March Madness is approaching quickly. And if you’re like most people, you’re tired of getting drummed in your bracket pool. Whether you’re playing at online sportsbooks, with friends, or at the office, everybody wants to win their jackpot.
Whatever your motivation is, these nine keys to winning your March Madness bracket will have you wearing the crown when the NCAA men’s basketball season concludes.
1. Do Your Homework
Maybe you’ve been busy all season and haven’t had a chance to scout many of the tournament teams. Perhaps college hoops are of little or no interest to you whatsoever until the tournament begins.
Either way, you have options. We live in a beautiful time where technology can have all the information that we could ever hope for at our fingertips. Why not take advantage of such a wealth of knowledge and insight?
Leading up to the tournament, you will be bombarded by articles covering match ups and breaking down who the pros believe have the gas to make it to the Final Four.
You’ll be sure to find a dark horse among the clutter. This dark horse may be the difference between becoming the envy of your co-workers and listening to your inter-office rival brag for another 12 months.
Putting in the research at the last minute is still leaps and bounds more beneficial than never doing the research to begin.
2. Spread the Wealth
Take your shots. Fill out several different brackets among different platforms.
You’ll lose more than you win, but you’ll have a much higher chance of getting it right. Think in terms of focusing on the Sweet 16 towards the championship.
Mix in a few of the aforementioned dark horses to hit on those games where others will be too afraid to take a chance.
Your goal is to have enough diversity throughout the brackets to maintain a general continuity still. Think in terms of having three different teams in your Sweet 16 as opposed to 14.
You aren’t trying to blow up and start each bracket from scratch. If you have a toss-up, play it both ways.
This strategy ensures that you get it right, and winning your bracket in the neighborhood can be even sweeter than winning the office pool. It’s definitely better than not winning any bracket at all.
3. Pick One of the First Four Teams to Make a Move
Every season, one of the teams that makes it to the dance via one of the play-in games follows up with a win in the tournament’s first round.
This knowledge will give you a leg up on your competition if you can say correctly which of the teams is going to ride the momentum to a victory.
Study these matchups carefully and keep in mind that it’s possible for more than one play in team to advance. This goes back to diversifying your brackets. It’s best to study the matchups carefully and make your best prediction. Try not to fall into the trap of overthinking the games.
No need to get too cute; when you start getting cute with your decision-making, you open yourself to a full onslaught of unnecessary mistakes.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take many of these mistakes to tank your bracket completely.
4. Give Into the Madness
It’s called March Madness for a reason. You’ll be best off to roll with the punches.
The chances that you’ll submit a perfect bracket are astronomical. Besides, there wouldn’t be much excitement if every game went according to plan.
Basketball games can and often are decided by the bounce of a ball. So goes the hopes of millions of brackets with it.
It is a fruitless and futile endeavor trying to carefully and tirelessly obsess over each and every game in the tournament.
Once you’ve made a clear decision on a game, put it to bed and let fate run its course. You may find yourself on the receiving end of Lady Luck’s blessing.
5. Don’t Fall in Love With Favorites
If picking a winning NCAA bracket was as simple as going with the 32 higher seeded teams followed by the 16, 8, 4, until you reach the Final Four, everyone would be a winner.
In the real world, upsets happen. My favorite aspect of the NCAA tournament is the occasional Cinderella Story.
Once in a blue moon, an underdog team will come out of nowhere and make a run deep in the tournament. Still, we don’t need a Cinderella to force a few upsets.
The first round of the event is littered with lower seeds knocking out higher-seeded teams. The 12 seed versus the number 5 is an excellent example of this.
These two teams are often much more closely matched than the seeding would indicate. Hence, whichever team happens to have the hot hand will take a win regardless of their seed position.
6. Look for Teams With a Motivator
Due to sports and travel nature, there will be teams that often have an underlying motivating factor for their success.
Sometimes, this motivation can come from feeling that they’ve been slighted in their seed position. When a team thinks that the press or other teams have disrespected them, they are guaranteed to show up with an extra fight.
Other times the motivation may be as simple as playing in front of a hometown crowd. The pools are split into geographical zones.
Suppose the University of Texas is playing against Florida State in Dallas. In that case, the Longhorns may very well feel like they’re playing a home game in Austin.
Any number of factors can carry a team to a shocking series of wins. Keep in mind that while the Cinderella story is excellent, it’s likely to come to an end.
At the end of the day, basketball is a game where the more highly-skilled team will win most of the time. That’s assuming, of course, that coaching and all other factors are equal.
7. Pay Attention to Coaching Matchups
Coaching matchups are the most often overlooked area for picking an NCAA Tournament bracket.
I only picked up on it because of how much it’s discussed on pre-game shows and during the broadcast. Luckily, I was able to stay home a lot as a kid and learned this as a child watching the tournament with my dad.
It’s not uncommon to have a younger coach facing off against their mentor in the tournament. Regularly, these coaches spent years learning the more tenured coach’s habits and philosophy on the game.
This inside knowledge is invaluable when game-planning, and it may spell the difference between victory and defeat. Of course, if both coaches have very similar plans, the more talented team will still hold an advantage.
Pay close attention to coaching matchups, and it’ll give you an edge over most of those picking a bracket.
8. Use the NBA Draft as a Barometer for Success
Over the last 25 years of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, nearly every championship team has had at least two NBA first-round picks on its roster.
Much like in the NBA, superstars win championships. When they’re loaded up with multiple studs, the odds go higher.
Pay attention to NBA mock drafts. And if you spot teams heading towards your Final Four that is loaded with future NBA talent, make the smart play and back the stars.
This is almost a fail-proof design for picking your championship matchups. However, a few times, the National Champions had fewer than two first rounders on the team.
Still, going with the future millionaires will win you more games than taking the underdog.
9. Ride the #1 Seeds
Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? I’ll regularly catch myself watching games where I care nothing about either team. Almost exclusively, I’ll see myself rooting for the lower-ranked team or the team with the worst record.
My wife asks me almost weekly why we like a particular team. At that point, I usually catch myself and have to once again admit to her that I don’t care either way, but team A is a 15-point underdog.
So, we are fans for the day. The only real exceptions being Notre Dame, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Houston Asterisks—I mean Astros.
Listen, #1 seeds exist for a reason. They are an elite team, and they’ve spent the past several months demonstrating how difficult they are to beat.
Don’t believe that you’re going to outmaneuver or out-think exceptional programs. Granted, the #1 doesn’t win every year, but there’s typically a couple hanging around for the Final Four.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be the 1 in 35,000,000 that submits the perfect bracket for $1 million.
However, employing these nine keys to winning your March Madness bracket can take you further in the game than you’ve ever imagined.