Count it. The NJ sports betting industry just hit a three-pointer. March Madness, two golden words in the American psyche, is back.
Gamblers, sportsbooks and the nation’s college basketball fans are celebrating the rumors that became fact as the new year began.
The NCAA will bring back the NCAA Tournament for 2021 and conduct the entire tournament in Indiana.
The official announcement came Monday afternoon.
🚨 TOURNAMENT UPDATE 🚨
In 49 states, it’s just basketball. But this is Indiana!
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 4, 2021
2021 NCAA Tournament plans
According to NCAA.com, the majority of the tournament’s 67 games will occur in Indianapolis.
NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said, “The 2021 version of March Madness will be one to remember, if for no other reason than the uniqueness of the event.”
“With the direction of the Men’s Basketball Committee, we are making the most of the circumstances the global pandemic has presented. We’re fortunate to have neighbors and partners in Indianapolis and surrounding communities who not only love the game of basketball as much as anyone else in the country but have a storied history when it comes to staging major sporting events,” said Gavitt.
As far as where the games will be played, the NCAA will be using several locations:
- Two courts inside Lucas Oil Stadium
- Bankers Life Fieldhouse
- Hinkle Fieldhouse
- Indiana Farmers Coliseum
- Mackey Arena in West Lafayette
- Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington
Selection Sunday is still scheduled for March 14.
And plans remain to have the Final Four on April 3 and 5.
The dates of preliminary-round games are still to be determined.
Looking at March Madness odds
There is still a long way to go before conference champions are crowned and Selection Sunday takes place. However, it’s never too early to look at the NCAA Tournament futures.
NCAA Tournament, a cultural cornerstone, revived
Monday’s March Madness announcement is welcome news for bettors. Remember, the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled. And it coincided with COVID-19 pushing college and pro sports to the sidelines.
Although the NBA’s shutdown last March 11 was the pandemic’s acknowledged reference point, the NCAA had already been canceling conference championships.
That’s why the return of March Madness in any form is a financial and emotional lift.
Many logistics will be called into play here, and the tournament will have a bubble-type structure similar to those used to successfully complete the NBA and NHL 2020 seasons.
As far as the NCAA plans go, the Indiana Convention Center will be used as a practice facility, with multiple courts set up inside the venue.
Marriott properties, an official NCAA corporate partner, will house most of the tournament teams. The hotels are connected to the convention center via skywalks and within a controlled environment. All teams will be housed on dedicated hotel floors, with physically distanced meeting and dining rooms, as well as secure transportation to and from competition venues.
So this may be the move that puts college basketball back on the front burner. The league began its season slowly, with an emphasis on regional games, limited travel and postponements for a couple of weeks when necessary.
March Madness will have a different feel
For operators like DraftKings Sportsbook, the 2020-21 NCAA men’s basketball season continues to be unique.
“College basketball feels different to me right now, but it will get better as we get through this (the pandemic),” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told njgamblingsites.com in late December. “I get it, they are looking after the safety of the students, etc., and they are proceeding with caution.
“After the first of the year, especially, if we get everything under control, and if we feel comfortable heading into March, things should be all right.”
On a related matter, Avello said that although Garden State bettors can’t wager on New Jersey teams, it’s a minuscule liability for the books. Besides Seton Hall, there are few teams that would generate wagering interest for New Jersey gamblers.
“There used to be a law that Nevada bettors could not wager on teams in their state, which primarily meant UNLV and Nevada Reno,” said Avello. “They changed that law a little over 20 years ago, and you were allowed to bet on those teams.”
“We did not get an abundance of money in the state for them. Customers are not looking at betting ‘their’ home team. It’s one thing if you lived in Boston and you bet the New England Patriots because they covered 70% of the time and made you money, but otherwise I don’t think anybody, regardless of the sport, is going to play the home team consistently,” said Avello.
A closer look at NCAA championship odds
Whomever they back, bettors wager into the lessons of past performance. Most teams will lose at least a handful of games and, throughout the season, top rankings will shift.
Some team in the 11-25 slot usually suffers an upset loss each week. This is a fertile area to bet into.
And the dynamic was even more pronounced last year, as teams in the Top 5 were shifted, too.
With no champion crowned last year, here are some numbers reflecting the betting sentiment. Good prices are still available on the national championship front:
DraftKings has Gonzaga at + 350, less of a deal than a month ago, but still good.
Villanova has rocketed up to No. 2 at +700. Baylor stands third at +800, followed by Wisconsin at +900 and both Houston and Texas at +1100.
There is good value in the Big East with Villanova at +225 and Creighton +375.
But, like all futures bets, the value will diminish for good teams over time.
March Madness futures at FanDuel and William Hill
There is variety at other books, including FanDuel Sportsbook.
Gonzaga (+350) is still the big pick, but Villanova improves to +900 here. And if you like Creighton, the team is +2500 at FanDuel.
At William Hill, the same major characters exist, with some slight wrinkles. Villanova, for instance, is +1000 to win the championship.
Gonzaga, Villanova and Baylor sat atop the college rankings as the year began. Eventually, the ranked teams will provide some sense of the circuit for bettors.
Villanova, which postponed its next three games Monday because of COVID-19 issues, remains an enigma. There will be no data to push the futures price either way. By the time Villanova resumes, it will have gone through a multiweek break.
This is just part of the puzzle. Short term, some teams have issues. Longer term, meaning March, music has begun for the Big Dance.