Bracket Voodoo: 7 last-minute tips before you turn in your NCAA bracket

Still agonizing over those last few picks in your bracket? Or maybe you haven’t even started filling it out. Here are seven tips that might help you get it done before the first games tip.

1. Don’t worry about recent performance

My colleague, Dan Loman, analyzed all tournament teams since 2000 and found that in aggregate there is no correlation between recent tournament performance and tournament performance in a given year-unless your team is coached by Tom Izzo. So those of you hesitant to take a gamble on Virginia or Villanova take heart. They are no more likely to wreck your bracket than anyone else.

2. Don’t get too cute with the early round picks

You hear these stats all the time-“A 12 seed always beats a 5 seed”, “A 13 seed has beaten a 4 in 5 of the last 7 years”, “A double digit seed always makes the Sweet Sixteen.” So what? Every year there are a lot of upsets. That’s why they call it March Madness. But if you go chasing the upsets, you’ll probably call the wrong ones. Then you will be wrong twice. Focus your upset picks on one or two teams to make an unexpected run in the tournament, and keep the rest of the bracket pretty chalky. If you do that, you’ll be near the top of the field after the first weekend, and then you’ll just need one or two things (instead of 32) to break your way in order to take home the title.

3. You can build a strong bracket by only really making one pick

As a corollary to the last point, for just about any size pool you can build a strong bracket (albeit maybe not the best one) by really only making one pick. Find one undervalued team (meaning the percentage of people picking them to win the tourney is much lower than their chances of winning it). Pencil that team all the way to the championship, and stick with the chalk the rest of the way. You can find a few of our recommendations here. Of course, the size and other specifics of your pool will indicate which undervalued team is the best play. For a smaller pool it may be Villanova. For a really large pool, check out Wichita State.

4. Don’t pick the home team

There is massive homer bias in bracket picks. Let everyone else in your pool pick the home team, while you pick them to get bounced early. Sure if your team does make a run, you’ll lose the pool; but so will most of the people that did pick them.

5. Beware of group think in your pool

There is evidence that even beyond this homer bias, there is other group think in March Madness pools. We analyzed 1000 CBS Bracket Manager pools, and, controlling for size and home state bias, found that people in pools together tend to pick the same teams more often than we would expect. So if you’ve got a couple know-it-alls in you pool telling everyone else Michigan State is going to win, there is a good chance others in your pool agree with them. Tune in to that group-think, and then change the channel and pick something completely different.

6. Teams with a dominant playmaker outperform those that don’t

Thanks to more analysis by Dan Loman, we discovered that teams with dominant playmakers–like Texas, Providence, Kentucky, and Wichita State–tend to outperform their seed by ½ of a win on average; while teams without one-like North Carolina, Virginia, and Purdue-tend to underperform their seed.

7. Still stuck with a half-empty bracket?

Use the BracketVoodoo Bracket Analyzer to build and evaluate a bracket for any type of pool in seconds.

Happy Madness!


Brad Null (@bradnull) is the founder of bracketvoodoo.com, the world’s most advanced NCAA Tournament bracket analysis and optimization engine. Try it out now at www.bracketvoodoo.com

Providence's point guard Kris Dunn will have the Friars a popular pick. (USATSI)
Providence’s point guard Kris Dunn will have the Friars a popular pick. (USATSI)

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