NCAA tournament bracket 101: Tips on how to make your picks

March is here. The NCAA tournament draws for men and women have been announced.

This means that whether you’re a die-hard basketball fan, a casual observer, or someone who never watched a college basketball game, there’s a good chance you’ve been invited to fill in the bracket. If you are in one of the last camps and want to play, don’t be discouraged.

Parentheses are for everyone, and just because you’re cramming doesn’t mean you don’t stand a chance. Armed with some basics, you, too, will be able to compete against the person who hosted your grid competition and has been watching college hoops since November.

If you’re in the Sportzshala Tourney Pick ‘Em standings, you’ll have two $25,000 free play chances – one each for the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments. The winner takes everything in each bracket, so you will have to win a lot of opponents. But the price (free) is right.

[Free bracket contests for both tourneys | Printable Men’s | Women’s]

Randomly selecting teams based on colors or mascot preference is obviously not an optimal strategy. But if the madness of the talisman makes you happy, by all means. Braces are supposed to be fun. But if you want to use strategy to beat the grid competition, we have some tips to keep in mind.

How the NCAA Tournament and Scoring Works

Understanding how the tournament and scoring system works is the first major step to success. The NCAA Tournament kicks off with a field of 68 teams announced Sunday night. Eight of these teams in each tournament – the last four qualifiers at large and the bottom seeded auto bet winners – will play knockout play-ins called the “First Four”. For grid purposes, you don’t have to worry about choosing these games.

January 28, 2023;  Lexington, Kentucky, USA;  Kansas Jayhawks forward Jalen Wilson (10) attempts a second-half pass against the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena at Central Bank.  Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
Both Kansas and Kentucky are looking to make a deep run and contribute to their storied championship history. (Jordan Prather/Reuters)

Once the eight first four teams are reduced to four, true 64-team NCAA fields will be established. You can fill out your bracket as early as Sunday, but if you think one of the top four teams has a chance to make a deep run, it’s best to hold off on that part of your bracket to make sure the team you choose actually enters the field.

Tournament games begin in the first round, which is divided into 16 games: Thursday and Friday for men and Friday and Saturday for women. The higher seeded will play against their lower seed in the four regions of the bracket, which are divided into 16 teams. Seed #1 will play seed #16; seed #2 will play seed #15—and so on until seeds #8 and #9 converge.

Pick Up Disorders But Tread Carefully

Picking early upsets is the key to winning the bracket. It is even more important not to lose the team, which eventually goes far ahead.

There are six rounds in the NCAA game, and the stakes double with each round in the Sportzshala Tourney Pick’Em (1, 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32 points). Picking the first round winners will earn you one point, while picking the NCAA champion correctly will earn you 32 points—the equivalent of picking each of the first round games correctly. Losing the Final Four and championship teams in the first round is a good way to knock yourself out early.

How to avoid this error? Well, that’s fun – and the parenthesis problem. But the first rule is to selectively pick higher seed upsets and know the history of early round upsets.

Collecting tall seeds for an early loss is generally a bad idea.

Only one No. 1 seed has lost to the No. 16 seed since the men’s tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The No. 16 seed UMBC beat the No. 1 seed overall Virginia in 2018, the biggest seeding violation in tournament history. So if you pick the #1 seed that will lose sooner or later, know that you are going against history.

The #2 seeds are not that reliable, but playing against one in the first round is a very risky proposition. Only 10 No. 2 seeds have ever lost to a No. 15 seed in the men’s first round, the most recent example being the stunning No. 2 seed St. Peter of Kentucky last year.

St. Peter went all the way to the Elite Eight last season, meaning that if you pick the Peacocks, you’ll have a seven-point lead over the majority of the draw that chose them to lose in the first round. But make these choices at your own risk. St. Peters was the lowest seed ever to win three games in the NCAA Men’s Tournament.

Aliya Boston of South Carolina (4) hits the basket as UCLA's Dorca Juhas (14) defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Hartford, Connecticut.  (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
UCLA and South Carolina will be popular in the women’s NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

High seeding upsets are even rarer in women. No. 16 Harvard beat No. 1 seed Stanford in 1998. It remains the only upset in the NCAA Women’s No. 1 seeded first round since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994. In fact, this is the only time a team has seeded 14 teams. -16 ever recorded a win. According to the NCAA, these teams are 1-336 in NCAA tournament play.

Where to look for resentment

When looking for early disorders, common sense comes into play. Closer team games are more frustrating. The wider the gap, the less common the disorder. The NCAA usually does a good job of picking teams.

According to the NCAA, 10-7 rollovers are the most common, followed by 11-6, 12-5 and so on until the elusive 16-1 rollover. This doesn’t take into account 8-9 matchups, which are as close to peaks as can be. Go with your intuition to these games.

A total of 58 #10 seeds recorded men’s first-round failures, accounting for approximately 39% of wins. The No. 11 seed is not far behind, with 57 first-round wins, including three of four games last year. Seed #12 produced 53 first-round winners, seed #13 had 31, and seed #14 had 22.

According to the data, with an average of 12.4 losses per year in men’s tournaments, with a loss defined as a team’s victory over an opponent seeded two positions or more higher. This is for the entire tournament, not just for the first round. Therefore, if you deviate too far from this number in any direction, you are going against history.

If you want to see the early sets in the women’s bracket, starting from seed #12 this is the way. Since 1994, 31 women ranked 12th have won in the first round over 5th, more than once a year on average. Ten No. 13 seeds have scored victories since the field expanded. And remember, only one team numbered 14-16 has ever won.

In the female field, an average of 8.25 apsets per year, according to the NCAA. The maximum was 12, which happened at several tournaments.

Advanced analytics and betting lines are your friends

And finally, if you get confused, let the experts guide you. Analytics guru Ken Pomeroy processes the advanced data and comes up with a ranking system. called KenPom. Think of it as the top 25 from an analysis set that spans the entire 363 NCAA Division-I area.

Then there are betting lines where you you can look at BetMGM for spreads of first round pips and futures. Keep in mind that point spreads take into account what the public is leaning towards, in addition to expert opinion.

But mostly enjoy. Spend as much or less time with your braces as you like. Filling out one can be—and often is—a five-minute exercise. Have fun and good luck.


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