March Madness is back.
Let’s start there. Because it was just about a year ago when the sports world collapsed, when the best time of year for basketball fans and sports betting got completely wiped out.
So if we’re extra excited for March Madness this year it makes perfect sense. Our old friend has returned. And we’re not going to take it for granted.
Quite frankly, it’s time to celebrate. Championship Week has begun, with basketball games being played at all hours. Selection Sunday is only a couple days away and some local teams are looking to make a run.
So let’s get ready for it with a preview of the tournament, all of its important dates, and some of the futures odds too.
Because March Madness is back.
And it starts soon.
Indianapolis will play host to the entire tournament this year
This year’s tournament will be held exclusively near Indianapolis in a single-city bubble that is aimed at assisting with COVID protocols.
On Wednesday, the NCAA announced that a team only needs five active players to participate in a tournament game. And if a team would happen to have less than that, forfeits are a foregone conclusion.
ESPN explained that “after 6 p.m. Tuesday, teams that make the field cannot be replaced if they get sick” and cannot field an adequate team. Their scheduled opponents would simply advance in the tournament.
So for the first-time ever, it’s possible there could be a few empty bracket lines. But other than that, the show will go on. Here are the dates that matter as we all await the tournament’s tip off.
- Selection Sunday — 6 p.m. ET March 14
- First Four — 4 p.m. start on Thursday, March 18
- First round — 12 p.m. start on Friday, March 19, and Saturday, March 20
- Second round — 12 p.m. start on Sunday, March 21, and Monday, March 22
- Sweet 16 — 2 p.m. start on Saturday, March 27, and 1 p.m. start on Sunday, March 28
- Elite Eight — 7 p.m. start on Monday, March 29, and 6 p.m. start on Tuesday, March 30
- Final Four — 5 p.m. start on Saturday, April 3
- NCAA championship game — 9 p.m. Monday, April 5
Villanova is 25-1 to win the NCAA Tournament
No one knows any of the matchups yet, but PA sportsbooks have already posted some futures odds in advance of the tournament. And PlayPennsylvania has a March Madness betting preview to get you ready for it all.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, undefeated Gonzaga is the favorite to win it all at +250. No. 2 Baylor is next at +330, followed by Michigan (+420), Illinois (+1000), and Oklahoma State (+1400). The rest of the top 10 are as follows:
- Houston: +1800
- Iowa: +1800
- Ohio State: +1800
- Alabama/Florida State/Virginia: +2000
Villanova, Pennsylvania’s best hope for postseason glory, is 11th at +2500.
Drexel and Rutgers also heading to Big Dance
If we’re talking about Cinderella options, look no further than the Drexel Dragons, who clinched their NCAA tournament entry by winning the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament Tuesday night. Sixth-seeded Drexel defeated Elon (8 seed) 63-56 to head to the Big Dance for the first time in 25 years – in 1996 when they were in the America East Conference.
Drexel, a private research university in Philadelphia, is not yet on the board for futures odds but that should change after Selection Sunday.
No one felt the sting of March Madness cancellation last year worse than the Scarlet Knights next door in NJ. After being derailed by COVID last year, Rutgers is positioned again to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 30 years.
Look for some extra traffic coming in from NJ when they do. NJ rules ban betting on colleges in the state. So for those in NJ looking to legally wager on Rutgers games or on the Scarlet Knights to make the final four or win it all, they’ll have to head to PA.
Final Four futures are already live
Pricing is also also posted on Final Four futures, which drop the return considerably. For that wager, Villanova is only +350. And the Wildcats just lost to Georgetown in the Big East quarterfinals Thursday.
So for those looking for a high risk, high reward play, it could make sense to toss caution into the wind and wager on a team to win the whole thing.
After all, March Madness is back. Our old friend has returned.
And we’re not going to take it for granted.
Lead image credit: AP Photo/Daniel Lin