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

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

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.