NCAA Tournament Betting Strategy: Forget Futures, Roll It Over This March Madness

Texas Tech Jarrett Culver(USA TODAY Sports)

We’re just a couple of days away from the full-fledged NCAA Tournament tipoff and hopefully any futures bets you placed before or during the season are still in play. With a host of teams like Tennessee, Texas Tech and LSU exceeding pre-season expectations, and major shifts in teams’ implied probabilities, your tickets might have even gained a lot of value.

Looking for March Madness odds? We’ve got updated March Madness odds and betting tips here.

For example, at some shops Texas Tech was 200-to-1 (0.5%) to win the NCAA Tournament before the season started and 75-to-1 (1.3%) by the time conference play began. Now, they’re 33-to-1 (3%) at FanDuel Sportsbook. Albeit not as big of a jump, oddsmakers opened Tennessee at +4000 (2.4%). Four months later, Tennessee is one of the favorites to win the 2019 Tournament at +1200 (7.7%) per PointsBet.

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Not everyone is so lucky. If you had the Texas Longhorns (+8000), UCLA (+3000) or West Virginia (+3000) you’re likely shopping around for new futures tickets instead of betting on the NIT (or if you’re like me, you’re doing both).

But before you lock in more NCAA Tournament futures bets, you should add or at the very least consider another sports betting strategy – the rollover strategy — to your repertoire.

Rollover strategy explained

The rollover strategy isn’t complicated. Rather than locking your money up for several weeks and betting on a team to win outright (and often getting robbed on the overround in futures markets), you make a single money line bet on your chosen team and roll the winnings over, betting on the money line round to round. Often – not always —  this strategy is more profitable long term. Let’s look at some examples of where the rollover strategy holds true. Note: You can start the rollover at the outset of the tournament, or beginning at any round, really.

For simplicity, let’s look at 2018’s Cinderella team, Loyola-Chicago, which +900 to win the NCAA Championship once they reached the Final Four, as first pointed out in a VSiN’s Final Four newsletter last year. Their first game was against the Michigan Wolverines where Loyola-Chicago backers were getting +240 on the money line.

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If they had won, a $100 bet would earn $340 back ($240 profit), and the hypothetical championship game would have been against Villanova. Using historical precedent and sites like KenPom, we can predict what the spread and money line will be beforehand. It may not be right on the number, but we can at least find our way into the ballpark.

In this example, Loyola Chicago would have been somewhere between +450 to +500 underdogs.

Using the rollover strategy and reinvesting the $340 from the first game into the ~+500 money line on the championship game, we’d be set up for a $1700 payout if Loyola won the title. That’s a $1600 profit from our initial $100 investment, nearly twice as much as the $900 profit that the initial +900 futures ticket paid out.

The rollover strategy also gives us more options than just reinvesting our first wager. If we want to be more conservative, we could take out our initial $100 and just play with the $240 profit from the first bet. This makes subsequent games more of a free-roll. So in the case of Loyola-Chicago’s Final Four appearance, if we use only the profit of $240 on the Michigan bet, and pocket the initial $100 investment, if they were to beat Villanova in the hypothetical National Championship, we’d still get paid +1100 overall, profiting more than we would from the +900 futures ticket.

A more visual example comes from a 2013 article from Las Vegas oddsmaker/bookmaker Matt Lindeman

Start amount: $100, betting on No. 11 seed VCU, in 2011, with pre-tourney title odds of 300/1. In each case, Lindeman is rolling over the entire bankroll. (Note: VCU lost in the Final Four to Butler; the subsequent hypothetical championship moneyline is projected based on semifinal spreads.)

1st round (+165 vs. USC) — $100 to win $165

2nd round (+220 vs. Georgetown) — $265 to win $583

3rd round (+400 vs. Purdue) — $848 to win $3,392

Sweet 16 (+170 vs. Florida State) — $4,240 to win $7,208

Elite 8 (+620 vs. Kansas) — $11,448 to win $70,977

Final Four (+150 vs. Butler) — $82,425 to win $123,637.50

Championship (approx. +220 vs. UConn) – $206,062.50 to win $453,337.50

End amount: $659,400.

So, if VCU were to win the title that season, a future bet would’ve paid 300/1, while a ML rollover approach would’ve paid 6,500/1! If you were to have bet the same $100 you started with the rollover, you’d have cashed for $30,000 on a VCU title.

Additionally, since a futures ticket requires your team to win the whole thing, rolling over allows you to change routes if you’re fickle or if something unexpected happens. Maybe the star on the team that you bet gets hurt before the championship game. Don’t you wish you could cash out instead of sweating the remainder of the tournament? The rollover strategy gives you this luxury.

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Enough with the hypotheticals

For our last example let’s go back two weeks ago to the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, where we don’t have to project hypothetical lines.

Finishing fifth in the MVC regular season standings, Bradley was an +800 underdog to win their conference tournament and earn an automatic bid to the big dance.

Starting with a $100 bet in their 1st round game, Bradley was +120 against Missouri State. The 61-58 win earned $120 in profit, making the bankroll $220.

The second game was against none other than the 2018 Cinderella themselves, Loyola-Chicago. Loyola was a decent favorite as Bradley backers got +220 ($220 to win $484) on the money line. Bradley squeaked out another close win to move on to the MVC Championship,

With $604 accumulated in profit through two games, this time they were slight favorites (-120) over Northern Iowa. Bradley won, and the $704 bet paid $587, for a total profit of $1,291. Using the rollover strategy, a Bradley bettor would have gotten just under 12-to-1 odds. Again, significant more value than the futures market gave bettors; the futures bet would have returned $800, so you’re nearly $500 ahead on the rollover.

Rolling over isn’t always the best course. You need to analyze your team’s odds and the potential matchups that lie ahead. Unlike bets made earlier in the season, like Texas Tech and Tennessee, there won’t be as many futures tickets gaining so much value in the three weeks of the NCAA Tournament. Be sharp and use the rollover strategy when it presents itself.

Also see: How To Actually Win Your NCAA March Madness Bracket Pool

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