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March Methods | A “How To” Guide For Completing Your NCAA Tournament Bracket

March Methods | A “How To” Guide For Completing Your NCAA Tournament Bracket
Brad Hartsock

March Madness is upon us and with that the annual tradition of filling in a tournament bracket. The tournament plays out in very unpredictable fashion, making it extremely unlikely to pick even the first round games correctly, let alone the whole thing. Here are 10 possible strategies to setting a bracket that will defeat your friends, family and co-workers, earning you bragging rights and possibly a cash payout.


Follow advice of basketball commentators

You’ll find no shortage of expert advice if you look to any sports network or Twitter. The bad news is that “experts” are often pretty terrible a predicting the eventual winners and even worse, they can get awfully bandwagony. If 28 out of 31 experts agree that Michigan State or Kansas is going to win, you might do well to pick against them due to strategy #2.

2 – Go against the grain

If the conventional wisdom says a particular team is a heavy favorite, then it can be advisable to pick against them as a risk versus reward strategy. Most bracket pools use a system where the points possible increase in each round. If everyone is picking Michigan State as the trendy favorite, then correctly picking them to lose in the 2nd round could destroy everyone else’s bracket and give you a leg up in the final standings. That being said, it’s not a great idea to go crazy with this plan, because:

3 – Chalk it up

1 and 2 seeds are usually pretty good at playing basketball. 1 seeds have never lost in the first round and 2 seeds rarely do. While true that eventually those things will happen, you don’t necessarily want go putting Austin Peay in the Elite 8. Go ahead an advance those teams a round or two before you start knocking them out. Also, if you get to the end and don’t have any one seeds in the Final Four, you might want to rethink that, because it’s only happened 3 times.

4 – Choose your upsets wisely

  • 10 seeds over 7s
  • 12 seeds over 5s
  • 6 or 11 seeds over 3s.

Pick at least one of each and more if you like. There’s nothing more fun than correctly picking an upset.

5 – Be a huge homer, but do more than one bracket

If your team is in the field, you’re obligated to complete at least one bracket that has them winning it all. Just fill their name in all the way through the championship before you even look at the rest. Don’t worry you can talk yourself into the plausibility of the whole thing later. You should definitely fill out another bracket though because you’re probably not thinking clearly and your reasoning is almost certainly flawed. Feel free to keep your homer bracket in hiding if necessary, but it’s good to know it’s there.

6 – Pick a conference that is overrated and just pick against them

For me, this year that’s the Pac 12. The ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and Pac 12 all have 7 teams in the tournament. I, however, think the Pac 12 is a sham and undeserving of this reputation, so I’ll be eliminating all of them no later than the Sweet 16. This is considerably more fun if you know fans of those schools, at least until it turns out you were totally incorrect.

7 – Dig in to analytics (Success factor = 3.5)

You should absolutely evaluate RPI, BPI, Kenpom ratings, or any variety of other measures to evaluate the match-ups. For this method to work though, it’s important to 1) not understand what they mean 2) only use them if none of the other methods listed here apply.

8 – Rely on mascot/team colors

Nothing can tell you more about a program than how they represent themselves. Do you really think you’ll be watching the Oregon Ducks with their blinding yellow uniforms celebrate as “One Shining Moment” plays? I guess some people think a man who looks like a duck with blinding orange skin should be President… both are bad ideas.

9 – Have a child pick for you

There are several benefits to this. First, it’s adorable. Second, you’ve got a perfect scapegoat for when you are inevitably come in last place at the office. Third, kids are just as unpredictable as the tournament so they’ll probably win. Statistically, this has a 8% greater probability of helping you win your pool than flipping a coin, so roughly 17% better than if you had picked yourself.

10 – Make sure you fill out the WHOLE BRACKET… ON TIME

Most people are using websites or apps to complete brackets and keep the scores and standings. Some of these don’t make it so obvious that you’ve forgotten to pick the winner of the title game or a tie breaker. I witnessed this first hand last year when my dad didn’t pick a winner for the championship game. Also, brackets will lock when the games begin, so get your tinkering out of the way early.

No matter what strategy you use, it’s important to note that it probably won’t work. By the end of this weekend, most of us will be participating in second tradition of the tournament which is discussing how and why our brackets were busted. But don’t count yourself out until your Final Four picks have all gone home, remember this is supposed to be fun, and enjoy the games!

Happy Madness everyone!


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  1. Bena

    Good writing Brad! You might want to add a #11 for the same reason they offer a tiebreaker point option. Have your sister, who knows little to nothing about basketball despite being born in Kentucky, pick your teams lol. She consistently does well despite her crazy, never makes sense, “logic” ?
    ps Dad def picked a winner this year!!

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