Tips for Mastering your NCAA Tournament Bracket

Tips for Masteringyour NCAA Bracket

I grew up being a big fan of college basketball. March was a fun time of year where we watched a lot of basketball as a family. If my team lost, I would hear about it at school the next day.

However, I know for a lot of people the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament is all about picking out the right teams for their office or family bracket. Our family’s bracket competition is one of the few things that my family can all do together since we are spread across the country.

We have fun letting our kids try to select their own brackets. We have a family prize, and there a lot of other bracket competitions that provide prizes. It can be fun and profitable to play! In my family of basketball fans I actually have a decent track record of picking good brackets, so I thought I would share a few tips to help you maximize your bracket’s chances. Here is my #MethodtoMarch.

1. Don’t Expect Perfection

It is rather rare that out of the millions of brackets created even one is perfect. You want to play the odds. Last year my mom picked all of the higher seeds in match-ups and around 90% of ESPN brackets were better than hers. It isn’t a strategy she is going to be repeating.

You have to pick upsets, and you have to be smart about them. Once the tournament starts unexpected results start happening, but you just have to be right more often during each round. Games in later rounds are extra valuable. Keep most of your risky picks to the first few rounds. Number 1 seeds don’t always win but win much more often than other seeds. It would be unusual for a seed lower than 4 to win the whole tournament. Here is some information on the odds of different seeds advancing:

  • Have all of the 1 and 2 seeds advance past the first round. If one of them loses for some strange reason, then it is likely that everyone else will have gotten that pick wrong as well.
  • 1-2 of the 13 and 14 seeds advance past the first round.
  • 4 of the 12 teams ranked from 10-12 will likely advance past the first round.
  • Generally, at least one of the 12 seeds will upset a 5 seed (ignore last year).
    • Number 12 seeds are 1-19 in their past 20 Sweet 16 games.
  • Surprisingly, 11 seeds in 6 v. 11 matches in the past 6 years have won about 50% of the time
  • 7 vs. 10 seeds and 8 vs. 9 seeds are similarly essentially toss ups statistically

2. What kinds of teams do well

Some of these tips might seem rather obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to mention them.

  • Teams with seniors tend to do better.
  • Talent matters. Teams with players who will be drafted in high in the NBA draft have a better chance in the tournament. Plus, teams with former McDonald’s All-Americans tend to do better.
  • Quality point guards provide good leadership and keeps their teams moving at a good tempo. Point guards that can withstand the pressure will help their teams feel more comfortable and confident. Plus, they are generally better at shooting the extra valuable three pointers.
  • Bet on experienced coaches who have been there before.
  • Teams playing closer to home do better. Less travel, plus a possibly biased crowd is beneficial to a team.
  • Teams that rank high in both offense and defense are more likely to win. Michigan State, North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, Villanova and Oklahoma are well balanced teams.

My personal theories:

  • Late-season form helps. Losing in the first round of a conference tournament is a bad sign, but winning it isn’t essential.
  • Success versus top-25 teams bodes well for a team.
  • Margin of victory. Teams whose points allowed per game and points scored per game are significantly closer than their opponents worry me.
  • Avoid teams that rely too much on one player or one style of play. Good coaches can game plan ways to stop teams that depend on one thing for their success. In order to win a tournament you have to be resilient, flexible, and consistent.
  • If you want, you can just create lots of different brackets to hedge your bets. It is always more fun to watch the tournament if you still have a chance of winning with even one bracket.

College Basketball in March and April can seem just crazy. Some years I look like a genius picking the right upsets. Other years my bracket is practically useless after the first day. So many games come down to a player making a last second shot, or a star player getting the flu the night before the biggest game of his life. Hopefully, my tips help you do a little bit better than the other people in your bracket group. It is always more fun to win, or at least feel like you competed as well as you could.

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Make sure to fill out your bracket in the next few days before the tournament starts. You can fill out a bracket with Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick’em. You can find out more detailed information on specific matchups at Yahoo Sports.

Your are invited to compete with me and Clark Condensed readers in our Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick’em pool. Just click to join a private pool. The pool ID is 139151, and the password is clark. May the best bracket win! We will give a $15 Amazon Gift card to the winner!

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