March Madness bracket contests are the traditional way most Americans bet on the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Bracket contests among friends and co-workers are probably the easiest way to get in on all the March Madness action, and undoubtedly among the most fun.
In the past few years, NJ online sportsbooks and daily fantasy sports sites have jumped in the bracket game, too. Most now run a number of free or small buy-in March Madness bracket contests with prize pools that make the ones between you and your friends look decidedly small.
If you’re looking for the best free March Madness bracket contests out there, we’ve got them listed below alongside some simple bracket building tips that might help your picks last a little longer. Maybe. The Madness is the Madness, after all. See the full 2021 March Madness bracket here. Jump to the best bracket contests here.
Most NJ online sportsbooks and DFS sites have run free NCAA Tournament bracket contests in the past and will again this year. DraftKings has already thrown down the gauntlet in the paid-entry market by announcing a $2 million prize pool, $1 million to the winner bracket contest it has declared is “America’s Biggest Bracket Prize.”
Details below, plus more on other free and paid-entry bracket challenges expected.
Rules of note:
More bracket challenges DraftKings and others have run previously that are free to enter and available in all states:
Both are free to enter and start now that the Sweet 16 is set. For the Irish Spring second chance, you have to pick winners for each of the remaining games in the rest of the tournament. Points rise each round from 10 to 20 to 40 to 80 for the National Championship.
Earn the most points for correct picks and take the full $10k! For the KFC Survivor, see the Survivor pool details below.
Not to be outdone by its main DFS and sportsbook competitor, DraftKings Sportsbook actually ran three separate free contests the last time March Madness was held.
Headlining the list this time is the DraftKings $1,000,000 Survivor Pool. Survivor pools run a bit differently from traditional bracket pools, in that you only pick one game-winner per day, not all the game winners.
If your team wins, you move on to the next round. As the rounds progress, the last players to pick winning teams are the winners. Another catch is, you can only pick a team once — you can’t select them in subsequent rounds.
Another free DraftKings bracket contest is also open to the entire country. The free-to-enter contest offers up $50,000 in prizes and ran similarly to a standard bracket pool.
Entrants pick all 63 games in advance and are awarded points for each correct pick. The person (or people) with the most points in the end collect a share of the prize pool.
DraftKings also is expected to run a $16,000 Free Second Chance Bracket Contest, with entrants only having to select games from the Sweet 16 down to the National Championship.
BetMGM has gone all out in 2021 with a $2 Million Perfect Bracket contest that will for sure pay out $100,000 to whomever puts together the best bracket.
Each game is allocated a single point and the entrant that makes the most correct picks will earn the $100k prize.
Nail all 63 games of the tournament correctly and you’ll take the full $2 million.
Check BetMGM sportsbook for full entry and contest details. It’s open to all BetMGM sportsbook account holders, new and existing.
Like we suggested earlier, March Madness bracket contests can vary in buy-in, field size, and payouts. What doesn’t change across contests is that you have to fill out a complete bracket.
That means winners for all 63 games, from the first round through the national championship game.
Most bracket contests involve a points system assigning a certain value for every pick you get right, with late-round winners worth more than early-round winners. In fact, most standard bracket scoring systems give you a single point for every first-round pick you get right.
Then, it’s two points in the second round, four points in the Sweet 16, eight in the Elite Eight, 16 in the Final Four, and 32 points for picking the winner of the National Championship.
You can win with scoring systems like this by getting it right late, but the nature of brackets themselves means you have to get it right enough early as well, just to give yourself a chance.
That means it’s probably a bad idea to enter a March Madness bracket contest that’ll only pay for a perfect bracket unless it’s free or also pays something substantial to whoever lasts longest before they miss a game.
Of course, you don’t have to be perfect to win most contests. You just need to build a better bracket than everyone else.
That makes the odds of winning much more manageable. What are those odds exactly? Well, it really depends on how many people enter. What we can tell you is that the free bracket contests listed above, which are available all over the US, receive a ton of entries. That makes the odds of winning astronomical.
Any free NJ-only contests will be much smaller, and paid-entry local contests even smaller, giving you a much better chance of winning. Plus, you can give yourself an even better shot at winning by entering multiple different brackets.
In other words, if you want the best shot to win any contest, consider these three things:
Entering a March Madness bracket contest at an NJ online sportsbook or DFS provider requires you to complete three simple tasks.
First, you need to sign up for an account by clicking on our exclusive link to the sportsbook or DFS site running the contest you want to enter. You’ll be instantly transported to the operator’s website where you can sign up for an account.
You can also download and install the sportsbook or DFS app and sign up there. Either way, if you’re asked to enter a promo code or bonus code, find it here on PlayNJ and enter it there to get the best bonus you can.
Next, you need to deposit some money into your account. Just choose the deposit method that’s best for you from a list likely to include everything from PayNearMe to PayPal, prepaid cards, online banking, and even cash at an NJ casino cage.
Finally, it’s just a matter of finding the right contest to enter. Most will be right up front come tournament time, but you will also find March Madness brackets under the Basketball, NCAA Basketball, and NCAA Tournament betting tabs. To enter any contest, just fill out the bracket online and fire away.
Here’s a list of some general do’s and don’ts when it comes to building brackets:
Everyone remembers March Madness upsets. Partly because there are so few it’s pretty easy to. That means the seeding is accurate. In fact, a No. 1 seed has won 21 times in the past 34 years, since the field was expanded to 64 teams. Plus, a No. 2 or No. 3 seed has won nine times. The truth is the lowest seed ever to win was a No. 8, which means a bracket filled with top seeds is often best.
The Nos. 10, 11, and 12 seeds are responsible for more first-round upsets than anyone. Nos. 10 and 11 have 50 first-round upset wins each, and No. 12 has 47. That means these squads are winning one out of three times. You’ve got to pick at least some upsets to win bracket contests, and forgetting to look at these three seeds first would be a mistake.
The Final Four is rarely all four No. 1 seeds. That means one or more of the top-seeded teams are due for a letdown, and one or more lower-seeded teams are going to put together some kind of Cinderella story. It’s easier to pick who will wear either of these slippers by paying attention to how teams are playing late in the regular season and in conference tournaments heading into March Madness.
Remember that seeding is less of a factor in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. However, it comes into play again in the Final Four, where the higher-seeded teams win close to 75 percent of the time. Avoid giving the higher seeds too much credit in the second weekend of games, and too little credit in the third and final one.
The NCAA says no one has ever built a perfect bracket, but these brackets have come the closest, posting the longest winning streaks to start March Madness: