Best March Madness Bracket Contests

March Madness bracket contests are the way most of us have bet on the NCAA Tournament for years. Fill out a 63-game bracket, pick a winner for every single game from the first round through to the Final Four and, then enter that bracket into a free or paid contest online, at the office, or among friends.

Licensed Maryland online sportsbooks add another fun and accessible alternative, with both free and paid-entry online bracket contests. These contests mostly employ a points system that rewards you for every game you pick correctly. Some also weigh late-round success more heavily, so keep that in mind.

Best free March Madness bracket contests

The biggest brands in online sports betting offer some of the top free March Madness bracket contests in the country. Here are a few examples from past years.

DraftKings $30K Survivor Pool

DraftKings Maryland takes the survivor concept over to March Madness. You pick a game from each day of the tournament. Winners advance while losers are eliminated. Those who are left standing after the title game share the prize pool.

FanDuel $5k Bracket Pick’Em

FanDuel Sportsbook has a pick’em contest where you earn points for making the correct selection. The best-scoring entrants earn real cash prizes for their efforts.

$10 Million BetMGM Perfect Bracket

BetMGM Sportsbook Maryland has a free entry March Madness contest that offered $10 million for a perfect bracket. Knowing that’s near impossible, BetMGM also has a top prize of $100,000 for the top bracket.

Of course, online sportsbooks aren’t the only ones in the free March Madness bracket game. Yahoo, ESPN, and the NCAA itself also have free bracket contests with real prizes.

Second-chance bracket contests

Let’s be honest: Most brackets are busted by the second round or have little chance of winning anything but a consolation prize by the Sweet 16. For such situations, some online sportsbooks will offer a variety of second-chance contests that let you fill out a bracket that starts with the Sweet 16.

DraftKings $20K Second Chance Bracket by State Farm

Beginning with the Sweet 16, pick the winners of each game and earn points for correct selections.

DraftKings $20k KFC Second Chance Survivor

Just like the main survivor, you last as long as you make the right calls. Winners share in the prize pool.

How to register an account and enter a bracket contest in Maryland

Follow the steps below to sign up at an online sportsbook in Maryland and enter a bracket contest:

  1. Sign up: Click any link on this page to sign up directly and download and install the sportsbook’s app when you sign up there. You will need to enter some personal details.
  2. Deposit: Head to the cashier and choose from the list of available deposit methods. These should include credit and debit cards, online banking and PayPal. Enter a deposit amount that’ll cover your contest entry fees and follow the prompts. With most methods, the funds will be available almost immediately. If you have a Maryland sports betting promo code, use it here.
  3. Find a contest: The free-to-enter March Madness contests will be right up front on most online sportsbooks. You can also look through the basketball, college basketball and NCAA basketball tabs to find them and any paid-entry contests. After buying in, it’s all about following the prompts and filling out your brackets.

Do’s & Don’ts for filling out your March Madness Bracket

College basketball fans in Maryland have enjoyed the madness of March maybe as much as fans from any state in the country. Not only have the Maryland Terrapins been to the Final Four twice and won a national title (2002), the UMBC Retrievers are the only No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

These are some key trends to bear in mind for your March Madness bracket betting selections. But also bear in mind, of course, that trends are simply that – they’re not betting info you can totally rely on. Just information you can use to help guide your picks if you think it has merit.

March Madness bracket “do’s”

Here are three simple tips to consider when filling out your March Madness bracket:

  • Put a No. 1 seed up top: 20 of the past 27 National Champions have started the tournament as No. 1 seeds, including Baylor in 2021. That means it’s never really “wrong” to have a No. 1 winning it all in your bracket.
  • Put an underdog in the Sweet 16: There’s usually at least one higher-seeded team that becomes the tournament’s Cinderella story. While Cinderella rarely makes it past the Sweet 16, only twice in the past 28 tournaments has the Sweet 16 not included a team seeded ninth or worse. That means it may not be a bad idea to have at least one double-digit seed in your bracket’s Sweet 16.
  • Find a top seed headed for a fall: At least one No. 2, 3 or 4 seed has failed to make it out of the first round in 25 out of the last 28 tournaments. Finding that top seed that backed into the tournament, isn’t playing well or looks headed for a fall can separate your bracket from the pack.

March Madness bracket “don’ts”

Here are three things to try to avoid (or not) when filling out your March Madness bracket:

  • Pick all No. 1s: All four No. 1 seeds have made it to the Final Four only once before. It obviously could happen any yea, but it’s not very common.
  • Conference bias: Maybe don’t put too much faith in conference tournament winners. They get the automatic tournament bid and resulting seeding love, but anything can happen in a tournament and the regular season conference champs are usually the better teams.
  • Be upset shy: Don’t be afraid to pick some upsets. There’s an average of six upsets by teams seeded No. 10 to No. 15 every year. Brackets that have the better-seeded team winning every game tend to not win.

