracket, you will pick the winner of every game all the way through the championship. This all takes place before the first game is even played. You may be wondering how you will know who will play in the next round games?

Because there is no reseeding, you are able to "piggyback" off of your earlier round picks to make your next round picks and so on. Basically, the more correct picks you make in each round, the more opportunities you have to get correct picks in the following rounds. You will have a projected champion selected before the first game even starts. Certain point denominations are awarded in each round for each correct pick. We will talk more in a minute about these.

Let's look at a simplified example to make this clearer. Each of the four regions is going to have 16 teams in it. We are going to look at one sample region. Keep in mind that you will basically be doing this for all four regions and then also picking the winners of the games that are played between each region in the final four. Each team is placed into their prospective slot based on their seeding. As you can see, the number one seed gets an easy game playing the 16 seed and so on and so forth. We have "named" each team after their seed to make things easier in this example. (The number one seed is also named "Team 1" for this example).

When the bracket comes out, you can easily see the first round games that you are supposed to pick. We are going to focus on the top two games in particular, but the same things we will see apply to the entire region, all future rounds, and all other regions throughout the entire bracket. We decide that we think Team 1 will beat Team 16 and we also decide that Team 8 will beat Team 9. So we will select them and write them in on the next two lines like this

Remember all of this is taking place before the first game is played. We now need to pick a winner of the second round game between Team 1 and Team 8. Let's say we think Team 1 will win. We will put them on the next line and continue this for every game in the entire bracket all the way to the championship.

Let's look at a few outcomes that will make this even clearer. Let's say Team 1 absolutely blows it and Team 16 beats them in the first round. We would get no points for a correct pick there. Let's also say that Team 9 beat Team 8, so we get no points for that first round pick either. We're now unable to get ANY points in the second round game between Team 16 and Team 9 because we have Team 1 winning that game.

None of our picks can be changed once they are set before the tournament, so you are just out of luck here. This does happen a lot so prepare yourself for it. If we then selected Team 1 to win the next game on the bracket, we would not be able to get any points there either. All of your future picks are dependent on your earlier picks which are what makes bracket bets so interesting.

Let's say that Team 1 DID win the first game, but Team 8 lost. This is what the bracket would like going into the second round.

In this scenario, we can still get our second round points if Team 1 beats Team 9 in the second round game. The only points we would miss out on if they do were the first round points between Team 8 and Team 9.

As we said earlier, you are awarded points for making correct picks. The player with the most points at the end of the entire tournament is the winner. Depending on which bracket league you are playing in, the points will be somewhat different. The typical way they are laid out is more points are awarded for later round picks. For example, you may get one point for every correct pick in the first round, and then you might get three points for a correct second round pick and so on. Some leagues will also award additional points for picking upsets (IE: One seed losing to a 16 seed).

These point systems will vary with every league there is, but they usually will follow this same line. What is most important is to look at the rules and the scoring before making your picks. Certain scoring systems will push you to take more chances while others will push you to be more conservative. We will cover that more in depth in the strategy and tips section below.

Basketball Bracket Bets | How The Betting Works

Bracket bets are done in a few different ways. The one thing that is consistent with all bracket bets is that you are competing against other players, not the house. Players pay an entry fee and then compete to get the most points out of the group. The two methods of betting are either in a private group with friends, family, and coworkers or in a big pool on an internet gaming site. Both of these are run exactly the same, there are just a few differences.

A private group amongst friends is usually a lot smaller with smaller payouts for the winner. You might have 15-20 people paying $10 or $20 to play, with first place getting a couple hundred dollars and maybe second place getting a few bucks back. Online bracket pools typically are much larger with all different buy-in sizes. You might have a bracket pool online with the same $20 buy-in, but it might have 1000 people in it. That means the total prize pool is $20,000 and first place is probably getting somewhere around $5,000 with the top 10% of finishers getting something.

Which format should you play? Honestly, it is completely up to you. Personally, we play both as we like the fun and camaraderie of the small private groups, but we also like the rush and potential gains of the big tournaments. You can also find higher buy-in bracket pools online if you're really confident in your picks.

