Not sure about how to fill out a bracket for your March Madness pool? Fear not—even the most respected college basketball experts can have a hard time figuring out which teams are destined for the Final Four.
Luckily, years of trial and error have provided a rough blueprint for March Madness bracket success. With a combination of mathematics, a general understanding of bracket etiquette and a bit of research into tournaments past, even a novice bracketologist has a chance at dancing their way into the Final Four alongside their Cinderella pick.
Whether you're competing in an office pool or just trying to one-up your friends, here’s our guide on how to fill out a bracket, just in time to win your March Madness 2014 pool.
1. A 16-seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed. Every NCAA Tournament produces at least a few unexpected winners, but don’t expect this year’s Cinderella to come out of the last seed in a given region.
2. Fill out one bracket...and one bracket only. Many would-be March Madness gurus decide to fill out multiple brackets in the vain hope of improving their odds at putting together a winner. Don’t be that guy. In addition to drawing the ire of everyone you know, you’ll have spent hours hedging your bets with no guarantee of success. Do your research, make your picks once and hope for the best.
3. Take a few risks… It’s easy to go through your bracket and chose every single favorite to advance to the next round, but what’s the fun in that? Take a few educated guesses at which favored teams stand a chance at going home empty-handed. Maybe that injury-riddled 3-seed actually will lose to that red-hot 14-seed. Of course, checking out a few experts' predictions on potential upsets won't hurt, either.
4. …but don’t ignore the favorites. The NCAA tournament’s top seeds earned that distinction for a season; they possessed the strength of schedule, record and level of talent required to justify that honor. Furthermore, as College Basketball Talk notes, there have only been four times since 1979 that a team lower than a 3-seed managed to emerge as NCAA champion.
5. Make note of perennially-successful coaches. Certain coaches, such as Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski or Florida’s Billy Donovan are near-locks to lead their teams deep into the tournament on a yearly basis. In 2014, both schools have the talent to support yet another run to the Final Four.
6. Keep an eye on injury reports. This is especially true when considering schools who are reliant on one player above all others. The absence of a player like Kansas’ Joel Embiid or Creighton’s Doug McDermott would completely alter that team’s ability to advance.
7. When in doubt, trust in mathematics. And we’re not talking about flipping a coin. Using data such as strength of schedule and pace-adjusted states, a website called Prediction Machine ran 50,000 simulations of this year’s NCAA tournament and came up with each team’s odds of advancing to the next round. Furthermore, the folks over at For The Win applied those odds to a nifty virtual bracket. Take a look.
8. Have fun. With office bragging rights on the line, it’s easy to forget that March Madness is, first and foremost, a sporting event. Don’t let your obsession with crafting the perfect bracket interfere with your ability to actually enjoy the games.