March Madness is here, and you’re staring at the bracket with wide eyes.
You’ve decided (or were pressured—either way) to be a part of the office pool, even though you can’t differentiate between Wildcats and Bearcats.
But hey, that bracket has to get filled out, and despite your deepest fears, it’s actually not that difficult. By studying what’s happened in past tournaments, you can win your office pool, and you’ll be celebrating right along with the champions.
So read on for our tips on how to fill out your bracket, and start perfecting your victory dance.
1. Bet on Blue
What do the past nine NCAA champions have in common? They’ve all had blue as their official team color. While this year could pose a threat to this trend, with several top teams donning red and green, schools like Florida, Duke, Georgetown, Gonzaga and Kansas could easily make it an even ten years where blue reigns supreme.
2. 12 Over 5
A major factor of success in the tourney—and, by extension, your bracket—is the matchups. One of the best chances to see an upset is in the 5/12-seed matchup (in simpler terms, a team with a 5 next to its name versus a team with a 12 in front of it). The 5-seeds are always a bit overrated, while the 12-seeds are often unheralded but can more than hold their own on the court.
Since the format went to 64 teams in 1985, at least one 12-seed has beaten a 5-seed in all but three years; that’s 89% of the time. What’s more, half of those winning 12-seeds have won an additional game and made it all the way to the Sweet 16. Since most brackets use tiered scoring, you’ll earn more points for accurately predicting how far these Cinderellas will go. And more points means more money, unless you’re playing in some silly, backwards pool, but you don’t want to be a part of a pool like that, anyway. It’s your job to figure out the right squad(s) to pick—though the best bets are Oregon over Oklahoma State, and possibly California over UNLV, since the game is in San Jose, and is essentially a home game for the Bears.
3. First Four Win More…
The First Four, not to be confused with the Final Four, are the initial four games played to start the NCAA Tournament. They’re essentially play-in games, as the winner advances to play its corresponding opposing seed. Though the First Four has only been around for two tournaments, in both years a team that’s been in the “First Four” has made it beyond the first round; 12-seed South Florida upset 5-seed California in 2012, while 11-seed VCU made it all the way to the Final Four in 2011.
You can identify these First Four squads easily on your bracket, since they’ll be listed next to another team on the same line and separated only by a slash. All of the “slash” teams are the ones playing in the First Four games. Ironically, these teams are usually the last ones selected for the tournament, but maybe that gives them an extra chip on their shoulder. This year, the winner of the Middle Tennessee/St. Mary’s game has a chance of making some noise.
4. But the Top Dogs Make the Final Four
Aside from 2011, which was just a wonky year, at least one No. 1 or No. 2 seed has reached the Final Four every year. Oftentimes multiple 1 and 2-seeds make it, so “going chalk,” or routinely picking the better-seeded teams to win, isn’t a terrible idea. This is a favorite strategy of President Obama’s, though it’s often frowned upon for being boring and predictable. But the Final Four is no time to get cute—save that for the early rounds, make sure the top teams are still standing when the dust settles, and you’ll be alright.
Of course, it’s called “March Madness” for a reason, and this year especially is wide open. So when the games roll around, root for your picks, but enjoy the excitement either way. Good luck!