With Selection Sunday officially behind us, it is time to start filling out your brackets. Tens of millions of brackets will be filled out over the course of the next few days as they have to be submitted before noon on Thursday, March 21.
While it is nearly impossible to fill out a perfect bracket, here are 10 ten tips to help you do better in your bracket pool.
1. Don’t Pick All Four No. 1 Seeds For Your Final Four
A flaw that many people do when they fill out their brackets is to put all the top seeds in their final four. While that strategy should work out in theory, it almost never works out that way. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only one time has all four number one seeds made the Final Four, which happened in 2008.
Picking one of the top fours team to win the tournament is understandable as three of the past four winners were a top seed. 2015 was the last time a tournament had three number one seeds in the Final Four, but do not expect something similar to happen in 2019. Having at least one two or three seed in the Final Four will help you win your bracket pool.
2. Be Wary Of The Number One Overall Seed
Duke has been one of the most exciting teams to watch in the nation this season. Zion Williamson’s heroics against North Carolina makes the Blue Devils the clear favorite to win the whole thing. Their region is also the easiest of all the number one seeds with little challenges before a potential Elite Eight matchup with Michigan State.
Virginia and Villanova were in similar situations the past two tournaments, but both teams failed to even make the Sweet 16. Duke does not look like a team that should falter early, but the number one overall seed has not won the NCAA Tournament since Louisville did it in 2013. The Blue Devils certainly look like a team capable of ending that drought, but don’t be surprised to see them not make the Final Four.
3. Pay Attention To The First Four Games
Every year, people complain about the last four at large teams let into the field. They are teams that should not make much damage in the NCAA Tournament, but they always end up busting brackets. Since the First Four started in 2011, a team has advanced to the Round of 32 in every season.
Syracuse made the Sweet 16 last year after playing in the First Four. The four teams playing in this years First Four are all capable of pulling off a first round upset. Despite the fact that they barely got into the field, do not be afraid to pick a team from the First Four as it could help win the bracket pool.
4. The Infamous 12-5 Upset
What makes the NCAA Tournament famous is the number of upsets that happen. Every year, a team from a small school conference shocks the nation with a huge upset on the opening round of the tournament. The magic of the upset lives in the 5-12 matchup as the lower seed has won 47 games since 1985.
The high win-rate for the 12 seeds is a combination of a flawed team from a major conference and an elite school from a small conference. Oregon is an outlier as it made the tournament as Pac-12 champion. The Ducks along with Murray State, Liberty and New Mexico State are the 12 seeds in this year’s tournament and all of them are capable of pulling off the upset. If you want to win your pool, pick one of these four to get out of the first round.
5. Don’t Pick Gardner-Webb To Beat Virginia
The Cavaliers were embarrassed last season as they made history as the first one seed to lose to a 16-seed. UMBC immediately became the darlings of the NCAA Tournament and the Retrievers almost made it to the Sweet 16, but were unable to beat Kansas State. Their performance in last year’s tournament could make the casual fan pick Virginia to lose in the opening round again.
Do not pick the Cavaliers to lose to Gardner-Webb. The Running Bulldogs are a solid team out of the Big South, but they lack the interior size to compete with Virginia. Tony Bennett’s club was humbled by its early exit last season, making them hungry for the 2019 tournament.
6. Pick Teams In The American Athletic Conference
While the AAC is not seen as one of the nation’s top leagues, it sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament. That’s more than the Pac-12 and the same as the Big East. Houston and Cincinnati are the top two teams in the conference and they are extremely dangerous.
The Cougars are a Final Four-caliber team and will make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats are the most dangerous seven seed in the field and could be one of the teams that busts your bracket the most. Central Florida is a nine seed that has to face Duke in the Round of 32, but the Knights have the size and shooting to upset the Blue Devils. Temple is a First Four team capable of knocking off Maryland in the opening round. The American Conference is one of the top conferences in the country, so picking them to go far would be a wise decision.
7. Don’t Fall In Love With The Conference With The Most Bids
A strength of a major conference league is how many bids does it get in the NCAA Tournament. The Big Ten had the most teams in the field this season as eight teams made it. That number is double the number of teams that made it in 2018 but do not be fooled by the high number.
Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue are all teams capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but they could all trip up in the Round of 32. Nevada, Louisville, Villanova and St Mary’s are dangerous teams that can bust brackets by beating the top teams in the Big Ten. The Big East sent a record 11 teams to the tournament in 2011, but only two of those teams made the Sweet 16. If you pick teams based on the conference they play in, you are not going to win your bracket pool.
8. Don’t Follow The Crowd
It’s always fun to do a bracket pool with your friends and family. The pressure of filling it out to try and beat them can be stressful, but the fun nature of the NCAA Tournament makes all of that go away. While it is always advisable to seek help from friends, do not agree with everything they say.
Your bracket is specific to the single person who fills it out and should have its own unique flavor. Copying picks from your friends to try and compete with them is not going to help you win. Pick a 15 seed to upset a two seed or have sixth-seeded Buffalo win the whole tournament, but make a bracket that is specifically your own.
9. Take Tournament Locations Into Account
While the NCAA Tournament Committee tries to make the venues as advantageous as possible for the higher seeds, there are always a few exceptions to the rule. North Carolina is the top seed in the Midwest, but the Tar Heels would be playing a pseudo-road game against Kansas in the Sweet 16 as the regional site is Kansas City. The same is true for Kentucky if the Wildcats meet Iowa State in the Sweet 16.
The preferential treatment for locations is not just seen in the Regional semifinals, but also in the opening rounds of the tournament. Wisconsin and Kansas State are two of the 20 teams in the field, but they have to travel to San Jose, California to take on Oregon and UC Irvine. Lower-seeded teams fair better in locations closer to their home, so do not be afraid to pick a couple upsets due to a favorable location.
10. Pick a Double-Digit Seed To Make The Sweet 16
Upsets happen all the time in the NCAA Tournament as many people have busted brackets after the first couple of games. Most of these upsets are unpredictable, but they do tend to have a couple trends. The main one, in particular, is a double-digit seed making the Sweet 16.
2007 was the last NCAA Tournament that a team seeded lower than 10 did not make it out of the first weekend. Loyola Chicago made the Final Four last season as an 11 seed, while Xavier was an Elite Eight squad from the same seed. Double-digit seeds always make magical runs in the NCAA Tournament, so picking the right team will help you cruise to a bracket pool victory.