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March Madness - Tips on Picking Games for your NCAA Men’s Tournament Bracket

Updated on March 21, 2016

2013 NCAA Tournament Bracket


Every year, the fever known as March Madness, sweeps the nation. People that care nothing about basketball become enthusiasts. Many hope to see their Alma mater gain national exposure by making a run at the National Championship. The avid gambler gets the inevitable feeling that this is the year that they will be able to outsmart/beat the Vegas odds. One thing is for sure: Whether you know what a three-second violation is or are barely familiar with the three point line, the NCAA tournament will live up to the name “madness”.

How the "seeds" are picked

First thing you should realize when you are filling out your 64 team bracket (oh wait a minute, its 68 teams now) is that the higher seeded is not going to win every game. You must be willing to go out on a limb to pick the so called “upset.” To explain seeding, teams are ranked in each region from one to sixteen based upon a few things. These include the conference in which they belong to. This affects their strength of schedule. The committee looks at their non-conference schedule (which takes place before they play their conference foes). Next is their performance against ranked opponents (in particular their wins). You throw all of these numbers together and you get a RPI Number to compare each team. But for the non-basketball fan what does that matter. I’m sure you may be thinking in your head “Just give me the cheat sheet to decipher which picks to choose.

How Good Are Your Picks?

How many of the "Final Four" teams do you get correct each year?

See results
#15 Lehigh upset #2 Duke in 2012
#15 Lehigh upset #2 Duke in 2012 | Source

Trends and Facts about the Tournament

According to Doc’s Sport Service (sports handicapping service) here are a few tournament facts

1) No #16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed. However, seven #15 seeds have beaten a #2.

2) A #1 seed has become the National Champion 17 of the last 28 years.

3) Each year there is one team that is deemed the #1 team of the entire 68 team field. Only five overall #1’s have won the tournament.

4) Only once has the #1 team from each region made it to the Final Four.

5) The 8/9 matchup in the first round is 50/50 pick.

6) In the second round 2 vs. 10 match up, the 10th seed has won 41% of the time (21 of 51 games)

Clip of #15 FGCU's upset of #2 Geogetown

VCU Rams
VCU Rams

Picking Upsets

Here are some brief things to keep in mind when choosing the winner in your individual games.

  • The 5 vs.12 matchup and the 6 vs. 11 matchup is a good game to pick an upset. The number five team usually is not as strong as the top teams in the tournament and the number twelve team is not as weak as many people think. This also holds true with #6 and #11 teams. The lower seeds (i.e. 15 , 16, etc.) are usually the winners of tournaments from very small conferences. In many cases, without winning their conference tournament, they would not have been picked to participate in the tournament. The 11th and 12th seed many times is occupied by a team from a “Mid-Major” ( a conference with competition seen as a step below the major powerhouse conferences). However they play well against competition, have decent schedules, and have fared well in their conferences. VCU and George Mason are examples of 11 and 12 seed teams that have made deep runs in the tournament.

  • Some teams from major conferences are invited to the tournament because of the conference they belong to. Many times the committee rewards them for a strong schedule (even though they may have 9 or 10 losses). These teams are ripe for the picking in my opinion.
  • Sometimes the better team doesn’t always win, PERIOD. You just have to be better than your opponent for one game (it’s single elimination).Many instances if given time to prepare or scheme against their opponent, the losing team would win the rematch.
  • Think closely before you pick a team for an upset, especially if they may be favored to make it to the Final Four. You bracket will be blown up if you pick many one, two, three, and four seeds to be upset early. You may not have any of your teams left in the Elite Eight.

Statistics To Help You Make Your Picks and Upsets

Successful Tournament Coaches

Coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tarheels
Coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tarheels | Source
Coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans
Coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans | Source


  • .Players change from year to year,, great coaching does not. If you have not been keeping up with various team rosters and aren't familiar with player match-ups, familiarize yourself with the more successful coaches. Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan, John Calipari and Roy Williams are legendary coaches who perform up to expectation during tournament time.When in doubt, go with the proven product. It is not always about the name on the front or the back of the jersey, many times it is the brains behind the whole operation. Most of the names previously mentioned have been extreme winners at multiple schools.

Winning the Bracket

How Many Times Have You Picked the National Champion

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"Bracketology" a Science?

You can watch college basketball faithfully throughout the year. You can pull out your stat sheets. While you are at it, call your shot with a couple upset picks to put you ahead of the pack. Read the write ups in the newspaper and magazines. Search the web for expert analysis before the tourney starts. You may learn as I did the hard way; simple is sometimes better.

I remember participating in my employer's bracket challenge. I was the resident basketball "expert." I felt really good about my odds of gaining the most points for the overall victory. Going into the Final Four, I was ahead of the pack. Most of my calculated picks proved to be the difference up to that point. Finally, I came to work morning after the National Championship expecting to gain bragging rights for the upcoming year.Unfortunately I had to rip up my acceptance speech being that one of my co-workers picked the National Championship. I asked her how she did it. She said it was simple. My son filled out the bracket. He picked his favorite team Syracuse and his favorite player Carmelo Anthony to win. So much for science!


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