Every year millions of people will fill out a NCAA Tournament bracket for one of the thousands of contests that exist on the local level all the way up to one that is offering a billion dollars to the first person to pick the perfect bracket. You have much better odds of winning a multi-million dollar Powerball Jackpot then correctly picking all 63 games in the NCAA Tournament, but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of picking more correct games than everyone else you are competing against.
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How to Fill Out a Winning March Madness Bracket: Do your Homework and Study the Sheet
How many times in school did you do well on a test that you never studied for? It is not to say that you can a successful bracket with nothing more than a coin for calling heads or tails, but do not get upset about any money you may have invested to enter the local office pool when your bracket is busted by the time this Friday’s late games get underway.
If you are already an avid college basketball fan then you are way ahead of the curve. However, that does not mean you know everything you need to know to pick a winning bracket. Current form is huge in this tournament, so you should always know how teams finished the regular season as well as how they did in their recent conference tournaments. It was not that long ago that Connecticut came into the Big East Tournament as a mid-level seed and parlayed an amazing run to a conference title into a national title.
Get to know which teams were seeded too high or even more importantly too low. This is how you uncover the potential upsets that can give the edge over your competition right out of the gate. Be sure to consult a trusted sportsbook for the opening lines as well as line movements on the opening-round games. If the money is moving one way or the other on a particular team, that could be a good indication of an upset in the making.
Huge Upsets are the Exception not the Rule
Everyone remembers last season’s NCAA Tournament when No. 2 seed Georgetown got bounced by No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast or when Harvard knocked off New Mexico as a No. 14 seed, but these kinds of upsets still remain rare. You will probably see one or two No. 12 seeds take out a No. 5, but beyond that, do not start picking against too many of the top four seeds in each region in the first two rounds unless there is a pretty solid reason to do so.
Numbers do not Lie
It is extremely rare for all four No. 1 seeds to advance to the Final Four, but it did happen in 2008. Also keep in mind that none of the top teams in each region made it to the Final Four in 2006 and 2001. Its best to stay somewhere in the middle by advancing your top two teams all the way through their region and then taking a hard look where the other two No. 1’s might get tripped up.
As mentioned, there were quite a few second-round upsets last season (the first round of the NCAA Tournament is the four play-in games that whittle the field down to 64 teams), but going back a few years to 2011, 78 percent of the higher seeds won their opening game. This number dropped to 69 percent in 2010, but you get the idea. Once you reach a threshold of eight upsets by seed in the first 32 games, you might to hold off on adding too many more to the list.
Stick with the Majors
Teams such as Butler, VCU and Wichita State have caught everyone’s attention in recent years as mid-major Cinderellas that busted the bracket all the way to the Final Four, but the reality of the situation still tells us that a team from a major conference will occupy one of the Final Four spots in this tournament almost 75 percent of the time. You should not necessarily pick against a team to go far because it is from a mid-major, but that is also not a valid reason to ride one all the way to a region title.
A Few other Odds and Ends
There is nothing wrong with listening to all the experts go on and on about which teams are primed to pull off an early upset or which teams will make a deep run, but do not get too caught up in all the chatter. You still need to judge each game on its individual merit in terms of how the two teams involved actually match up against one another. Injuries are also very important this time of year, so be sure to dig deep to see if any key players are nicked up heading into this week’s games.
One final note, depending on how serious you want to take any bracket contest that you enter, it is never a good idea to fill them out with your buddies over a couple of beers. Let them head to the local bar to discuss their picks before the tournament gets underway while you stay home and concentrate on filling out your bracket with a clear head. When you take their money by winning the NCAA Tournament pool will be the best time to buy them that drink at your favorite watering hole.
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Read more articles by Dave Schwab