Hey college basketball fans!
The regular season is over, and conferences are about to begin (or have already begun in the case of a select few conferences) their postseason tournaments. You know what that means. Say it with me. It's almost March Madness!
March Madness brings such electricity and excitement for all college basketball fans, as 68 teams duke it out (see what I did there) in the single-elimination NCAA Tournament en route to crowning college basketball's champs. It also brings out the bracket predictions, with many people looking to win pools for money, or simply bragging rights among friends, co-workers and colleagues.
Picking a perfect bracket is just about impossible (with the NCAA going out to say the odds are as low as about 1-in-9.2 quintillion and as high as 1-in-128 billion). With odds like those, plus the unpredictability of the tournament through all the upsets and roll-of-the-dice close games, I can't guarantee you a perfect bracket. Just ask anyone who participated in bracket predictions last year, when no perfect brackets remained before the first round even ended.
But to give you some help, here are five things to look for when filling out your bracket.
1. Don't put all of the No. 1 seeds in the Final Four.
Okay, let's get this one out of the way first. For beginners, this is so tempting to do because it makes sense. "No. 1 means they're the best right? So, let's just play it safe and put all of them in the Final Four."
Well, one study at the University of Illinois shows just under 60-to-1 chances in that happening. So, if you put all of the four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, good luck, and you better have good reasoning to do so.
On the other hand though, you might want to at least have your final four be all top four-seeded teams. While Syracuse, a No. 10 seed last year, pulled off quite the miracle run, it was only the 21st Final Four team not ranked No. 1-4 since 1985.
2. Look for upsets in early rounds.
A fifth seed vs. a 12th seed, a sixth seed vs. an 11th seed, a seventh seed vs. a 10th seed. All of these are games in the round of 64 that you should have an eye on.
Why? Because these are where upsets in the tournament commonly occur. In fact, every year since 2008 (with the exception of 2015) saw at least one No. 12 seed upset a No. 5.
Even the No. 3 vs. No. 14 match-ups have a bit of flavor on them, as 17 of the past 31 NCAA Tournaments have seen at least one No. 14 upset a No. 3, with this instance occurring the last four NCAA Tournaments in a row now.
But picking a No. 16 against a No. 1? Good luck. While it may happen one day, that has yet to happen.
3. Get more conservative with each passing round.
While you should be looking for more upsets early on, you should be more conservative with your picks with each new round. The teams seeded 1-4 in each of the four regions are placed there for a reason -- they truly are some of the best college basketball programs from this past season. So, while you masterfully and confidentially penciled in that No. 12 upset over a No. 5, don't go and have that No. 12 advance to the Elite Eight -- it's unlikely to happen.
In addition to the previous tips, only three teams ranked No. 14 or 15 have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen since 1985, and only one team ranked No. 4 or 5 -- the 1996-97 Arizona Wildcats -- has won the NCAA Tournament.
So, maybe two No. 1s and two No. 2s, or two No. 1s, a No. 2 and a No. 3 might be a good, safe Final Four combination.
4. Mind over matter (or in this case, your heart).
"My school made it to The Big Dance! We're only a No. 15, but I know we can go all the way!" Please, child.
As much as you have school spirit, and as much as it would mean the world for your team to pull off such a feat, be real here. It doesn't matter if you're a student at the school or just a fan, look at your school and then look at the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the same region of the bracket. Honestly answer this question, "Can my team hang with and beat those guys?"
If the answer is no, it's not likely going to happen. Play this smart, especially if your in a pool for money and prizes. And, hey, if you play it smart but your school does bust your bracket and advance farther than you would've thought realistically, at least you get some consolation from a busted bracket.
5. Don't overstress this too much.
Sure you may be playing for money, prizes and pride, but don't overanalyze anything too much. You can read into all the stats, all the schedules, and all the face-offs from earlier in the season or past NCAA Tournaments, but chillax here.
If you don't do as well as you thought, it happens. It's the NCAA Tournament, where anything can happen. And that's the beauty of March Madness.