Best Bracket Tips: How to Win at NCAA March Madness Picks

bracket advice

Getty Duke is going to be a popular pick in bracket pools.

How should you fill out your bracket? Filling out a perfect bracket is nearly impossible, but there are a few helpful tips that will allow you to make NCAA predictions with confidence. The first step on your path to defeating your co-workers and friends is to focus on the right things.

What are the right things? Unless you are competing against millions of people on ESPN, Yahoo or CBS Sports, the most important thing you can do is get as many Final Four picks correct as possible. While Bob in accounting is agonizing over whether to pick No. 13 UC Irvine to upset Kansas State, you are focusing on the eight to ten teams you think have the best chance to win a national championship. The reality is that even if the Anteaters (yes, UC Irvine’s mascot) are able to pull off an upset their chances of making an Elite Eight run are small.

Filling out a winning bracket is often about recognizing basic math. The majority of pools give you more points for correct picks as the tournament progresses. Getting a correct team in the Final Four is worth a lot more points than a first-round prediction unless you are in a bracket pool that has scoring which incentivizes picking upsets.

Personally, I enjoy filling out multiple brackets. This allows me to take the teams that I identified as contenders and fill out a few different scenarios to increase my odds. This year my list of Final Four contenders are Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Florida State, Texas Tech, Virginia and Tennessee. What are your teams? After you do your research, spend the majority of time breaking down your contenders then fill out a few brackets with the teams that you are the most confident can cut down the nets.

Picking upsets is a lot of fun and it is okay to identify a few prudent sleepers. This is fine in moderation, but be sure to hedge your bet by ending their run after a couple games in your bracket.

Here are my five best tips to filling out a winning bracket.

Use Vegas to Help You Identify Potential Upsets & Championship Contenders

Top 25 NCAA Tournament Upsets of All-TimeUPDATED VIDEO: After viewing a collection of websites listing the Top 25 Upsets of NCAA Tournament History I came up with this list that is based off what upsets were ranked highest on each list and whether they were on the list or not. A list of all the upsets below. Enjoy and subscribe! 25. 1986 No.14 Cleveland State beats No.3 Indiana in the 1st round and No.6 Saint Josephs in the 2nd round to make the sweet sixteen. 24. 1999 1st Round No.14 Weber State beats No.3 North Carolina who made the Final Four last year. 23. 2012 1st round No.15 Norfolk State beats No.2 Missouri 22. 2006 No.13 Bradley beats No.4 Kansas in the 1st round and No.5 Pittsburgh in the 2nd round to advance to the sweet sixteen. 21. 1999 No.10 Gonzaga makes a grand entrance in the NCAA Tournament and goes all the way to the Elite 8. 20. 1994 2nd round No.9 Boston College beats defending champs No.1 North Carolina 19. 2010 2nd round No.9 Northern Iowa beats No.1 Kansas 18. 1993 1st round No.15 Santa Clara beats No.2 Arizona 17. 2006 No.14 Northwestern State shocks No.3 Iowa with a buzzer beater three in the 1st round. 16. 2005 1st round No.14 Bucknell beats powerhouse No.3 Kansas 15. 1997 1st round No.15 Coppin State beats No.2 South Carolina 14. 2008 No.10 Davidson has to beat No.2 Georgetown in the 2nd round and No.3 Wisconsin in the sweet sixteen on their run to the Elite 8. 13. 1995 No.14 Old Dominion beats No.3 Villanova in 3OT. 12. 2010 No.5 Butler makes a Cinderella run to the National Championship 11. 2011 No.11 VCU goes from First Four, having to play into the tournament, to all the way to the Final Four. 10. 1991 No.2 Duke shocks No.1 UNLV in the National Championship game. 9. 1998 No.13 Valparaiso beats No.4 Mississippi on a famous buzzer beater and then beats No.12 Florida State in the 2nd round to make the Sweet Sixteen 8. 2001 1st round No.15 Hampton beats No.2 Iowa State 7. 1991 1st round No.15 Richmond becomes the 1st 15 seed to beat a 2 seed as they beat No.2 Syracuse 6. 1966 Texas Western beats powerhouse Kentucky in the National Championship game to break segregation barriers. 5. 1996 1st round No.13 Princeton beats defending champs No.4 UCLA 4. 2013 No.15 Florida Gulf Coast shocks the nation and beats No.2 Georgetown in the 1st round and No.7 San Diego State to become the first 15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. 3. 2006 No.11 George Mason goes on a tear and beats teams like No.5 Michigan State in the 1st round, No.3 North Carolina in the 2nd round, and No.1 Connecticut in OT in the Elite 8 to make it to the Final Four. 2. 1985 No.8 Villanova becomes the highest seed to win a National Championship as they take down defending champs No.1 Georgetown 1. 1983 No.6 North Carolina State shocks heavily favored No.1 Houston in the National Championship on a last second dunk.2013-07-02T18:01:02.000Z

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 first round game. While your competition is only looking at seed numbers, you will be able to dig deeper into matchups 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 seven champions have not won their conference tournament, including three of 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.

Your Level of Risk Should Be Proportional to Your Bracket Pool

The Boy Who Broke the March Madness BracketThe probability of completing a perfect NCAA tournament bracket is less than the combined odds of landing a hole-in-one, winning the Powerball and being struck by lightning multiple times. So how did Sam Holtz, the 2015 winner of ESPN's March Madness Bracket Challenge, beat out almost 12 million other entries and score a near-perfect bracket? For one: he didn’t watch any college basketball before the tournament. A Great Big Story told with our friends at Bleacher Report. Coverage continues on TNT, TBS, Trutv, CBS and March Madness Live: SUBSCRIBE: Follow us behind the scenes on Instagram: Make our acquaintance on Facebook: Give us a shout on Twitter: Come hang with us on Vimeo: Visit our world directly: Great Big Story is a video network dedicated to the untold, overlooked & flat-out amazing. Humans are capable of incredible things & we're here to tell their stories. When a rocket lands in your backyard, you get in.2016-03-17T15:20:39.000Z

Before making any of your picks, it is important to assess your particular bracket pool. The number of upsets you pick should be proportional to the size of the pool. If you are competing in a pool with your 14 co-workers, you are going to want to pick mostly 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 harder time winning the pool given you are competing against a bigger group. Upsets equate to risk, so you want to increase your risk when it comes to larger bracket pools.

Part of considering the pool you are part of 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 the Blue Devils.

While the majority of bracket competitions operate by standard rules, some encourage you to pick upsets by rewarding these picks in the scoring system. 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.

Limit Your Upset Picks to the First 2 Rounds

march madness upset

GettyJa Morant and Murray State could be giant killers in March.

Everyone wants to identify this year’s Loyola-Chicago that will be the Cinderella team that crashes the Final Four. This is risky for a lot of reasons, but one is it is very difficult to predict the right team. By chasing the ideal sleeper team, you could end up ruining an entire region of your bracket after the first day. The majority of Final Four teams are typically No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.

According to, seeds 10 through 15 tend to pull off an average of six upsets each year. 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 key favorites.