As the first weekend of March Madness comes to a close, many people escaped with their brackets still intact. 7-foot-6-inch Tacko Fall and the University of Central Florida Knights provided the biggest scare by almost breaking millions of hearts nationwide, but NCAA poster child Zion Williamson poured in 32 points to help Duke avoid a massive upset. With all No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds still alive, the tournament hasn’t provided as much “madness” as usual, but there’s still plenty of basketball left to play.
As someone who’s been making brackets since the age of six (even predicting North Carolina’s title run in 2005), I feel I might be an expert. While it’s too late for this year, I’m willing to share my secrets about how to win your bracket pool so that you can dominate next time out.
Whether you spend hours researching each team or go by which school has the better mascot, this guide will ensure bragging rights over your friends, at least until the following March.
1. Don’t pick the overwhelming favorite to win it all
I can’t stress this enough. If there’s one nugget of knowledge that you take away from this whole column, this is it: DO NOT PICK THE FAVORITE TO WIN IT ALL. Plain and simple. A whopping 39.2 percent of brackets have Duke winning the tournament this year.
To put yourself in the running, you’ll have to be almost perfect on your earlier picks because there will probably be someone who has more points than you and picked Duke. If I had to guess a winner, I’d probably say Duke. However, I’d rather choose a different No. 1 seed, like University of North Carolina or University of Virginia. Given that No. 1 seeds have won 21 of the last 29 championships, the smart money is on the second or third most popular team, not the favorite.
2. When it comes to upsets, be bold, not stupid
No! you shouldn’t have picked No. 16 Gardner-Webb University to upset No. 1 Virginia (and if you did, I pray that you never become a gambling addict). And quite frankly, I wouldn’t pick a No. 15 seed over a No. 2 either. No. 16 seeds have only won a single time since the tournament expanded to its current format in 1985 (In 2018, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County became the only team to do it when they won against Virginia).
No. 2 seeds have only won eight times in 140 games, a percentage of just 5.71 percent. Go ahead and throw in a No. 14 over a No. 3 or a No. 13 over a No. 4, as one of those two has happened every year since 2008 (besides 2017). But have at least three No. 11 or No. 12 seeds in the Round of 32.
Since 2012, No. 12 seeds have won 44 percent of games against No. 5 seeds. No. 11 seeds have won 53 percent of their first-round games since 2011. And make sure to have a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16, as that’s happened every year since 2008.
3. Don’t have all No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Final Four
While it’s very tempting to send the highly ranked teams to the Final Four (they were seeded that way for a reason!), have at least one of your Final Four teams be a No. 3 seed or lower. Each of the last 10 Final Fours have featured a team seeded outside of the top two.
I wouldn’t necessarily have them hoisting the trophy, as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed has won the last four championships, but there will be an unexpected team amongst the last four standing because, after all, this is March.
And for those of you who want to see all four No. 1 seeds survive, keep dreaming: 2008 is the only time that’s happened in tournament history.
4. Do your homework
Even if college basketball isn’t your thing, a little research can go a long way when it comes to brackets. Perusing expert articles about which teams are on “upset alert” is an excellent starting place because they know what they’re talking about (they get paid to do it). Take it a step further and investigate which players are bound to dominate, which dark horses to look out for and who is being vastly overrated.
5. Follow your heart
Above all, always remember to trust your instincts.
I’ve been following college basketball all season, and yet I find myself behind my dad, who admittedly spends less and less time on his bracket each year.
As if it can’t get any worse, it’s in a pool with my friends back home, so I may never hear the end of it. What do the experts know anyways? In the end, they’re just guessing like anyone else is. So do what you want.
Pick Duke to win it all. Pick Gardner-Webb to win it all.
Pick Amherst to win it all! Just know that with every bracket that’s filled out and every game that you watch, you’re helping promote the horribly corrupt institution that governs collegiate sports, the NCAA. But that’s a topic for another day.