college hoops bracket strategy
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Selection Sunday is coming soon and you know what that means. It is one of the best times of the year for sports fans. The NCAA tournament field will be announced on March 13 and along with it we get the 68-team March Madness bracket.
Everyone entering an online bracket challenge, an online pool, an office pool, or some other form of play on this year’s bracket is hopeful they can correctly pick enough wins to take home that grand prize, whatever it may be.
If only you could fill out the perfect bracket. The odds of doing that are only in the 9 quintillion to 1 range, but hey, maybe we can help you to at least win your office pool. Use these tips to help you fill out this year’s March Madness bracket.
Start at the End
It’s in your best interest to start with the Final Four and work backwards through the bracket. Here’s why. First off, everyone is tempted to go through Round 1 and pick a bunch of upsets so they can look like a genius. That’s great, but the average NCAA tournament has just 12 upsets.
Now, it’s important to clarify an upset. A No. 9 seed beating a No. 8 seed is not an upset, but a No. 10 beating a No. 7 is as are games where a team seeded at least two spots below its opponent wins. In later rounds, you may have a No. 6 beating a No. 3, for example. If there is an average of 12 upsets per tournament, it makes sense that about six would occur in the first round.
For believing that you are a genius in picking a No. 14 to beat a No. 3 in Round 1, in most bracket challenges you will receive a single point. Wow. When you get to the Elite Eight, Final Four, and title game, you will receive a lot more points for correct picks. That’s why you need to nail your picks in the later rounds. But how?
It helps to have some valuable information about the Final Four. Over the past 36 tournaments, there are only 15 instances where a team seeded lower than No. 6 made the Final Four. One of those did occur last year when No. 11 UCLA made the Final Four.
The lowest seed to ever win a national championship was No. 8 Villanova in 1985. That was the first year the tournament was expanded to 64 teams. Connecticut won as a No. 7 seed in 2014. Since Connecticut’s win, five No. 1 seeds and one No. 2 seed have won the national title.
The point is that it is much more likely for one of the top four seeds to advance to the Final Four than it is for any of the other 12. Since you get more points for these later round picks, it makes sense to start there and work backwards.
We all love it when we pick that upset that no one else did. But, there are smart upset picks and simply ridiculous ones. Until Virginia lost as a No. 1 seed in the 2018 tourney, no No. 1 had lost. It’s not likely to happen anytime soon either.
There have been nine No. 2 seeds to lose in the first round of March Madness. That actually happened last year too when Oral Roberts beat Ohio State. Typically, the top two seeds win at least their first game.
As mentioned, roughly 12 upsets occur during an NCAA tourney. That means around six will take place in the opening round. The highest number of upsets comes from the No. 7-No. 10 first-round game. Since 1985, there have been 55 No. 10 seeds win their first-round game.
Last year, two No. 10s won games – Maryland and Rutgers. Most often, No. 10 seeds are teams from a Power conference (Big Ten in this case) that are good but got beat up in a tough league. Sometimes, 10 seeds are one of the best teams in a mid-major conference like VCU in 2016 or Wichita State in 2017.
Still Picking Upsets
As you advance through the bracket, the number of upsets per round is going to decrease. If an average of six occur in Round 1, it’s likely you’ll have about three in Round 2. As you move to the second round, keep in mind that the No. 6 seed has beaten the No. 3 seed 29 times since 1985. The No. 7 seed has 26 wins over the No. 2 seed in Round 2.
Historically, at least one No. 2 seed and one No. 3 seed will exit the tournament in Round 2. The issue for those filling out their bracket is to figure out the right team to eliminate. Last year, No. Iowa and No. 3s Kansas and West Virginia were all eliminated in the second round.
Hopefully, these tips will be enough to give you an advantage against your office co-workers or the millions of people that will play online bracket challenges. Good luck!