Even if you don’t follow college basketball, odds are you’ve gotten an invitation from a friend to fill out a March Madness bracket. It doesn’t take a whole lot of skill: All you need is a basic understanding of the game. Luckily most bracket websites include the rank and record of all 64 teams in the tournament, so you’ll have a general idea of what to expect. No matter how good or bad you think your guesses are, keep in mind that no one has ever filled out a perfect bracket. Ever. In fact, the odds of doing so are roughly 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (that’s the only statistic you will read here, I promise). Despite this, we’ve comprised some practical tips for putting an extra couple of bucks in your pocket by the tournament’s end:
1. Make all the obvious picks early on:
This is a simple, effective strategy for surviving the first few days of the tournament. Don’t try to be the hero and predict the world’s greatest upset in the first round. If you end up picking a huge upset and turn out to be wrong, you may have killed your chance at winning the jackpot. In case you didn’t know, you get points for every victor you guess correctly. So if you pick a team to lose that almost everybody else would pick to win, you will be the only one not getting those points if you guess wrong. Even more importantly, you are potentially costing yourself even more points later on if that team continues to win games.
2. Take some medium-sized gambles in the first round:
Just to be clear: Picking a number 16 seed to beat a number 1 seed is not a medium sized gamble. Try to find some sizable upsets that are plausible based on seed ranking, such as a number 10 team over a number 7 team. By taking a few of these sorts of chances, you can maximize your potential to score some points early. Suppose less than half of the people involved in your tournament pick the underdog to win: That means if you guess correctly, you are one of a select few who will get points for that win. Even if you lost, these gambles won’t hurt you that much since the lower seeds ordinarily lose relatively early on anyway.
3. Once you have your Sweet 16 penciled in, go with your gut:
Odds are, most of your Sweet 16 picks will be pretty high seeds. Now that a majority of the weaker teams will have been weeded out, all of the remaining teams are very, very good. That means that just about any upset is plausible (and there will be upsets here, believe you me), and it’s time to make some bold moves. Don’t be afraid to make decisions that are unconventional (remember: 1 in 9,223,372036,854,775,808). Wins in the later rounds are worth more points, and one big victory can compensate for many mistakes made earlier.
4. Know who you want your Final Four to be:
The last thing you want to be left with when you make your bracket is a group of four teams you feel iffy about. Make sure you know which schools you want to have in the semifinals, and be confident in their ability to get there. The last two rounds can essentially decide who wins the bracket, so take a few minutes to really think about how you will be able to make it work.
5. Beware the favorite:
If you pick the favorite to win March Madness, you better be sure the rest of your bracket is impeccable. Keep in mind that many people in your group will select the favored team to bring home the trophy, so your decision pick them does not allow you to outscore your opponents in the final round. However, if you pick a team that is not widely regarded to win the tournament, the payoff will be huge if you are correct.
Above all, make sure your bracket is truly yours. Don’t feel persuaded to take all of this advice if it goes against your March Madness creed. Winners are made by being unique and innovative predictions (seriously, who saw Uconn winning it all last year?) Good luck!