Are you planning on filling out a March Madness pool this year? Dumb question - of course you are. I mean, you have a pulse and you are aware that sports exist, so it pretty much goes without saying. Also, reading this article is a pretty big giveaway as well. While so many people fill out brackets every year, only a tiny fraction of those people wind up winning their pool or making money. You, of course, need to be one of that tiny fraction. And the chances of that happening are much higher if you stick to this March Madness bracket advice and tips.
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The path, the path, the path
When you are handicapping a single college basketball game you know the kinds of things you need to consider - how the teams match up, which team will dictate the tempo and what impact that will have, depth, coaching and so on. Filling out a bracket is essentially the handicapping of an entire tournament instead of a single game. That means that you have to at least somewhat consider those individual factors for each game in the tournament, but you also need to consider what stands in the way of a deep run for each team. Who are they facing in the first round is important, but you also need to consider who they are most likely to play in subsequent rounds. Will their style of play be an advantage or disadvantage going forward? Will they have an easier game or two along the way to keep relatively fresh, or will every game be a grind? Is there a potential matchup that seems like a disaster, and if so how likely is that matchup? Will they be playing a lot of up-tempo games? Are they used to that, or will it wear them down? How about facing non-traditional, mentally exhausting offenses or defenses?
The team that wins these tournaments is only rarely the best team in the field. They are the team that has the best path or handles the path they have the best. The more effort you can put into considering the path of teams - especially top four seeds because they are the most likely to win the tournament - the bigger your edge over the average player will be.
Use your brain, ignore your heart
If you are a fan of college basketball, or of any college sports, or even if you live or have lived in the U.S., there are going to be some teams that you love regardless of how good they actually are based on their actual team and other teams that you are programmed to hate no matter what. If, for example, Duke and Ohio State were to ever play in the Championship Game I would simply not watch because I know it is impossible for both teams to lose. That emotional response is part of what makes college sports so much fun, but it has no place when it comes to making your picks and filling out your bracket.
If your head tells you that a team is clearly better then you have to pick them no matter who they are. My heart tells me that Michigan is going to win the tournament every year they make the field, but my head knows that I will have to pick against them almost every year - and likely sooner than my heart would like. Look at it this way - let your head make the picks, and promise your heart your buy tickets to watch your favorite team play with the winnings.
Look beyond what you know
It's almost certain if you watch college basketball that you watch one group of teams much more than the rest. It could be that most of your viewing is of one conference - I watch a whole lot more Big Ten games than any other conference and probably more Big Ten games than all other games combined most years. It could be that your viewing is limited to the most significant time slots on TV, so you mostly watch high-profile, public teams. Whatever the bias of your viewing is in the season, you need to be aware of it so you can be sure not to let it guide your picks too much. Some of the teams you tend to watch more often will likely have success, but they aren't likely to have disproportionate success, so you need to be sure you are as objective as you possibly can be when making your picks.
Hype was made to be ignored
Everyone is an expert when it comes to tournament time. They all have opinions, and they all are making plenty of noise as they try to break through the crow and get some attention. When you look a little closer, though, you'll often find that many of those 'experts' haven't been talking or writing about the sport at all until the postseason starts. They show up when people are around paying attention and disappear when they aren't. Those experts will all have strong opinions, and many of those opinions will be common among lots of the experts. And as likely as not, that hype about a team or a player is worthless.
At this time of year you need to trust yourself and your research or make sure that whoever you are trusting is legitimate and worthy of your respect.
Go easy on the upsets
People love picking big upsets in the NCAA Tournament. They like the thrill of being right. It's fine if that's what important to you, but it is very important if you want to win your pool to remember that upsets actually aren't all that common.
If everything went exactly according to plan then the eight teams in the Elite Eight would all be No.1 or No. 2 seeds. In each of the last two years six of the eight Elite Eight teams have had one of those seedings. So, that means that there have been upsets - like No. 10 Syracuse making the Final Four last year - but more often than not the better teams move through in the end.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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