How to Fill Out a Winning March Madness Bracket in 2019
I don't know about you, but as far as I am concerned the biggest accomplishment as a sports fan is to have a winning March Madness bracket. A true joy - and really not easy to do. It only makes sense, then, that we spend some time talking about how to fill out a winning March Madness bracket. It's not rocket science, and a good deal of luck is involved, but by following a few really simple but important tips you can greatly increase your chances of success. Your goal isn't to always fill out a perfect bracket. Your job is just to fill out the smartest bracket you can and avoid the biggest mistakes. If you do that over the long term, then you are going to come out just fine. Here are three big keys at the heart of winning brackets:
1. Identify the possible winners before you see the bracket: The first step that most people take when they are filling out their bracket is just to sit down and start picking out their winners. They don't do any homework in advance - they just let the bracket set things up for them. If that's how people are doing it, then it only makes sense that if you do some homework you are going to have a huge advantage over the large majority of people in a bracket. Remember, you don't have to have a perfect bracket - just a better one than the rest of the people.
Once you see the bracket you are already biased - letting the matchups shift your opinions. Instead, sit down before you have seen the bracket and look at which teams are the true contenders in your mind. Which teams have the right mix of talent, form, coaching and luck to do some real damage. At the same time, you will come up with the top-level teams that you just don't buy into - that you think are vulnerable if they run into a team that can challenge them. You aren't necessarily trying to figure out who is going to win the tournament. You just want to know which teams are for real and which ones aren't. Once you see the bracket, you can take the teams you have identified, look at their paths, and see how they set up. If you haven't done this homework, then you are going to be distracted by names and reputations instead of by what they are really capable of doing. This will likely lead you to a somewhat different bracket than the masses - and that's a good thing.
2. Don't fall in love with the top seeds: You have to have a healthy respect for high seeds - especially No. 1 seeds. But while No. 1 seeds are the best teams in the country, they are far from unbeatable. Top seeds have won 21 of the last 34 editions of the tournament. And only once have we seen all four No. 1 seeds reach the Final Four. As a result, a lot of No. 1 seeds lose, and many of them lose before they would be expected to. And the same goes for second, third and fourth seeds. So, as you are filling out your bracket, you don't have to be afraid of letting a top seed lose. You don't want to go too crazy - losing brackets almost always have too many upsets. But you can't let the number beside the team guide you if you don't have a favorable opinion of the team. Again, this is why the homework is so important.
3. Go easy on the upsets: For most people, the glory of filling out brackets is picking the upsets on the opening weekend. If they pick an upset, you will hear about it endlessly. But the simple truth is that upsets just don't happen that often. If you picked Virginia losing last year you would have all sorts of bragging rights, but if you had picked a No. 1 seed to lose any other time in history, you would be wrong. That's not a very good percentage, obviously, and by chasing those upsets you are just dooming your brackets over the long term.
You have to think about what it actually takes to win a bracket. It's all about getting the most points you can, and you get more points for being right in later rounds. So, let's look at the No. 2 vs. No. 15 matchup, because that's a spot where upsets can happen at times. If you do pick an upset, you get just a single point for that win in the first round. But then you are left with a 15 seed in the second round, and they probably aren't going to win a lot more - they have had their moment. But if you pick an upset like that and you are wrong then not only are not getting a point in the first round, but you are missing out on the chance for more wins by the No. 2 seed - and that team is likely to win a couple more most years. So, by chasing the upset and having a low chance of success, you are making it very likely that you are going to fall behind the pack and make it harder for you to win the bracket. Brackets, ultimately, aren't about splashy early success - they are about slow and steady long-term success. It might sound boring, but only until you win.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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