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10 Best Tips for Filling Out March Madness Brackets

10 Best Tips for Filling Out March Madness Brackets
Mike Noblin
Written by Mike Noblin
March 14, 2023

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Wooohooo! We have finally made it to March! Not only does March signal the start of spring, but it’s the best time of the year for hardcore college hoops fans. There’s nothing quite like cheering for a Cinderella team to upset a powerhouse during The Big Dance.

Just how popular is March Madness? Around 36.5 million people filled out brackets for last year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. If you need help navigating all the madness, here are our 10 best tips for filling out March Madness brackets.

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1. Use Point Spreads to Your Advantage

Our first tip is probably the most basic, but it’s still a fantastic approach. Everyone has basketball fever as soon as the brackets come out.

However, resist the urge to rush through filling out your bracket. Wait for the point spreads to be released from some online sportsbooks before making any decisions.

If you have the time, carefully study each point spread before filling out your bracket. No one knows college hoops better than the folks who spend 60+ hours per week making the lines.

2. Pencil In All No. 1 & 2 Seeds to Advance to the 2nd Round

While everyone loves a good underdog story, don’t even think about taking a No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the first round. That big of an upset has only happened once since the tournament went to a 64-team format back in 1985. So save yourself some time and automatically advance all of the No. 1 seed teams to the second round.

No. 2 seed teams haven’t been quite as dominant, but they rarely lose to a No. 15 seed. It’s only happened nine times in the tournament’s history.

No. 15 Oral Roberts shocked the world by upsetting No. 2 Ohio State in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, but an upset of that magnitude probably won’t happen this year.

3. Choose Only a Few Big Upsets in the First Round

The media goes wild with upset stories in March Madness, but that doesn’t mean you should fill your bracket with a bunch of double-digit seeds. In a typical year, you may see one or two No. 12 seeds that upset No. 5 seeds.

A good rule of thumb is to only select two or three upsets in the first round. Again, pay attention to the point spread. Just because a team is a higher seed doesn’t mean that they’ll be favored to win.

There have been plenty of occasions where a No. 12 seed has even been favored over a No. 5 seed. These are usually the perfect times to predict the lower-seeded team to advance in your bracket.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Put Double-Digit Seeds in the Sweet 16

Most folks are reluctant to predict double-digit seeded teams to make it all the way to the Sweet 16. However, it happens more often than you might think.

From 2016 to 2021, nine double-digit seeds reached the Sweet 16. This shows us that in most years, there are one or two double-digit seeds that make the Sweet 16.

If you like a team that is a No. 10 seed or worse, don’t be afraid to pencil them into the Sweet 16 in your bracket. Who knows? You may find that rare diamond in the rough like Loyola from a few years ago.

5. Pick a No. 1 Seed To Win It All

As we’ve mentioned a few times, underdogs get a ton of hype in March, and rightfully so. However, when it comes to crowning a champion, choose a No. 1 seed in your bracket. It’s the best way to go, and we’ll explain why.

Since the Big Dance expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 37 NCAA basketball championship games. Out of those 37 games, 23 of the champions were No. 1 seeds. That means that 62.2% of the time, a No. 1 seed takes home the hardware.

We saw this happen again last year with Kansas. The No. 1 seeded Jayhawks came back from a huge halftime deficit to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels in the championship game. Don't count out Kansas in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, as they're projected to be a No. 1 seed yet again.

6. Pay Attention to Strength of Schedule

Here’s a nice tip that may help you further evaluate teams. Don’t be fooled by a team’s impressive record. Dig deeper into who they have played and who they have beaten.

There are lots of websites out there that list all teams’ strength of schedule. Two of the best are Sagarin and Team Rankings. Strength of schedule lets you know which teams are battle-tested and which teams have simply been beating up on a bunch of cupcakes all season long.

Oftentimes, it’s better to choose a lower-ranked team that has a high strength of schedule over a higher-ranked team that has a low strength of schedule. While it’s not wise to make every pick based solely on strength of schedule, it’s a factor to consider when filling out your bracket.

7. Pick Your Champion First, Then Work Backwards

This may sound counterintuitive because most folks start filling out their brackets by selecting first-round winners. However, some of the best experts in the game decide on their national champion before doing anything else. This is because picking the title winner brings in considerably more bracket points than any first-round victory.

Do you have a team that you think has the best shot at winning the whole enchilada? Pencil them in first and work backward from there. A lot of people feel like this makes the entire process much easier.

You don't necessarily have to overthink this step, either. Remember, the national champion is usually one of the four No. 1 seeds. Simply pick which team of those four you think is the strongest.

8. Don't Pick All No. 1 Seeds to Make the Final Four

We've talked at length about how championship teams are usually No. 1 seeds. However, this doesn't mean that you should automatically pencil in all four No. 1 seeds into the Final Four.

Did you know that 2008 was the only year in NCAA Tournament history that all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four? That stat alone ought to tell you something!

So, how many No. 1 seeds should you pick to advance to the Final Four? According to the NCAA website, an average of 1.7 No. 1 seeds make the Final Four each year. So, pick your two favorite No. 1 seeds and leave it at that.

9. Be Careful Picking A Repeat Champion

It's so tempting to pick the Kansas Jayhawks to repeat as NCAA champions this season. However, that's not an ideal strategy according to Big Dance history. A team winning back-to-back national titles has only happened 8 times in NCAA Tournament history.

Since 1974, only two programs have won national titles in consecutive seasons. The Florida Gators accomplished this in 2006 and 2007. The Duke Blue Devils also did so in 1991 and 1992.

That goes to show how hard it is for a team to repeat as champions. History is not on the side of the Jayhawks in 2023.

10. Consider the Regions

When the bracket comes out, pay special attention to which teams will have to travel the least for their games. While no team will have an official home-court advantage, you'd be surprised how much difference it makes when teams don't have to change time zones.

For example, Alabama and Houston (both No. 1 seeds) are in the South and Midwest regions. That's a nice edge for both of them. Both teams are in the Central Time zone, so neither of them would have to deal with any jet lag.

Sure, these are 18-22-year-old kids, and they're all in phenomenal shape. You wouldn't think travel would factor much into the equation. That said, these teams have been playing several nights per week since early November. Fatigue always comes into play late in the season.

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21+ to wager. Please Gamble Responsibly. Call 1-800-NEXT-STEP (AZ), 1-800-522-4700 (KS, NV), 1-800-BETS-OFF (IA), 1-800-270-7117 for confidential help (MI). Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER. Call 877-8-HOPENY or text HOPENY (467369) (NY) Call 1-800-327-5050 (MA).

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