Filling out your NCAA tournament bracket is the best kind of fun — 63 games to pick and you can do it any way you like.
But it can also be tricky. So we’re here to help. Here are our 7 best bracket tips that we think will give you an edge when you fill out that NCAA bracket.
1. Work backwards
Bracket scoring increases exponentially as the tournament progresses. That means each first-round game is worth just one point, but Final Four games are worth 16 points each. No one has ever won our Bracket Challenge Game without picking the Final Four and championship correctly. Those are the games that can make or break your bracket, so start with them, and then worry about the opening round.
2. Don’t pick a 16 seed
We get it. No 1 seed is safe after UMBC, right? Wrong. Not only is the 1 seed still the heavy, heavy favorite, it is a huge risk to get rid of a 1 seed in the first round. Historically, no team has a better chance to make it to the Final Four or win the championship. Don’t jeopardize your bracket for the shot to get one opening-round game right.
3. Don’t go chalk
The 1 seeds are the most likely team to make it to the Final Four, but that doesn’t mean you should pick all of them to do so. In fact, all four one seeds have only made it one time in the history of the tournament. So throw some upsets in there.
4. Pick between 10 and 16 upsets
The modern tournament has been around for 34 years. In 27 of those tournaments, there have been between 10 and 16 upsets (where the winning team was at least two seeds worse than the losing team). In all 34 years, there has been an average of 12.7 upsets. So don’t be shy.
5. Don’t pick the best defense in the country to win it all
Sports Reference’s Defensive Simple Rating System ranks all 353 college teams on a combination of their defensive prowess and strength of schedule. In the past 34 years, no team that has finished with the top DSRS has ever reached the national championship, and only one has ever been to the Final Four. What’s more, 25 of the 34 either didn’t make the tournament or lost in the first two rounds.
In each of the past five years, the top DSRS team has been Virginia. In those five tournaments, the Cavaliers never made it past the Elite Eight, falling in the second round twice, and losing in the first round last year.
The top team in DSRS this season? You guessed it: Virginia.
6. Do pick dogs over cats
Okay, this one may not be the best picking strategy, but if you want to pick based on mascot showdowns, dogs really are your best friend. They boast a 37-26 record against cats in the tournament.
7) DON’T PICK A 16 SEED
Seriously. Just don’t.