The important things to remember about either format are the following:

  • Don't be late. All of your picks must be in and finalized BEFORE the start of the first game. In most formats, this will be before the first game of the round of 64, but in a few rare instances, they include the play-in games which are a day or two earlier.
  • You will not be paid out until the entire tournament is over. Even if you're a lock to win, you won't be paid until the entire event is over. It's only a few weeks and usually, comes down to the wire between a few players.

Benefits of Basketball Bracket Bets

Every Game Matters

The biggest benefit of bracket bets is they suddenly make every single game important to you. Unless you went to school at one of the schools, the game between Northwest Southern Third Left Middle School College vs. Upper Third North Texas the Fourth University might not be important to you. With bracket bets, though, this game is just as important as the rest during the first round. If you're someone who is looking for action and enjoyment, this covers every single game of the tournament with one bet.


Bracket bets can be extremely profitable mainly because they attract so many amateurs or recreational gamblers. These recreational gamblers will do no homework on most of the games and are much more likely just to pick their favorite teams. Because of this, most of the brackets entered are going to be extremely easy for you to beat with just a little bit of homework on the games. If you are an expert on college basketball, you can stand to make a lot of money by dominating bracket bet pools online.

Weeks of Fun

Not only does every game become important for only one bet, you get to enjoy games that matter to you for the entire month of March. If your bracket does well, the excitement goes up as the month moves into the later rounds. Even if you're a serious bettor looking to make a profit, you can't deny that these bets are some of the most fun ones you will make all year.

Tips and Strategy Advice

Use Your Time Wisely

If you have all of the time in the world, then spend all of the time in the world on each game to make the best prediction possible. If you don't have all the time in the world, you need to be strategic about where you spend your time. Focus on the first round games with teams that you think are going to go deeper in the tournament. As each pick piggybacks off the earlier round, it's important to get as many teams that will be going deep in the tournament through. Some of these will be fairly easy to pick like the 1 seed vs. 16 seed games, but some like the 8 vs. 9 games will be a bit more challenging and require a bit more time. The point here is to not spend a million hours on games that might not have as much of an impact later in the tournament.

Work Backwards

A popular strategy for bracket bets is to work backward by selecting your champion first and then selecting your final four teams and then working outwards from that. This ensures that the teams that you want to be in the higher point rounds will be there. Almost all scoring structures give more points, sometimes a lot more, to correct picks in the later rounds. A lot of popular point structures give one point for a first round pick and 32 points for a correct champion pick.

Use Vegas Lines

A lot of people that don't have a lot of time to make their picks will do so based on the seeding. The problem with this is that there are some specific rules that will move the seeds around a bit having better teams a little lower than they should be. The seeding is also done by a group that are not experts in games and aren't as equipped to predict who is better than who. Vegas and online sportsbooks, on the other hand, will set lines based on who they think are going to win the game and by how many points. This can help you to spot "upsets" that aren't really upsets. You can find teams with worse seeds that are actually favorites against the teams they're playing. While this isn't an actual upset, it will be one on the bracket sheet, and a lot of amateur players are going to miss it.

It can also show you good spots to pick potential upsets. If you see a game with an extremely close line where a team is supposed to only win by a point or two, you may be looking at a potential upset candidate. Remember, Vegas is smart, but they aren't always perfect. Take their suggestions and mix them with your own thoughts and predictions and you'll be all set.


There are two things you need to know about upsets.

  • 1. They are going to happen
  • 2. They are less likely than a lot of new bettors think

Number one is something a lot of people forget to notice. They think that the best team or higher seeded team is always going to win. We see time and time again that this is just not the case with college basketball. This is probably what makes it so dang exciting. Remember to include some upsets in your picks, or we can almost guarantee you will be wrong a lot. The 5 vs. 12 seed games are great as well as the closer seeded games.

Number two is the check and balance on number one. It's always fun to root and hope for the underdog to pull off the upset, but you don't want to get too crazy with the upsets. Remember, teams are usually seeded higher for a reason. It's because they are supposed to win. That being said, we have seen some crazy years, and some crazy things happen, so nothing is out of the question. The best advice is to look at each game individually and pick the team that you really think is going to win. If that ends up being tons of upsets, great. If that ends up being only a couple upsets, also great.

There is a reason no one has EVER had a perfect bracket before.
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