How March Madness brackets work

There are 32 NCAA Division I basketball conferences. Each holds its own postseason tournament, and the winners get an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Then, the NCAA Selection Committee hosts Selection Sunday (March 13, 2022) to announce the 36 at-large bids. The committee also seeds the field and decides which eight lower seeds will have to play their way into the first round through the First Four games.

After the First Four games, the 64 tournament teams start the first round in four 16-team regional brackets. Winners go on to play in the second round that weekend. Second round winners move on to the Sweet 16, and Sweet 16 winners to the Elite Eight on the next weekend.  Elite Eight winners move on to the Final Four held the next Saturday. Finally, the winners of the two Final Four games face off in the title game.

Traditional March Madness brackets require you to pick winners in all 63 games, from the first round to the championship. That means you can’t fill out a bracket until the 64-team field is set, after the First Four games. That also means there is some serious guesswork and somewhat of a last-minute scramble involved in entering such a contest.

Once you put together your bracket and enter it, your picks are set and you should still have a shot at winning as long as you have teams that are still in the tournament. Once you don’t, your bracket is busted and it’s time to move on.

How are March Madness brackets scored? How do you get paid?

March Madness brackets vary in terms of buy-in, scoring, field size and payout structure. When it comes to scoring, most use an escalating points system. That means you receive points for every game you pick correctly, with a larger number of points going to correct picks in later rounds.

You might receive one point for each first round win and double the points for each subsequent round, all the way up to 32 points for a championship game win. When it comes to field size, bigger buy-ins generally draw smaller fields, with the free contests sometimes attracting millions of entries.

In terms of payouts, the top 5% to 10% of entries receiving prizes is standard, as are escalating prize values that pay a top prize or larger percentage of the pool for the best bracket. However, some contests are winner take all, paying only the best bracket. Or brackets if there’s a tie.

Enter a March Madness contest at an online sportsbook, win a prize, and the sportsbook will deposit the funds into your account automatically when the tournament is over. You’re then free to use those funds any way you like. Bet on college basketball and other sports, or withdraw the money. It’s up to you.

You can normally cash out the same way you made a deposit. Barring that, sportsbooks will offer you an alternative, even sending you a check in the mail if all else fails.

March Madness odds and lines

On top of bracket contests, sportsbooks will post odds for individual teams to win the tourney in the NCAA futures market. They’ll also have lines on every individual tournament game, allowing you to bet on as much, or as little, NCAA Tournament action as you like.

If you prefer to mix up your March Madness bets and not put all your eggs in one bracket, you can spread your budget around on a select few tournament games.

You don’t have to pencil Terps basketball in to win the whole thing, but you can make some bets on the Terps to win a game or two in the first or second round, if you want.

What are the dates for March Madness in 2025?

  • First Four: March 18-19
  • First/second round: March 20-23
  • Sweet 16: March 27-29

When do March Madness brackets come out?

March Madness brackets come out on Selection Sunday. The 2025 date is likely to be March 16. Of course, the brackets are not truly complete until the First Four games are finished and the full 64-team field is set. That can mean less than 24 hours to fill out and enter a bracket for some contests.

How many brackets can I enter?

The number of entries will depend on the contest. Most free contests give you one entry, but some allow up to 10. Some paid-entry contests allow multiple entries, making the buy-in high to make attempts at buying a win cost-prohibitive.

How many combinations are there for March Madness brackets?

With 63 tournament games in total and only two possible outcomes for each, the number of possible combinations is 2^63, or 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. In other words, the odds of picking a perfect bracket are somewhere around one in 9.2 quintillion. No wonder it’s never happened before.

How many March Madness brackets are filled out every year?

According to the American Gaming Association, close to 40 million Americans fill out 70 million NCAA Tournament brackets and enter them into contests and pools every year. Still, no one’s ever put together a perfect bracket.

What was the best-ever March Madness bracket?

In 2021, a fourth-grader from Reno, Nevada, got 58 out of the 63 games right on his bracket. It was a nearly perfect bracket heading into the Sweet 16, but it was not quite perfect. In 2019, Columbus, Ohio’s, Gregg Nigl had a bracket that was. He got the first 49 games right. Then, Purdue beat Tennessee in OT in the second Sweet 16 game to give him a loss. Nigl’s is recognized as the first and only bracket to go into the Sweet 16 undefeated.

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