After spending the last 24 hours crafting a bracket built to withstand the chaos that awaits us on Thursday, bettors get their first taste of the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday night. The First Four provides a way to start the tournament with a few wins under our belt, but it's important to realize that we aren't limited to those single-game markets. Now that you have finalized your bracket and analyzed all 32 matchups, it's the perfect time to focus on March Madness futures.
The majority of the betting conversations revolve around which teams will make the Final Four or which team will be this year's Cinderella. As much as we love a Cinderella story, those underdogs usually meet their fates before escaping their region. Their story still has value, and you can capitalize on their run by targeting the Sweet Sixteen market. It's one of my favorite bets for several reasons.
By betting teams to reach the Sweet Sixteen, it allows you to get decent value on schools that are underrated and have an advantageous path without having to bank on them winning four or five games in a row. There are only a few teams that are built to win consecutive games against the country's elite, but there are plenty of teams that can make some noise. I looked at four teams that include a mix of conservative bets at close to even money and two more aggressive plays at longer odds. BetMGM offers odds on every single team to make the Sweet 16, so grab your bracket and let's find some winners.
To make the Sweet 16
The Razorbacks finished the season on a 15-3 run that included wins against the SEC's toughest competition. They should handle business pretty easily against Vermont, leaving a potential showdown with UConn in the second round. The Huskies' length can be a challenge for any offense, but I'm confident in the Hogs' ability to get to the line. Arkansas guard J.D. Notae wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game and with a swarming defense backing him, the Razorbacks are a solid bet to advance to Sweet 16.
The biggest knock on Houston is always the level of competition, but last year's Final Four run shows it is built for tournament success. The Cougars are one of two teams (along with Gonzaga) that rank in the top 12 of KenPom's efficiency metrics in both offense and defense. Coach Kelvin Sampson's team might win ugly, but it's a style of play bettors can count on. Houston's path looks tough on paper, but Illinois has struggled at times against strong, defensive teams that play physically. Houston at +115 makes a lot of sense.
Loyola Chicago (+400)
The story of Sister Jean lives on! I am betting there is one more run left in Loyola Chicago's tank as it gets the perfect opponent to open the tournament. We know the Ramblers will do their job defending, but the Buckeyes' defensive struggles really open the door for an upset. Ohio State ranks 131st in defensive efficiency and has lost four of its last five games heading into the tournament. To get to the Sweet 16, the real test will come in the second round against No. 2 seed Villanova. If the Ramblers lock down Collin Gillespie and force Nova to use its secondary scorers, they may have a shot.
Colgate fits the profile of a long shot that is worth backing. It is an elite 3-point shooting team (40.2%) that has won 19 of its last 20 games. A team playing with confidence without anything to lose is a dangerous combination in March. Colgate's path is what got my attention. It faces a reeling Wisconsin team in Round 1 that is coming off back-to-back losses. If it can get past the Badgers, the winner of Iowa State and LSU stands in the way of the Sweet 16. Three points are worth more than two, and neither of those teams can keep up with Colgate's shooting if it comes out scorching from beyond the arc. A 20 to 1 bet is always going to require a good share of luck, but it's worth a small stake considering the price.