So you have been invited to fill out a March Madness bracket. Wait, there are 68 teams to choose from? Yes, but not to worry. Your bracket experience can be a lot easier by following a few simple steps. Whether you are an experienced bracketologist or it is your first time filling out a bracket, Heavy is here to help.
March Madness is unpredictable which is why we love the NCAA Tournament. While it is full of surprises, there are certain guiding principles that can help you fill out a winning bracket. For example, a 16 seed has never defeated a top seed. Go ahead and advance your one seeds to the second round.
Not all matchups are created equal. Sites like OddsShark will give you the point spread for each NCAA Tournament game. If you are targeting an upset, look for the games that have the closest spreads. These are the teams that have the best chance to pull off an upset.
There are also analytical tools like the KenPom ratings that rank teams using a lot of statistical factors. Compare these rankings with the tournament seedings. Which teams are underseeded? These are the teams you can target to go farther than some expect.
Here are five tips to help you have the best bracket picks and win your bracket pool.
1. Make Your Picks Based on the Size of Your Bracket Pool
Everyone wants to be the person that picks the first 16 seed to upset a one seed. It has never happened, and do not try to get cute by picking it to happen now. The way to win your bracket pool is to make your picks based on the size of your group. Are you and a group of ten friends competing against each other? Pick mostly favorites in your Final Four with very few upsets. Why? You do not need to beat the entire country. You just need to do better than nine people to win.
If you are in a large group or competing on one of the major sites with millions of other people, the strategy is a lot different. While you do not want to pick four 16 seeds in your Final Four, you want to take some chances. This is the bracket where it is good to pick some upsets. Pick a team or two in your Final Four that may not be the favorite but have a good chance to make it there.
The more people there are the more you want your bracket to be unique. Likewise, the smaller the pool the less chances you need to take.
Knowing the size of your group along with the rules will help you in the long run. Some pools give bonuses for upset picks. To win these sort of leagues, you will most likely need to take some chances. The best part of most of these groups is even if you miss on some of them you can make it up by picking a key upset.
2. Conference Tournaments Are Not as Predictive as You May Think
While you do not necessarily want to pick a team that is in a slump, just because a team wins their conference tournament does not mean they should be penciled into the Final Four. According to NCAA.com, four of the last five NCAA champions have lost in their conference tournament including the last three champs.
In 2016, Villanova lost in the Big East finals. Duke lost in the ACC semifinals in 2015. In 2014, UConn lost in the AAC finals. All three went on to win the NCAA Tournament. There are a number of factors as to why a team can lay an egg in the conference tournament then regroup just a week later.
Conference tournaments offer very little rest with lots of back-to-backs. Most of the teams have played each other multiple times during the season meaning they are familiar with each other. For most matchups, teams get a blank slate in March Madness.
Winning a conference tournament is still a good sign but look at the body of work the team has as well. How has the team done against top-50 opponents? How have they played in their last 10 games? Don’t write a team off just because they had one bad game in the tournament.
3. Increase Your Odds by Filling Out Multiple Brackets
This is not earth shattering but your odds to win increase with the more brackets you fill out. Entry fees can add up in private bracket pools, but the majority of major sites allow you fill out multiple entries. ESPN’s Tournament Challenge typically sets the limit at 10.
A friend once criticized my bracketlogy by claiming allegiance to “Brackets of Integrity”. These are people that only fill out one bracket. The odds do not care about your principles. Filling out multiple brackets not only increases your odds, it gives you a greater sample size to work with for next year. Try different strategies for each bracket.
At the end of the 2017 tournament, look back at all your entries. Which strategies tended to work best and which ones had you at the bottom of the standings? When next year’s tournament rolls around, you will have a better sense of your ideal strategy. Practice makes perfect.
4. Avoid Picking Mid-Major Teams Who Were Not the Regular Season Champions
Looking to identify a couple mid-major teams to make a Sweet 16 run? One of the first steps is to eliminate the teams that were not the one seed in their conference tournament. Many of the conference tournaments for smaller conferences are a bit unique. Sometimes a lower seeded team makes a run in a tournament that happens to be at their home gym.
While these lower seeded teams may be playing hot, they have greatly decreased their conference’s chances of pulling off an upset in the NCAA Tournament. As this article noted earlier, this does not apply to teams in major conferences. However, to identify a small school candidate, find teams that were the top seed in their conference tournament and ran through it with relative ease.
5. It Is the Top 4 Seeds That Win Out in the End
We all love March Madness for the underdog story. While this does happen, as the tournament goes on fans tend to be left with the favorites. While there may be a sleeper team that ends up making a historic run, chances are you will not be able to identify that team. If you try to nail that Final Four pick and miss out, the domino effect can be extremely detrimental.
Smart money is on picking some combination of teams with a top-four seed to make the Final Four. According to NCAA.com, top ranked seeds have made the Final Four 41 percent of the time, the most of any seed. Two seeds happen 20 percent of the time. Three and four seeds share the same percentages of 10.5 percent. The remaining seeds all have less than a five percent chance of making the Final Four with most having almost zero chance statistically.
If you are looking to pick an upset or two in the first round, look no further than the 12 seeds. According to OddsShark, a 12 seed has upset the five seed in every tournament with the exception of 2007. Do your research an identify one or two of the 12 seeds you are going to pick for an upset.
Just make sure you do not take it too far. There has only been one 12 seed to make it as far as the Elite Eight. Do not push the 12 seeds too far in your bracket.
Most people that win their bracket pool do not nail all their Final Four picks. If you can get the national champion correct, it gives you a good chance to win the pool. While it is fun to pick upsets in the early rounds, most bracket groups’ scoring gives more points for getting the later rounds correct.
For those looking for the safest route, go ahead and put all four one seeds into the Sweet 16. There is a good chance most if not all will be there in a week.
If you want to pick a bunch of upsets, fill out a couple entries on one of the major sites where you are competing with millions of people. If you are in a private group pool, you would be wise to stick with teams seeded in the top four of their region for your Final Four picks.