How to Pick a Perfect NCAA Tournament Bracket

How to Pick a Perfect NCAA Tournament Bracket

NCAA Bracket

Ah, the first week of the NCAA Tournament. It’s a week full of hope, clean brackets and high expectations. Anticipation is especially high this year after a COVID-caused no show in 2020. With millions of brackets being completed in the next few days, here are some tried and true strategies to help you dominate your pool and select the perfect NCAA Tournament bracket.

Conventional wisdom says you should pick Gonzaga, Illinois or Baylor to win the NCAA Tournament. Last time I checked, those three were the overwhelming favorites among the so-called “experts” and fans on ESPN.

However, there are plenty of dark horse candidates. Houston is hitting its stride at the perfect time. Texas, Purdue and Florida State are all surging teams with good odds of advancing deep. Want to take a flyer on last year’s champion, Virginia? Assuming it overcomes COVID quarantine, nobody would fault you.

Yet, here I am with BYU sitting at the top of my NCAA Tournament bracket. Sure, the oddsmakers give the Cougars 10,000/1 odds of winning it all but I might argue there are plenty of reasons for BYU fans to be optimistic.

BYU reacts to being selected as a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament | Photo by KSL
BYU reacts to being selected as a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament | Photo by BYU Athletics

BYU played a killer non-conference schedule and is now battle tested. In fact, half of BYU’s losses came at the hands of undefeated, overall number one seed Gonzaga. In their most recent matchup on March 9, BYU led Gonzaga for more than 30 minutes in the WCC Conference Tournament Championship game before finally fading late.

Still, for every argument I make as to why my alma mater will be cutting down the nets in Indianapolis, there’s a mountain of evidence to suggest my bracket is doomed before the first tip.

First, let’s level set our expectations. The odds of picking the perfect NCAA Tournament bracket are astronomically small. In fact, DePaul University professor Jeff Bergen says the odds are 1 in 9.2 quintillion (that’s a 9 with 18 zeros behind it) that you’ll pick every single matchup correctly.

However, what if you know some tried-and-true facts? For instance, only one time in the entire history of the NCAA Tournament has a 16-seed knocked off a 1-seed (2018 UMBC says hi). No team seeded 12 or worse has ever made the Final Four (VCU’s historic run began as a No. 11 seed). In that case, your odds skyrocket to 1 in 128 billion. Bergen says that’s the equivalent of every single person in America filling out a bracket, with less than a one-fourth of 1 percent chance that anyone in the U.S. will get a perfect bracket.

Of course, there are many tried-and-true strategies for being a perfect prognosticator. For example, team color. Teams wearing blue (or blue and white) are more likely to win than any other color or color combination. Last year’s winner, Virginia, wears Navy Blue and Orange.

You can also play the name game. Consider that since 2000, six titles were won by coaches whose first names start with J. The Ks chipped in another four titles and R and B both notched three national championships over the last few decades.

Prefer mascots? In that case, bet on four-legged animals. Gators, dogs, cats and terrapins have won half of the titles since 2000. Avoid devils and fruit.

Don’t be too fond of rankings and records. The final AP No. 1 ranked team hasn’t won the NCAA Tournament since Kentucky in 2012.

What’s more, don’t go for unblemished Cinderellas. Only one champion since 2000 had less than three losses (Kentucky in 2012). 11 eventual national champions had five losses or more. In fact, the last time a perfect team entered — and won — the NCAA Tournament was Indiana in 1976. Maybe this year’s Gonzaga team will change that but history isn’t on the Bulldog’s side.

This year, an estimated 45 percent of all Americans will strive to pick the perfect combination. However, no matter how conventional or unconventional your strategy is, your bracket is going to be just as busted and broken as mine is by the time April rolls around. “When your bracket goes down the tubes, don’t worry. So is everyone else’s,” consoled Bergen.

So go ahead! Pick your alma mater, your neighbor’s cousin’s favorite team or whatever name you pull out of a hat as your bracket king. It’s probably sheer folly, insanity, even madness. But after all, this is March, and the NCAA Tournament is back!

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