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A Totally Unscientific Guide to Bracket Picks

At long last, the true March Madness has arrived.   You know what that means — it’s time to fill out your brackets and see if you can win your office pool or any one of the countless online contests.   Whether it’s for bragging rights or for some serious cash, filling out NCAA Tournament brackets is an activity many people participate in, even those that don’t follow college basketball.   Since this is such a big deal, I thought it appropriate to share with you the wisdom(?) I have accumulated over the years and offer my totally unscientific tips on how you can make the best selections possible.

Let’s Start With the Basics

First, we need to state the obvious:  no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed.  Ever.  Regardless of the field being so “wide open” this year, choosing a 16/1 upset is pretty much a wasted pick.   Also obvious is the low probability of a 2 seed losing to a 15 (unless that 2 seed is Duke, of course).   My advice is skip the upsets this year and just pick the top 2 seeds in each region to win their opener.

Less obvious, but almost just as reliable is the fact that at least one 12 seed will upset a 5.  Granted, this did not happen last year, but it does occur on a regular basis.   In the past, I’ve had fairly good success in selecting the correct 12 seed to win, and even luckier in correctly predicting their fate in the 2nd round.   Whatever you do, choose wisely; picking the wrong 12, and worse, choosing them to go deep in the tourney can bust a bracket quicker than you can say “Go Big Blue!”


Advanced Tips

Keep in mind, there will be upsets, so make sure you allow for a few of these.   The tricky part?  Making educated guesses about where the upsets will occur.   There are a number of things you can look at to make these decisions.   My favorite stats:  FT%, record for road games, record for neutral site games and rebounding numbers.    Let’s face it, a team has to perform well away from home, they need to rebound and free throws can make or break a team’s success.   Let’s not forget one more key piece of information:  how has a team performed in March in recent years?  Kentucky, Michigan State and Wisconsin have been fixtures in the later rounds, while Indiana, Kansas and Duke have been prone to very early (and rather embarrassing) exits.

You could also tune in to ESPN just about any hour of the day and they will surely have a panel of “experts” telling you all you need to know (and plenty you don’t need to know) about the teams in the field.   There are countless websites that also breakdown all the stats and intangibles.  You can read, research and study for hours on end in your pursuit of completing the perfect bracket.  And you could still fail miserably.

So, what’s a bracket picker to do?  Well, you could always try some of my somewhat unconventional methods.  Try one of these:

The Coin Toss


OK, so this isn’t a highly original or completed method, but it should be noted that I actually won 2nd place in my office pool one year by flipping a coin to pick each winner (other than the top 8 seeds in the 1st round).   The tricky part with this method is abiding by the results of the toss and not allowing logic and reason into the picture.  Even if you don’t use the coin toss for your entire bracket, it does come in handy for the first round’s 8 vs 9 games.

The Dream Bracket

While perhaps not the most successful option, it may possibly be the most personally gratifying way to choose your winners.   The process is very simple:  just choose the team that you want to win each game.  Forget records, forget stats, forget logic and common sense.  Just pencil in the results you’d love to see.  Admittedly, I have never won a pool using this method, but it’s a great way to relieve stress.

Mascot Madness

This is my favorite method, and also one of the most fun to use.  It may require a small amount of research on your part (for instance, if UK were not playing Stony Brook in the first round, would you have known Stony Brook’s mascot is the Seawolf?).   Once you have identified all the mascots, you must determine your hierarchy of the various mascots.  My table is below (they are listed in order from weakest to strongest):

  • Non-animals
  • Humans
  • Sea animals
  • Birds
  • Land creatures

Within the land creatures, I break it down further:

  • Insects/arachnids
  • Amphibians
  • Reptiles
  • Mammals

And within the mammals:

  • Sheep
  • Cows/bulls
  • Bears
  • Wolves (not the sea variety)
  • Dogs
  • Cats

Finally, within the cat category:

  • Panthers
  • Jaguars
  • Bobcats
  • Wildcats (in the case of multiple Wildcats, those in blue trump all others)
  • wildcat

One Final Thought

In the end, I’ve had most of my success by going with my gut feeling on games.   Perhaps the most important tip I can give anyone would be this:  never bet against our boys in blue!  The numbers and logic may lead to a different prediction, but for me it’s Kentucky all the way to cut down the nets.

Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue

Michele Brown
Michele Brown
Writer at since Feb. 2015 Co-host of Big Blue Views podcast. Mom, Christian, sports junkie, golf addict and speed typist. I can cook your mama's food better than she can.

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