How To Fill Out Your NCAA Bracket

Trouble choosing teams? Help is here.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

Welcome to March Madness! The time of year where office pools reign, everyone recognizes there is an Iona University, and absolutely no work gets done in offices across the country. God bless America.

But now that it’s tourney-time and we all take our turns filling out our brackets, how do we decide on those intrepid picks? Which teams do we pick to move on? There are so many brackets and numbers and….wait, a total of 63 decisions in all??

That’s where I come in….


Chalk ‘em! Move all Number one seeds to the third round.

88% of No. 1 seeds advance to the sweet 16 – they win the first round 100% of the time.

Feel free to chalk in the No. 2 seeds automatically as well. No. 2 seeds have advanced into the second round 95.7% of the time. A 15 seed has only defeated a two seed in the first round four times, the last being Hampton in 2001.


Mix up your Final Four.

Want to pick all four No. 1 seeds in your Final Four? Tempting, I know–but it’s only happened once in the history of the tournament–in 2008, when Kansas, UNC, UCLA and Memphis all won their regional.

And get this—bad news for Kentucky fans–only five times in the last 30 years has the number one team in the country (entering the tournament) won it all – last in 2001, with Duke.


Pick your early round upsets baby!

OK. I realize that probably sounded too much like Dick Vitale with the ‘baby,’ but hey, I’m being me. No apologies.

I got excited because I like upsets. It’s what makes the March Madness ‘mad.’ Keep advancing 12 and 10 seeds after the first round. Those seeds, combined, win about 50% of the time in the second round. Lofty percentages for such low seeds.

Also pick at least one upset of a No. 2 or 3 seed in the first round. Only once in 27 years have all the top seeds in every region—1,2,3—made the Sweet 16.

Fall in love with a No. 12 seed. At least one No. 12 has advanced 11 of the last 13 tournaments and the Sweet 16 has seen at least one of them in nine of the last 13.


I said ‘early round’ upsets.

Hey, I get it. I just declared how much I love upsets, VCU and George Mason especially in recent years. But only three 11 seeds have made the Final Four (LSU ’86, George Mason ’06 and VCU ’11)

Seeds lower than No. 3 have only played for the NCAA championship a combined 2.3% and made the final four a combined 7.7%. The lowest seed to ever win a championship was #8 Villanova in 1985.


Choose the highest seed in your Final Four to win the championship.

The team with the best seed of all the Final Four competitors has won the championship the last five tournaments and 10 of the last 13.


Don’t under-estimate the mid-majors.

A team from a conference other than the ‘major 6’—ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12—has made an Elite Eight appearance twelve of the last thirteen years.

Also, a double-digit seed (most likely to be a mid-major) has made the Sweet 16 twelve of the past thirteen years.


Final tip and most important…

Don’t listen to guys like me.

Sports analysts do a great job of covering all of the teams and they genuinely know what they’re talking about, but anything can happen in sports. The best team doesn’t always win. Spoken in my Illinois Amish twang: ‘They don’t call it March ‘Madness’ for no reason.’

My best friend’s mom won some large pools for a great amount of money ten years ago because she loved the way ‘Gonzaga’ sounded.

Another mom I knew thought Florida’s coach Billy Donovan was cuter than UCLA’s coach Ben Howland. Florida won the championship that year.

Like the way a Torero sounds? So did the people that chose them (solely based on the cool nickname) to upset Connecticut in 2008, when San Diego beat them as a #13 seed.

See a trend here?

My last piece of advice is to go out on a limb. The more you know about NCAA basketball, the worse you will probably do in your bracket pool.

No. 1 and 2 seeds aside, choose your games based on which mascot is more rad, which coach has the best haircut, or simply if the name of the school reminds you of your favorite supermodel or honeymoon destination (because Iona sounds like either a name of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model or a fancy little Italian town).