1. Bet on the No. 1 seeds in the opening rounds
The No. 1 seeds are all but unbeatable in the opening rounds. No 16 seed has ever upset the top seed, and the top seeds have made it to the Sweet 16 a whopping 30 out of 32 times in the last eight years. While the top seeds have not fared as well in the later rounds recently, they are still a good bet to get through the first weekend.
2. Pick your upsets wisely
Upsets happen regularly in the NCAA Tournament, the key is picking the right upsets. Don’t pick nine seeds to upset one seeds, it’s only happened three times since the field expanded to 64. Eight seeds have a slightly better record against the top seed, but they are still rare. On the other hand, 12 seeds are notorious for upsetting five seeds, having done so in 25 of 28 tournaments since 1985. Twelve seeds have a 35% winning percentage in the opening round and have a .500 record in the second round.
It’s probably also wise to pick a 13/4 upset and a 11/6 upset, as they have occurred every year since 2008. Just be careful which ones you pick, as five seeds can advance to the title game (most recently Butler in 2010).
3. If you want a Cinderella, look at the 10 and 11 seeds
While 12/5 upsets have the reputation, 12 seeds do not fare well after the Sweet 16, winning only once and never advancing to the Final Four. On the other hand three 11 seeds have advanced for the final four (LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011) and 10 seeds have advanced to the Elite Eight seven times since 1985. 11 seeds have more final four appearances than 10, 9, 8, and 7 seeds and are tied with 6 seeds. Thirteen seeds have never advanced outside of the Sweet 16, and 15 seeds have never made it past the Round of 32.
4. Your National Champion should be a 1, 2 or 3 seed
Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the top three seeds have won the national title all but three times. The other seeds to win? A four (Arizona), a six (Kansas) and an eight (Villanova). None of those runs came in the last ten years, either. One seeds have won six of the last ten National Championships, with three seeds taking three of the other four.
5. Don’t go chalk to the Final Four
The Final Four has only been all one seeds once, in 2008. Since then, two seeds have been just as likely to make the Final Four as one seeds, as only four one seeds have advanced in the last four years. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have some one seeds in the Final Four (one seeds have advanced to the Final Four in all but two tournaments), but it’s more likely that there will be only one top seeded team in the Final Four than all four.
6. Look at the game locations
The home teams have dominated the NCAA this year. Don’t expect much to change in the tournament, and, all things being equal, look at where the game is being played. Be weary of teams from the West Coast playing in the Eastern Time Zone, and teams from the Atlantic Coast traveling to the West. Not only does jetlag play a role, but it’s much easier for fans to travel to see their teams if they are close, as opposed to cross country travel.
7. Forget the rules
This is March Madness! Where anything can (and often does) happen. So, go ahead, put Wyoming in the Sweet 16. Have Montana make a run. Predict upsets. Trust me, your bracket will probably be worthless by the end of the second round anyway, so you might as well root for the underdog and enjoy the insanity as it happens. Besides, it’s a lot easier to accept that you lost to the person who fills out their bracket based on the mascots if you don’t spend too much time worrying about the picks. So have fun!