Optimizing Your March Madness Bracket: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Basketball fans, our favorite time is upon us once more. It’s March Madness bracket time! College basketball may look different this season, but the tradition of filling out your March Madness bracket will very much remain the same. Just like past years, we all have that golden wish of getting the perfect bracket. It has yet to be done, but there are definitely some tips that can help you optimize your March Madness bracket.

Tips for Making the Best March Madness Bracket

1.   Mix up your March Madness bracket predictions

Bracketology, or the study of brackets, can be so confusing and a little intimidating. You’re standing there with an empty March Madness bracket, expected to fill in all of these little spaces. 

 

You can either take the route of picking all of the top-seeded teams or go with the underdogs. But, more than likely, neither of these two methods alone will actually benefit you. The truth is that you should actually choose a bit of both. There is nothing wrong with betting on the higher-seeded team, but upsets are very common, and often shake up all NCAA March Madness brackets.

 

Upsets are when the lower seeded team beats the higher seeded team. For example, if the #2 seeded team loses to the #15 seeded team, that would be a huge upset. This is a completely unexpected scenario and the #15 team is absolutely the underdog in this game. So, some brackets are all upsets with a #16 team as the winner.

 

Although this is highly unlikely (considering a #16 seed has never won a national championship), it is a good tactic to switch up your bracket. Give some of those lower seeds a chance and make your March Madness Bracket different from those around you. If your underdog wins, and you were one of the few that chose them, the value of your win is higher!

 

2.   Choose teams who have a better chance of winning

With that being said, know your numbers. You want to choose teams who have a better chance of winning. How do you decide who that is? Well, you can look at the numbers.

  • Use the seed numbers: The seeding numbers are there to help you out with your projected March Madness bracket. These numbers were created by individuals with a lot of basketball knowledge. They are there to guide you towards the team that has a higher likelihood of winning. These numbers can be fairly reliable, considering examples like the fact that #5 seed has beaten the #12 seed 65% of the time.
  • Use the betting numbers: If the seed numbers don’t convince you, then Las Vegas betting odds may be more your thing. Las Vegas odd makers calculate the spread (the distance between the two teams’ scores) for each game. This can help influence your decision on the team more likely to win.
  • Pay attention to player behavior: Sometimes, teams will surprise you, but do they surprise you because it’s truly an odd win, or are they following a pattern that you missed? This is something to consider since most of the time we are at least a little biased towards our favorite teams while filling out our NCAA March Madness bracket. It may not even be our favorite team, but overall favorites that can make your bracket very similar to others. This may make you miss those quieter teams that actually play really well and may be from smaller or different conferences.
  • Listen to the experts for a long time: Creating the most optimal March Madness Bracket is the long game. It takes more time than just filling your March Madness brackets in right when they come out, which is after the NCAA selection committee seeds all of the teams after the individual conference championships. You have a few days between the selection and the first game to fill out your printable March Madness bracket, but your work should start way before then. To make the best March Madness bracket, you have to listen to the experts from the beginning of the season and their analysis on the team. This will help you get a good idea on teams’ regular behavior, injuries, star players, and behavior in certain situations. Armed with this information, be ready to make some great March Madness predictions.   

3.   Make your printable brackets different than anyone else

The fun part about NCAA March Madness brackets is that normally you play it against other people. Maybe you put together an office pool with coworkers, or play against your family. You can even enter national pools and have a chance at winning large amounts of money. The key to standing out in these groups of players is to make sure that your bracket is different from everyone else’s.

 

Making your bracket different is really difficult to do because you also want it to be realistic. Once again, filling your bracket with all perfection or all upsets is not going to bode you well. This is why you want to make the smart predictions on “sleeper” teams, or the ones that have a good chance of winning but no one is really talking about. If there is a #10 or #8 seed that catches your eye, don’t be afraid to throw it in your bracket every now and then.

 

The more different your NCAA March Madness bracket is, the more valuable your wins are. Here are some tips to making your bracket different from others:

  • Keep your votes to yourself. If you have a good feeling about a team no one is talking about, you don’t want to tip others off or plant a seed.
  • Listen to the picks of those around you. Why reinvent the wheel when you may get some valuable information from participants in the group.
  • Throw realistic underdogs in your NCAA March Madness Bracket. This is where your studying comes into play. If you can predict patterns and judge the spread or odds, you may come up lucky with an upset.

4.   Create many brackets to maximize your chance of winning

Here’s the fun part! Did you know you can create as many March Madness brackets as you want? Of course, if your pool has limited entries you’ll need to play by those rules. On the other hand, national pools often have caps at 10 per profile, which means you could create multiple profiles and create as many brackets as you want. This way, you can create brackets with different outcomes. Perhaps you have a bracket full of upsets and one that is perfect where the highest seed always wins. Then you can start to mix it up and play with different upsets and predictions.

 

Increasing the number of brackets increases your chances of winning as you can come at each one with a different strategy. No need to get stressed over creating one perfect bracket when you can create many high-chances-of-winning brackets. You could also enter different pools, and although this may get expensive, you could get very lucky in a few of them. If you don’t want to spend money, national pools like ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, are normally sponsored by outside resources so creating your brackets is completely free. It’s a low risk (and really fun) way to test your math skills and maybe win some money!

 

5.   Don’t get caught up in big wins or recency bias

Some of these teams will only get into the tournament because they happened to win their conference championship. They could have a shaky record, but because of how the tournament is set up, they could enter with this moment from their recent championship win. At the end of the day, these tournaments are one and done, meaning that a team goes home after one loss. So if the best team has a bad game in their conference tournament, then that could make them appear to be a bad pick in the national tournament. And vice versa, a mediocre team could happen to get hot in their tournament and look like a sleeper team.

 

Don’t fall for it. Those last-second shots and emotional games with big moments can sway bracket makers into choosing these teams that actually have a poor chance of winning many games (if any at all) in the national championship. Look for winning streaks or overall patterns of teams, not just their recent behavior. 

 

Also, when teams already know they’re going to the big tournament, they may not play all of their best players in the conference championship, or their players may not be as motivated. Then those smaller teams could be motivated to try and have a positive end to their season because they know the end of the conference championship is it for them. 

So, there are many factors that could play into why certain teams behave like they do at the end of the season.

You definitely want to pay attention to how teams have improved over the long run, but any major spikes at the end of the season are likely acts of chance that you should not rely on.