How To Pick the NCAA Basketball Bracket


By web gangsta | Published:

Whether you call it the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship, March Madness, Bracketology, or the World’s Best Office Pool, every year office work grinds to a halt as millions of people sweat over their 63 game selections as they fill out their basketball brackets – hoping ultimately to win their local office pool.

How tough is it to pick the perfect tournament bracket?  Try 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1 (nine quintillion, if you lost track of the number of commas in that number).

Officially, the NCAA does not support using the grid in any form of gambling, and frowns upon the amount of effort thrown at filling out the brackets for monetary gain.

Got that?  Good.  Now that THAT is out of the way, let’s talk about the 10 BEST WAYS TO FILL OUT YOUR BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT BRACKET SO YOU CAN WIN YOUR OFFICE POOL

(Okay, we may cover more than 10 rules for you to follow while filling out your bracket, but who’s counting?)

MSNBC offered 10 bracket tips in 2005.  Here are some of them:

  • Choose #1 seeds to go to the Final Four
  • Select teams that have at least one star, preferably more
  • Pick a number 12 seed to advance over a choking number 5 seed
  • Go with a sentimental favorite
  • The hot teams in the qualifying tournaments are not necessarily the ones with the momentum. Go with the lazy ones.

Want some tips that are more based in statistical analysis?  Try these from PreGame.com: 

  • Be careful picking teams seeded higher than 12 to advance past the first round.
  • Look at the upset potential of the #9 through #12 seeds.
  • You can’t go wrong taking the #1 seeds as far as you can.
  • If you have a #10 or #12 seed winning in the first round, odds are in their favor to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.   The chances of a #13 or higher seed advancing to the Sweet Sixteen are slim.
  • But if you have a #12 seed or higher in the Sweet Sixteen, that’s probably as far as they’re going to go.  Go with the odds and don’t advance them.
  • The odds say that your Final Four should have at least one #1 seed.
  • The odds also say that you shouldn’t have any team ranked #7 or higher in the championship game… but you should always pick a team ranked #1-#4 to win the whole caboodle.

VegasWatch has even done the math on what the winning odds would be if you only picked the favorites to win the tournament.  They are very clear to indicate that this does not mean picking the higher seeded team – they say that it’s a 1 in 19,323 chance of succeeding.  Not totally insurmountable, as we all know people who have picked the first 32 games correctly over the years.

Of course, you could always try picking all upsets.  Every game, every round.  The chances of all four of the Final Four teams being #16 seeds

1 in 144,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Dan Steinberg of DC Sports Blog shared his seven strategies on picking the perfect bracket with the Washington Post last year:

  1. IGNORE THE 5-12 RULE
    While picking #12 to beat a #5 may sound sexy, you’ll be better served in sticking with the #5 team.
  2. HATE CINDERELLA
    Cinderella teams are not winners, statistically.
  3. UPSET PICKS COME FROM THE MAJORS
    If you’re looking for an upset pick, stick with the major basketball conferences.
  4. PICK YOUR UPSETS IN THE SECOND ROUND
    First round upsets are fairly common to select.  Picking an upset in the 2nd round is where you’ll make your money.
  5. DON’T PICK THE FAVORITE TO WIN IT ALL
  6. AT THE END, PEDIGREE MATTERS
    Avoid picking a champion that has not made a recent Final Four appearance.  Success breeds success. 
  7. EMBRACE ONE BIG CONFERENCE OVER ALL OTHERS
    Once you’ve got your national champion, go back and make sure you’ve given that team’s conference the proper respect in earlier rounds. 


PickManager even put out a press release this year listing the following pieces of helpful statistics:

  • A #1 seed has NEVER lost in the first round of the tournament
  • #2 seeds have only lost four times in the first round
  • #9 seeds have a higher winning percentage that the #8 seeds in the first round.
  • The first round winning percentage is identical for #11 seeds and #12 seeds. Don’t focus only on the 7 vs. 12 matchup that is commonly referred to by “bracketologists.”
  • #9 seed performance falls dramatically in the second round with the lowest winning percentage of any seed that makes it to that round (5.8%).
  • A strong number #8 is as good as a strong #6 seed for advancing deep in the NCAA tournament, while a #7 seed has never won in the 4th round
  • #3, #4, and #5 seeds that get to the 4th round typically perform well in the 4th round.
  • Two #11 seeds have made it to the final weekend of the tournament, while no #7, #9 or #10 seed has ever made it.
  • #1 seeds matter and boast greater than 50% winning percentages in every round.

If you are really interested in proving yourself, you could always take Sean Brooks’ advice – he’s the guy who won ESPN’s 2008 Bracket Tournament:

  • Pick the #1 seeds to win their first and second round games.
  • Pick the #2, #3, and #4 seeds to also win their first round games.
  • Try picking the team that has the best record over their last 12 games
  • Try picking the team that has a clear statistical advantage in five or more of the following categories: their RPI, strength of schedule, nonconference RPI, nonconference strength of schedule, record versus RPI top 25, record in its past 12 games and adjusted scoring margin.
  • All things being equal, pick the team with the better ASM. 

Finally, I do appreciate this piece of advice from someone who seems to know what he’s talking about, from their own list of advice for filling out the 2009 bracket:   Don’t listen to a thing Dick Vitale says.