How does it work?: The NCAA college basketball tournament is quickly approaching. The tournament selection will occur on March 13, and the round of 64 starts on March 17. An hour after the tournament match ups are released the brackets will be opened so you can make your selections. You must select the winner of each match up and are free to edit your bracket up until the tip-off of the first game on the 17th.
Each round has a maximum of 320 possible points that you can earn, so the points per correct pick double each round. For example, during the round of 64 there are 32 games with each correct pick earning you 10 points. The next round, each pick is worth 20 points and so forth. For full details on the contest rules, scoring, and tiebreakers, see Rules and How to play.
Strategy and Tips
- If you’re playing in a pool, then consider what biases might cloud your opponents and use it to your favor. For example, if you play with a group of people who are biased toward a specific team or conference that you don’t think will perform well then you might pick against those teams. Recall that winning a pool is both a combination of odds for individual games and odds that your pool members pick a specific side. So you gain advantages only when you deviate from your opponents. As an example, if you’re in a pool of UNC fans then you might pick against them at a reasonable round and if they lose you gain a heavy advantage.
- Most likely you’ll pick a few upsets to go against the grain. Be smart about what upsets you pick each round. It’s a popular strategy to pick a 12 seed to beat a 5 seed, and typically at least one of those 12 seeds will pull off the upset. But which one(s) have the best odds? This is where we can help. Below we have provided tables for each region with a breakdown of the odds for each team winning each of their possible games. Note: To read the tables, pick the team of interest in the “Team” column, then go across their row until you reach the matchup and the cell provides the odds they win.
- One of the biggest problems I have is picking the 2nd round winner in a case where I picked two upsets. Who will win between the 12 and 13 seed assuming both pull off the upset? Again this is where the tables will help. You can certainly check out the odds of the teams winning that potential 2nd round match up prior to the games being played. This will certainly help guide you as you pick further into the tournament.
- Don’t forget about travel and location each round. A few teams have a huge advantage of playing close enough to home to have a solid crowd backing.
- Consider which teams are trending in the right direction. Young teams often take the season to really mesh and will start peaking toward the end of the season. All things equal, talent will win games so if these teams have both talent and develop chemistry then they may be seeded lower than they ought to be.
Courtesy of DRatings, we have a breakdown of all the brackets. Starting in the South bracket, we include odds of winning each potential match up for all of the teams in the bracket. As you fill out your bracket take a look at the odds for the match ups as you move forward each round.
Out of the South bracket, one Round of 64 match up to watch is between Arizona and the winner of the play-in game. Their odds against either team is only around 60%. The reason this is interesting is the play-in winner will come in already having some momentum and having worked out any tournament jitters. Recall that VCU made a deep run out of the play-in game a few years back so it’s not impossible to think that Arizona could be upset after falling down to the 6 line.
Below we have a breakdown of the West bracket including odds of winning each potential match up for all of the teams in the bracket. As you fill out your bracket take a look at the odds for the match ups as you move forward each round.
Out of the West bracket, one round of 64 match up to watch is between Oregon State and VCU. The odds suggest this is one of our potential upsets based on the seeding. A potential round of 32 match up of interest is Texas versus Texas A&M. They are no longer in the same conference, but the two teams played early on in the season with the Aggies winning.
Below we have a breakdown of the East bracket including odds of winning each potential match up for all of the teams in the bracket. As you fill out your bracket take a look at the odds for the match ups as you move forward each round.
Out of the East bracket, a couple Round of 64 match ups to pay attention to are the 7-10 and 8-9 match ups. The odds for both games are pretty close to 50% for each team and a reasonable spot to pick an upset. In the Round of 32, the potential match up between Kentucky and Indiana seems very interesting. Should Kentucky prevail, they have a reasonable shot at upsetting North Carolina (the odds based favorite to win the tournament) in the Sweet 16.
Below we have a breakdown of the Midwest bracket including odds of winning each potential match up for all of the teams in the bracket. As you fill out your bracket take a look at the odds for the match ups as you move forward each round.
Out of the Midwest bracket, the 7-10 and 6-11 match ups are interesting since both are fairly close to 50-50 odds for each team to win. This is another spot where you might pick an upset. Regardless of whether Seton Hall or Gonzaga win their 6-11 match up, both have a decent shot at winning their round of 32 game likely against Utah. As such, Gonzaga is a solid underdog pick to make the Sweet 16.
Below we have a breakdown of the marginal odds of advancing each round for the South and East brackets. Recall that the most points are awarded in picking the final four teams so this is likely where you will win your pool. In the South region, North Carolina is the heavy favorite to advance with Kentucky, Xavier, and West Virginia the other teams likely to advance. On interesting thing to note is that if Kentucky makes the Final Four, then their odds to win it all doesn’t drop off that far.
In the East bracket, Kansas and Villanova are the clear favorites to advance. Should you pick one of them to be upset, then your best bet is to have the other to make the Final Four. If you think both will lose early, then your next best bet is Miami or Arizona.
Below we have a breakdown of the marginal odds of advancing each round for the West and Midwest brackets. The West bracket seems to be the most wide open of the brackets with the top 2 only having around 25% odds to advance. Of particular note is VCU which has 5% odds of making the Final Four as a 10 seed. This may be the bracket where you want to take the most risk. Although Oregon has been hot lately, the models are not giving them strong odds of making the Final Four. Texas is another good pick and has a coach who has taken an underdog team deep into the tournament.
The Midwest has two very strong teams in Michigan State and Virginia, and there’s a good chance they meet in the Elite 8. Likely by design, these two were once again placed in the same region this year. Michigan State has eliminated Virginia the last two NCAA tournaments, so keep that in mind when making your picks.
Once you have your Final Four in place, you will want to take into consideration the matchups and coaching when making your picks. Teams with coaches who have Final Four experience as well as seniors are likely to be able to handle the experience better. Of the teams with reasonable odds to win, Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan State, and Kentucky all have coaches who have won titles.