Roughly 40 million Americans are expected to fill out brackets this March Madness. With legalized betting expanding each year, that figure is likely to grow even higher. It is the ultimate public betting event of the year, which can provide unique value for contrarian-minded bettors.
The public may not have bet, or even watched, a single college basketball game all season long. But they want to join the fun. When the public fills out their brackets, they will lean heavily toward favorites, big-name schools and whoever is the higher seed. Simply put, it's all chalk.
The key to winning your bracket is setting yourself apart from the masses. And also by working your way from the center of the bracket and going outward, not the other way around.
When the public fills out a bracket, they start on the outside and work their way in, first filing out the Round of 64 matchups. However, the outside matchups get you the least overall points in the long run. It's like being on “Jeopardy!” and getting all the $100 questions right, meanwhile someone else is winning the $1,000 questions. The key to winning your bracket is selecting your champion first because you get far more points over the long haul if they win it all. Each round rewards more points the deeper you go. Therefore, getting the deeper rounds correct is far more important than getting the opening rounds correct.
First, you have to pick a contrarian champion.
Many outlets (ESPN, Yahoo, CBS) will give you percentages on who America is picking, both in terms of each matchup and who they are selecting as their champion. It's safe to assume that a vast majority of Americans will be picking Gonzaga to win it all. After all, the Zags are the top seed and No. 1 team in the country. This means contrarians should pick a team other than Gonzaga in order to break from the herd and separate themselves from the masses.
If Gonzaga wins it all, you lose your bracket and tip your cap to the public. This is the gamble you are taking. But very rarely does the tournament favorite actually win the whole thing.
So who should you pick as your champion?
Your first option is Arizona. The Wildcats have the second-best odds to win the Big Dance at + 600, trailing only Gonzaga at + 375. Arizona will likely be the second choice for Americans looking to go slightly against the grain. After all, the Wildcats are the second-ranked team in the country.
The best contrarian champion options would be Kentucky or Baylor.
Kentucky has the third-best odds to cut down the nets at + 800, but Ken Pom ranks the Wildcats as the second-best team in the nation based on advanced analytics. In other words, the computers love Kentucky, and the Wildcats aren't likely to be chosen as the champion in many brackets. Simply put, if Kentucky wins it all, you win your bracket.
Baylor also holds value. The Bears are + 1100 to win the title, but Ken Pom ranks them as third-best team in the country. Baylor also has valuable experience, having won it all last year. If Baylor wins, you also win your bracket.
The whole idea is to set yourself apart. In this case, it means betting against Gonzaga.