We are now just days away from having the bracket unveiled for the 2016 NCAA Tournament. That will set off a furious four-day scramble as people fill out their brackets, enter pools, and take their shots at glory and riches. You need a lot of luck to win any bracket pool. You can give yourself a better chance than the average guy off the street, though, by following a few key tips. Here are three key things to keep in mind when you are trying to figure out how to fill out a winning March Madness bracket.
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Find your favorites before you see the brackets
The one thing that separates the people who win bracket pools regularly from those who don't is homework - winners do their homework while losers just make picks randomly. One of the best ways to do your homework is to look at the teams you like to win it all before you even see the bracket. I'm not saying you need to figure out who your one winner pick is going to be - it would be foolish to pick one team to win it all before you see the matchups. By having a list of eight or 10 teams that you like above the rest of the crowd, though, you are going to have a big edge once you do see the bracket. More significantly, by doing this you can uncover some teams that are going to be highly-ranked that you think are vulnerable. Once you have identified those vulnerable teams then you can see if their matchup in the bracket makes them an attractive upset pick. Picking your favorites before you see the bracket allows you to handicap proactively. If you aren't doing it then the bracket has too much influence on your handicapping.
Beat a No. 1
There have been 31 tournaments played in the 64 (or more) team era. You know how many times all four No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four? Just once - in 2008. It is a very good bet, then, that at least one No. 1 seed is going to fall sooner than the seeds would suggest that they should. Don't get too carried away, though - 2006 and 2011 were the only two years in which none of the top seeds survived until the final weekend. It makes sense to evaluate the top seeds both in terms of what they bring to the table and what their matchup is. They are more likely to advance than not in most cases, but you don't need to be scared of picking an upset - at least after the first round - if there is a No. 1 you really don't like. Just don't pick a first-round upset - a No. 16 has not won in 124 tries so far.
Go easy on the upsets
There are few better feelings when playing a bracket then picking an upset. When a No. 12 or 13 wins and you called it you feel invincible - like a hero. The challenge, though, is that as fun as picking upsets are they are almost always a bad idea for pool players.
In most bracket pools you get more points for being correct the later in a tournament you go. A first-round pick that is correct may only be worth a single point, while it could be many times that by the Final Four. As a result, you don't really get enough credit for an upset. Let's say you pick a No. 13 over a No. 4. Seeding would suggest that a No. 4 should advance as far as the Sweet 16 before losing to a No. 1. If you pick a No. 13 upset then you are getting a single point if you are right - and maybe a couple more if they pull off another big upset and you correctly call it. You are taking a big gamble, though, and it is more likely that you will be wrong and the more conservative players will be correct. The potential downside, then, is usually bigger than the upside of making a bold upset pick.
The disadvantage of picking upsets is even more significant when higher seeds are involved. Let's say that you are emboldened by the fact that No. 15 seeds have upset a No. 2 seven times, and you pick an upset there. If you are right then you get a single point - it would be crazy to pick a No. 15 to win more than once. The people who picked the No. 2 to win would miss out on that point and any other points that they may have gotten if that No. 2 had kept winning and they had picked it. Because you only get one point, though, your upside is small. On the other hand, if you pick an upset and are wrong - which is likely because No. 2 seed still wins 94.4 percent of their opening-round matchups - then you not only lose a point to the more conservative selectors, but you also miss out on all the other potential wins of that No. 2 - and seeding suggests that a No. 2 should be expected to make the Elite Eight.
That might sound complicated if you don't really care, but it all comes down to this - you need to be as close to perfect with your Elite Eight picks as possible. The more correct Elite Eight teams you can have, the more likely you are to place highly in your pool. Picking upsets might seem like fun on the first day or two when you are leading your pool, but picking upsets that are incorrect will hurt you badly in the later days of the tournament when things are really won or lost. Sadly, Cinderella teams are for fans, not winners.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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