How to Make a March Madness Bracket


March Madness is the name of the biggest tournament in college basketball, the 68-team year-end tournament that crowns one team the champions of college basketball. It takes place every year throughout the month of March, with tons of games streaming throughout the day, all hosted in different locations. It gets a massive viewing audience and generates a ton of excitement on college campuses.

Additionally, March Madness comes with the excitement of bracket tournaments. Because the tournament is high-drama, single elimination, and features 67 total games played, it’s a perfect event for the creation of bracket predictions. March Madness brackets are the attempts of fans to predict the outcomes of each and every game in the tournament, from the first four games to the championship. The odds of getting it perfect, as a Duke math professor calculated, are a whopping 1 in 9.2 quintillion.

How March Madness and Brackets Work

March Madness hauls in $1 billion for the NCAA year after year, due to advertising, television deals, and all the events and activities. It’s one of the biggest events in sports, and involves 68 of the best teams in division I college basketball. The top 68 teams all come together at the end of the year, a single elimination tournament where they play until only one team is left standing. 

Since there are so many teams, and since the drama of single elimination creates a ton of excitement, the March Madness tournament allows for a lot of fan participation when people begin making brackets. Brackets are essentially predictions of how the entire tournament will go. Before the tournament starts, you pick who is going to win each of the first round games, each of the second round games, and so on until you pick the winner of the tournament. 

Since the tournament is single elimination, if you get a single game wrong you could have most of your bracket “busted,” which means that a team you picked to go really far has been eliminated early. If you pick a wrong team early to go far, you could have most of your games get proven wrong. 

You score points for each team that you’ve picked correctly. If you’re short of a perfect bracket—and the odds say that you will be wrong, often—then you’ll still want to outdo the competition or simply compete against yourself. Even if you pick some wrong games early, you can stay in the competition by correctly picking a handful of teams that go the distance. And if you can successfully predict the championship team, you can pick up a ton of points late in the tournament.

What Does a March Madness Bracket Look Like?

A March Madness bracket is split into four main sections, named after different conferences and locations. Each of these locations will have 16 teams that are inside of it. Based on regular season and conference tournament performances, each of these teams will be seeded #1 through #16. The #1 seed teams are supposed to be the strongest teams in the tournament. The #16 teams are supposed to be among the weakest teams in the tournament. 

The teams are then matched up in each of the four sections of the March Madness bracket by their seeds. In the first round, #1 seeds take on the #16 seed. In the entire history of the March Madness tournament, a #16 seed has only knocked off a #1 seed one time. Virginia is the unlucky #1 seed that lost to a #16 seed. #2 seeds play the #15 seed, and all the way down to the #8 and #9 seed game. From there, the brackets of 16 unfold until 1 team is left at the top. Each of the four teams left at the top of the four brackets of 16 will play in the final four and then the championship game.


March Madness Bracket Strategies

Always assume you have to be given a good reason to pick the lower seed over the higher seed. Start with the default position that the better seed wins each game. Don’t overthink the tournament. You aren’t going to outthink the data. The best brackets are generally the ones that pick most of the higher seeds, but then have a few really key bets on teams that make runs into the tournament. For the most part, picking the highest seed in every game will give you a much better bracket than the guy who thinks that he’s got his eyes on a couple of cinderella runs through the tournament.

That said, you will want to make some strategic bets on teams that got lower seeds. Because of the way that seeding works in the tournament, there will often be a few good teams that kind of get a lower position than they deserve. If this happens, you can get a couple of cheap picks that can knock off higher seeded teams. The other thing that you want to consider is matchups. If a team matches up really well with a higher seed, then you should take a closer look.

Since there are only 5 people per basketball team, having one transcendent player can really elevate a team in the tournament. Players like Steph Curry have been able to take what might be considered mediocre teams on deep cinderella runs into the tournament. If you really need to decide between a couple of teams that might be close, betting on the superstar player to take their team far might be the right move. If you really can’t decide between two teams, use a silly tie-breaker, like your favorite uniforms or simply the school you like more.

Logistics of a March Madness Bracket

Electronic and Paper Brackets

There are certain types of brackets that you can fill out all the way online, maybe even including a bunch of cool stats and information. But if you’re playing in a local league, you may have to fill out a paper bracket. Also, there’s something fun about printing off the bracket and filling it out in pen.

Picking a Goofy Bracket

You might want to make a couple of different March Madness brackets. There’s a time-honored tradition of making not only the best March Madness bracket that you can make, but also of making an additional bracket just for kicks. If you decide to make a goofy bracket, you can make it based upon your favorite team uniforms, which mascot you think would win in a fight, or your favorite cities in the United States. You could also pick a bracket based on the ranking of law schools or based on your favorite school websites. Anything goes, and the funnier the better. Sometimes your goofy bracket will even do better than your main bracket!

Team Spirit

If you’ve got a great March Madness team, pick up a team hat for good luck to send them all the way to the finals. But for those of us that aren’t blessed with being the fans of a top seed, you’ll have a bigger decision surrounding how far you’re picking your home team or alma mater to go in the tournament. Sometimes, it’s a choice between winning and loyalty to the group. In some lucky cases, you might be able to root for both.