6 Effective Tips for Filling Out Your March Madness Bracket

Here’s how to get the best out of your bracket


It’s that time of the year again. College basketball fans are filling their March Madness brackets and hoping for a win. However, many of them are going to end up with disappointing results.

It’s no secret that filling out a winning NCAA bracket is hard, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. With some expert advice, you might find the odds being in your favor this time around.

Many have dissected NCAA tournaments for decades in hopes of finding a winning bracket formula. Unfortunately, no one is yet to discover a secret winning formula. Nonetheless, we can dip into past results and come up with some great strategies that will work wonders.

There are several strategies and tips for filling out your March Madness bracket. I am going to share some of them with you below. I understand that you might have your preferred strategy, but these tips are great to keep in mind. Let’s get started!

1.  Be cautious with No. 1 seeds

One of the top things to do when filling your bracket is choosing the final four. When doing this, it might be tempting to send all the No. 1 seeds to the final four. After all, they are among the best teams in the tournament. However, you should be cautious with these top seed teams.

Since seeding began in 1979, there have been rare occasions when all the No. 1 seeds made it to the penultimate round. In fact, this has only happened once in 2008. So, don’t be tempted to go chalk on your bracket; chances are odds won’t be in your favor.

2.  Don’t forget to include upsets

There is one big reason why the NCAA Tournament is referred to as March Madness — upsets. For me at least, they are the best and most exciting part of college hoops.

The modern tournament comprising 64 teams has been around since 1985. In 28 of those tournaments, there have been between 10 to 16 upsets where a lower-ranked team beat a higher ranked team (with at least two or more seeds). So, if you are looking to create a great bracket, I would advise you to include a few upsets.

That being said, you don’t want to go crazy when choosing your upsets, even if that’s the spirit of March Madness. Too many or poorly chosen upsets will only leave your bracket limping in the early rounds of the tournament.

So, one of my best tips for filling out your March Madness bracket is to be strategic and pick teams with your mind. For example, it would be a bad idea to choose No. 16 over No. 1 seed upset; it has happened only once in 2018 UMBC vs. Virginia. 15-2 upsets are also rare, and thus choosing is only likely to spoil your bracket.

So, which are the best upsets to choose from? The 12 seeds vs. 5 seeds upsets are amongst the most popular and with good reason. Since 1985, there have been 50 such upsets in the first round of the tournament, a 35.7% chance of occurring.

Nevertheless, despite being popular, 12-5 upsets are not the only ones you should consider. In fact, there are other matchups that can give you a much better chance. For example, 11-6 upsets have occurred 52 times (37.1%) with 10-7 upsets having the highest occurrence at 55 times (39.3%). I would advise you to consider all these matchups for a better chance of picking winning upsets.

3.  Pick top teams for the final round and national champion

I have talked about the drawbacks of picking all No. 1 seeds for the Final Round. So, does this mean that you can choose any team? The answer is a resounding no! While having only No. 1 seeds in the final round is a bad idea, so is having a lower-seeded team, or even failing to pick a No. 1 seed.

Another thing to consider, Final Round picks are the key to a winning bracket; no one has ever won one without the right picks. So, how do you pick them correctly? Well, I would start by recommending that you pick at least one or more No. 1 seeded team.

In the last 34 tournaments, No. 1 seeds have only failed to make it to the top-four 2 times. On the other hand, there have been one No. 1 seed in 15 tournaments, and two No. 1 seeds in 13 tournaments. On top of that, 18 out of 26 of the last tournament champions have been No. 1 seeds.

So, when making your pick for the Final Four, I would recommend two No. 1, seeded teams. The rest two should come from other favorite top-seeded teams, with the best option being to limit No. 1 to No. 4 seeds.

4.  Go with statistics, not your gut

Basketball, baseball, football…we always talk about this when talking about sports betting. March Madness is the hardest sporting event in the world to predict. For example, the 2018 No. 16 vs. No. 1 upsets, 2011 No. 11 vs. No. 8 final face-off, or the 1985 No. 8 championship wins were almost impossible to predict. Therefore, picking a winning bracket is almost pure luck.

Unfortunately, when luck comes into play, many people start picking teams based on their gut feeling, or their favorites. While there is no sure-fire strategy for filling a March Madness bracket, I wouldn’t advise you to do so based on your gut or heart.

Instead, I would encourage you to look at statistics. Filling a bracket based on statistics gives you a much better chance of winning. It takes feelings and blind betting out of the equation, leaving you with realistic picks.

5.  Research extensively

Research! Research! Research! That’s what sports betting is all about. With 68 teams battling it out in a single-elimination tournament, research is even more important.

So, before you start filling out your bracket, sit down and do your homework. Read our other articles. Also, watch college basketball experts as they dissect the tournament. Be sure to also look at how various teams performed in the conference tournament and the regular season.

On top of that, it is a good idea to keep up-to-date with the happenings of the various teams. Coach and player changes are a huge insight that can help you make correct picks.

6.  Consider early exits

Now, I have talked about being strategic with upsets and avoiding betting on low vs. top-seeded teams. However, you also watch out for possible early exits and include them in your bracket.

In the last 26 tournaments, a top-seeded team (1-4) has lost in the first round 23 times. In 14 of these tournaments, these major upsets have occurred at least twice. A No. 2 or 3 seeded team has fallen out of the March Madness in either first or second round, since 2005 (except for 2009).

The trick, however, is picking the right team for the honor of early exit. Only thing is, this is a daunting task. For example, very few people could have bet on UMBC vs Virginia upset in 2018.


So, how do you pick these upsets? This is where research comes into play. Look for top-seeded teams that have weaknesses and take them into account. For example, the injury of key players. It is also an excellent idea to look at the strengths of lower-seeded teams. For example, UMBC had made key changes in their technical bench and team line-up in the years preceding their historical win.


Looking to avoid another bracket bust in the upcoming NCAA tournament? This is the dream of every college hoops fan. However, it is a task that has proven to be daunting over the years. Luckily, the above are some of the top tips for filling out your March Madness bracket. With these tips, you can increase your chances of creating a perfect bracket.

NCAA March Madness FAQs

  • My March Madness Bracket has bust! What now?

    So your bracket has busted? Don't worry; this is a common reality that most betters have to come to terms within every NCAA tournament. However, you can still make money from the tournament. There are several other betting opportunities, such as betting on single games with point spreads, Over/Under on the combined score, futures bets, and props bets.
  • What are my chances of getting a perfect bracket?

    1 in 9.2 quintillions. In other words, it is almost impossible to choose a completely perfect bracket, and it has never happened. The record-breaking March Madness bracket stands at 49 correct games. So, instead of focusing on just the bracket, it is a good idea to mix it with single games bets.
  • How much does seeding affect the outcome of March Madness matches?

    Performance is the main criteria used for seeding in the NCAA tournament. Therefore, the higher a team’s seed, the better the chance of winning. However, that being said, March Madness is full of upsets. Therefore, as much as seeding is important when filing your bracket, it is also good to consider other factors such as prior performance, team line ups, etc.