March Madness Upsets Are Good News for Sportsbooks

Player Shooting Basketball Into Basket, March Madness Logo

The NCAA Tournament is seemingly good for at least a handful of upsets each year. While the upsets are bad news for your bracket, they are great for sports betting operators. The unpredictable Cinderella runs in March Madness are what make the tournament exciting to watch. They also help sportsbooks keep from breaking the bank.

This year, the biggest underdog story of the March Madness tournament was St. Peters. The Peacocks became the first 15th seed to reach the Elite 8. Along the way, St. Peters had to defeat #2 Kentucky, #7 Murray State, and #3 Purdue.

St. Peters may be the best Cinderella story in NCCA history, but they were not the only underdog to win. Three of the four number one seeds have already been eliminated. Arizona, Gonzaga, and Baylor were all popular pre-tournament picks. According to BetMGM, the three schools combined for nearly a quarter of all March Madness bets.

This year’s NCAA Tournament has seen plenty of upsets, and sports bettors responded. In the Sweet 16, many bettors tried to predict the next great upset. At BetMGM, 70% of tickets on the Kansas-Providence game had the Friars beating the Jayhawks.

March Madness Betting by the Numbers

The NCAA Tournament is one of the most wagered on sporting events of the year. For the best odds, many bettors will try and place their bets as earlier as they can. If a team makes an unexpected run at the championship, that can be bad news for sportsbooks. Arizona appeared to be that team this season.

Before the season started, BetMGM has Arizona listed at 50-1 to win the March Madness tournament. A surprising season had the Wildcats (31-3) as a number one seed going into the tournament. Their odds dropped all the way to 6-1. Had Arizona won the championship, it would have been a problem for BetMGM and other sportsbooks. At BetMGM, Arizona accounted for 14% of the betting handle and 10% of all betting tickets.

Luckily for sports betting operators, Arizona failed to make it out of the Sweet 16. The same can be said for Gonzaga. As the number one overall seed, the Bulldogs had their fair share of support from bettors as well. At BetMGM, 8% of all March Madness tickets were on Gonzaga to win it all. The Bulldogs also accounted for 12% of the total sports betting handle. An additional 4% of all bets were on Baylor, who had an early exit in round two.

NCAA Bettors Wagered Heavily on Upsets Last Weekend

Looking to capitalize on the recent trends, many sports bettors attempted to win real money by picking upsets. BetMGM’s numbers show that heavy betting on Houston in the Elite 8 had the Cougars as 2-point favorites over Villanova. The #2 Wildcats held off the upstart #5 Cougars to advance to the Final Four. Villanova will take on Kansas this weekend for a spot in the title game.

Speaking of the Jayhawks, many bettors had Kansas on upset alert this past weekend. At BetMGM, 70% of all bets on the Kansas-Providence matchup had the Friars winning. In terms of the betting handle, 72% of the money wagered on the matchup was on Providence. Despite the public support, Providence fell short against Kansas.

The betting public did pick some upsets correctly. Bettors at BetMGM had wagered heavily on both St. Peters and UNC to pull off upsets in the Sweet 16. Both the Peacocks and Tarheels pulled through and faced off in the Elite 8. UNC was victorious, and will now battle Duke for the first time in the NCAA tournament.


The 2022 March Madness Tournament has certainly lived up to its name. Luckily for sportsbooks, the early upsets in this year’s tournament will keep many bettors from cashing their tickets. With only one number one seed remaining, many NCAA Tournament bets have already lost.

Perhaps the biggest relief for sports betting operators was the elimination of the #1 Arizona Wildcats. At BetMGM, for instance, the Wildcats accounted for 10% of all tournament tickets and 14% of the betting handle. Arizona started the season at +5000 to win, so early season bettors could have won a lot of money.

Fellow number one seeds Gonzaga and Baylor also account for a large portion of the betting tickets and handle. With all three eliminated, sportsbooks across the US can breathe a little easier. According to BetMGM, six of their eight biggest liabilities have already been eliminated.