You stand a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of filling out a perfect bracket. While this may be true, using a few key principles can help your bracket stand out from the competition.
Knowing what information to look at, while not being overloaded with data is key. The first step is to identify your bracket pool, and tailor your picks based on the kind of competition you have entered. According to NCAA.com, seeds 10 through 15 tend to pull off an average of six upsets each year. Before you scramble to figure out those six upsets for 2018, keep in mind the most important thing to is to correctly identify your Final Four picks. Unless you are in a unique scoring system, the majority of points come from picking the Final Four teams along with the correct champion.
While it is fun to pick a few upsets, even the greatest Cinderellas are unlikely to move past the Sweet 16. By the time the final weekend of the tournament hits, it is normally full of teams expected to be there. Going crazy picking upsets could end up costing you valuable points later on by eliminating the key favorites. Identify the handful of teams you like this year, and fill out a few brackets playing out different scenarios. If you are going to pick some early upsets, the No. 12 seeds are a good starting place as they win close to 36 percent of their games.
Most of all, remember to have fun as March Madness is full of ups and downs. If you have the most fun picking a lot of upsets, go all out. If your goal is to win your bracket pool, these are some tips to follow that give you the best chance of having bragging rights over your co-workers during March Madness.
Here are some helpful tips to picking a successful bracket for the 2018 NCAA tournament.
1. Your Level of Risk Should Be Proportional to Your Bracket Pool
Before making any of your picks, it is important to assess the bracket pool you are competing in. The number of upsets you pick should be proportional to the size of the pool. If you are competing in a pool with 10 co-workers, you’re going to want to pick favorites in your Final Four. It is okay to pick a few upsets, but the Elite 8 should be full of seeds 1-4.
The strategy is different if you are competing against thousands of people. While favorites normally end up in the Final Four, you are going to want to mix in some picks that are different from your competition. If you only pick favorites, you are going to have a hard time winning the pool given you are competing against a lot of people. Upsets equate to risk, so you want to increase your risk when it comes to larger bracket pools.
Part of considering the competition you are playing in is knowing the scoring rules and your competitors. Are you in a pool with a lot of Duke fans? Picking another favorite to win the title greatly increases your chances of winning your group, as the majority of your opponents are likely to pick Duke. While the majority of bracket competitions operate by standard rules, some encourage you to pick upsets by rewarding these picks in the scoring systems. Some pools multiply the points by the seed, meaning you get more points for picking upsets. In these pools, you are going to want to pick a number of upsets to have a chance at winning.
2. Use Vegas to Help You identify Potential Upsets & Championship Contenders
When people fill out their bracket, all seeds seem relatively equal, but this is not the case. By now, most fans know to pick a No. 12 seed to upset a No. 5 seed. How do you determine which No. 12 seed to identify as your pick? This is where the Vegas odds can be your friend.
Vegas may not help you fill out your entire bracket, but there will be odds listed for every single opening weekend game. While your competition is just looking at seed numbers, you will be able to dig deeper into matchup thanks to the point spreads for each game. There have been times in the past where No. 12 seeds have been favored by Vegas to pull off the upset.
You want to pick the upsets where the point spreads for the underdogs are a little more favorable. You can also use the overall Vegas college basketball championship odds to identify the teams you want to have in your Final Four.
While it is great to gather knowledge about teams during the conference tournaments, keep in mind it is not always a great indicator of who will be left standing. Five of the last six champions have not won their conference tournament, including the last four NCAA tournament champs. While conference tournament play is important for mid-majors, some of the top college basketball teams are able to rebound from slipping up in their conference tournament.
3. Identify Teams With NBA Level Guard Play
Having NBA talent on your roster does not guarantee your team a deep run in March, but you would be wise to consider top teams that do have these top-level players. Andrew Wiggins did little to help Kansas in the 2014 tournament, but here are a few things to consider when it comes to future NBA players. The Sporting News did a study through 2016 on what the correlation was between future NBA players and March Madness success. They found teams with NBA level guard play give their teams a better chance to make a deep run.
Through 2016, here is what Sporting News found.
In each of the 30 NCAA tournaments prior to last season, all but one national champion had a starting guard who went on to play in an NBA game.
The only team lacking one? Gerry McNamara’s 2003 Syracuse team, which starred future No. 3 NBA draft pick Carmelo Anthony. The previous school to win the title without a starting guard who got face time in the league was No. 8 seed Villanova in their 1985 miracle run.
If you want to look even closer, only one other champion from the 30 tournaments before last season did it without any point guard who played in the NBA.
If you are looking to identify teams with NBA talent in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, here are a few teams to consider: Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma and Villanova.
4. Your Final Four Picks Should Be Full of No. 1, 2 & 3 Seeds
Upsets are a lot of fun to pick, but difficult to predict. One of the great things about March Madness is when David slays Goliath. The challenge is it does not happen as much as you may think. Knowing how much I enjoy rooting for upsets, I give myself a bracket or two where I pick a lot of upsets. For the bracket pools that I really care about, I am much more conservative.
Filling out a winning bracket is about finding the right mix of picking a few upsets, and predicting the right favorites to go far in the tournament. While you don’t want to pick the favorite in every single contest, your final four picks should be some combination of No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds.
NCAA.com has a few stats that are worth considering when it comes to seeds. There has not been a seed No. 9 or lower in the national title game. A team seeded No. 11 or lower has not made the Final Four. There has never been an Elite Eight without a No. 1 seed, and only three Final Fours ever have been without a No. 1 seed. A No. 5 seed has only made the Final Four six times. All this is why the top three seeds are the safest bet to advance to the Final Four, and your eventual championship pick.
5. If You Are Going to Pick Upsets, Keep It in the First 2 Rounds
The key to having a successful March Madness is to identify the handful of teams you see cutting down the nets. Fill out different brackets playing out a few different scenarios. Think of it like having an investment portfolio. It is never good to have all your investments tied to one company.
It is much more important to identify which of the top teams you like to win the title rather than getting the correct No. 12 seed upset pick. NCAA.com broke down the past winners of their Bracket Challenge, and here is what they found.
Each one of the past seven winners had the participants and winner of the national championship game right.
It doesn’t matter how many correct upsets you pick in the first round if you lose a championship game team. It’s hard to fill out a bracket from the championship game out, especially because matchups can be so important, but it may not be a bad idea to think about who can make it that far – and avoid picking those teams to be upset…
The key? It’s not worth stressing over trying to get the first couple rounds perfect. That’s a nearly impossible task. But the early missed picks can turn out to be pretty inconsequential if you get the later rounds right. In general, it’s better to miss an upset than to predict one, be wrong, and have that winning team go on another two or three rounds – or even worse, to the Final Four. Which leads us to …
When you’re wrong, be wrong with everyone.
Basically, there’s not much of a need to find the one crazy early upset that no one else is going to get. If there’s a George Mason-esque run to the Final Four, you’ll still be in good shape – the chances of someone else having that and the other three Final Four teams are slim.
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