2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket Tips
Just about any honest, red-blooded American knows of or has participated in an NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament pool. Yet just because someone has taken the time to write school names on paper, that does not mean that they know how to fill out a NCAA Tournament bracket.
Filling out a bracket is part science, part mystical wizardry and part mental immolation. It can be as simple or as complicated as you would like it to be. For some it is about harnessing the powers of logic, reasoning and risk management. For others it is an expression of daring and whimsy. You can tell a lot about a person based on how they fill out their bracket. Like how much they know about the Mountain West.
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While every approach is different, there are definitely some rules and guidelines that one should adhere to or consider when attempting to fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket for your office pool or friendly neighborhood gambling ring. Here are six basic, beginner NCAA Tournament bracket tips. They aren't gospel. But they will give you a solid foundation for filling out the bracket that is destined to win you some cash.
1. Pick the tournament winner first.
My first NCAA Tournament bracket tip seems a bit self-evident. I mean, if it was that easy to pick the tournament champion, then everyone would do it, right? And why bother with a pool at all when you could just bet on your chosen team to win it all with a futures play?
My point here is to build your bracket backwards. Most NCAA pools have some kind of weighted system that rewards more points for wins picked up later in the tournament. Therefore it is nearly impossible to win your office pool without picking the champion. So Step 1 in my NCAA Tournament bracket tips is to pick the winner. A No. 1 seed has won 28 of the past 40 tournaments, so that's a good place to start.
And if you fill out more than one bracket, don't be foolish enough to pick the same team to win it all in each of them.
2. Don't pick all the favorites.
In 2008, we witnessed an extremely rare occurrence: all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four. In the 10 years since, just 14 of 40 slots in the Final Four have been filled out by No. 1 seeds. And that includes the 2011 tournament, when the equally rare occurrence of no top seeds advancing to the national semifinal.
The NCAA Tournament is the most unpredictable sporting event on the calendar. Nothing goes according to plan. So expecting form to hold and for all the favorites to make it to the final weekend is naive.
At the end of the first weekend, two of the top eight teams (the No. 1's and the No. 2's) are going to be sent home. That has been the average over the past 20-plus years. There will also be upsets in the Sweet 16, so you should mix in some No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6 teams into your Elite Eight.
3. Don't get Upset Crazy.
I know that this NCAA Tournament bracket tip seems to directly contradict our second tip. The key is finding a balance between some smart, early-round upsets and correctly picking which top seeds will successfully navigate the minefield on the way to the Elite Eight or Final Four.
Everyone gets hard nipples over being able to predict the upsets in the first round. In fact, that's the big part of the draw of filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket. Bragging about correctly predicting that 13-4 upset is fun. But it likely won't make a big difference in whether or not you end up winning the cash.
Don't get caught up trying to hard to predict the chaos that's about to ensue in The Madness. That's the whole point of March: it's uncontrollable. It's hubris to think that you can predict every crazy twist and turn, and you're just going to screw your bracket if you try to do so.
This also goes back to what I mentioned before about the scoring in your league. You get more points by picking winners later in the tournament. So picking an upset in the first round really doesn't do much for you. Instead, think about Sweet 16 upsets between more evenly matched teams.
4. Know when to kick Cinderella to the curb.
Again, it is amazingly self-satisfying to correctly predict a No. 12 to beat a No. 5. But what you don't want to do is get carried away predicting these Cinderellas to make a deep run into the tournament.
Double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16 are unorthodox, but not necessarily rare. In 24 of 34 NCAA Tournaments held between 1985-2018, there has been at least two teams seeded 10 or worse in the Sweet 16.
Further, there have been just five double-digit seeds to make it to the Final Four in NCAA Tournament history, with Syracuse achieving the feat in 2016 and Loyola Chicago accomplishing it last season. Those were remarkable underdog stories. But they were still flukes.
Underdogs can have their moment (or moments) in the opening weekend. After that, size and talent generally win out. And if there is a Cinderella team that goes on a major run, it is likely going to blow a hole in a lot of people's brackets. So you can actually do more damage to yourself by trying to predict that type of madness rather than simply hoping to avoid it.
5. Pay attention to W-L records.
This tip is more for people who maybe don't follow that much college basketball outside of their home conference or outside the major leagues. You can tell a lot about a team based on what its record is, regardless of what league they are from.
I'm not talking about the difference between a 25-9 team and a 22-10 squad. I'm talking about being able to spot a potential upset based on the fact that a team has an absurd record (like, say, 29-3). Teams with eye-popping records know one thing: winning. And they can make up some of the most dangerous underdogs, regardless of their seeding.
6. Trust your first instinct.
In the end, it's your bracket. Do what you want with it. It is supposed to be fun, and keep that in mind while you're inking up your paper. Don't try to outsmart yourself and go with your gut. It is simple: if you can identify the overall winner, you have a chance to win your bracket. If not, you might as well enjoy the ride.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has posted 10 of 12 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and will have an 8-Unit Conference Tournament Game of the Year next week. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here .
Read more articles by Robert Ferringo
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