March Madness: How to Fill Out Your Bracket

March Madness Jell-O Shots
March Madness Jell-O Shots

I wrote this post very early on in my blogging career.  March Madness is one of my favorite times of year and it’s made all the better by filling out a bracket.  But some of you may not be sure how to fill our your bracket.  So I’ve got you covered with this updated guide to filing out your March Madness bracket (plus some killer recipes with a basketball theme).

March Madness Bracket
March Madness Bracket

Come the middle of March, some people start contemplating green beer. Some start getting a little crazy – or, well, mad. It’s not that they’ve had too much St. Patrick’s Day beer, but that they’re succumbing to March Madness.

March Madness Tournament

So, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, NCAA, runs a tournament for college basketball every – you guessed it – March. The tournament actually starts mid-March and runs for a month.  While there are tournaments for three divisions of men’s basketball as well as women’s basketball, Division I men’s basketball tends to be the most prominent.

The tournament starts with 68 Division I men’s teams. There’s a whole system to how they’re selected, involving season records, Selection Committees and even a few cloaks and daggers – well, cloaks anyway. Ultimately, though, these 68 teams get announced on Selection Sunday.

The Tournament

This is not big-money business – not for the players anyway.  Being college students, they are technically playing just for the sport of it, or for scholarships. In reality, though, they’re playing for bragging rights. Whoever wins all of their tournament games is crowned as the champions of college basketball. (Ok, they’re not really crowned, but… maybe they should be.)

By the way, you read that right – they have to win every single one of their games. The March Madness is strictly single-elimination.

Now, during the tournament, you’re going to hear all kinds of fancy terms like “Sweet 16,” “Elite Eight” and “Final Four.” These are not 80s movies –they refer to specific rounds of the tournament.

So, using statistics, the basketball teams get “podded” and “seeded.” Seeds are the placement of a team in one of four geographical regions. Their pods are the method of grouping seeds at certain sites. As to why they’re called “pods” and “seeds,” well… let’s just say March Madness is very popular in America’s Breadbasket.

There’s a First Four initial round that’s kind of like a Wild Card determination. After that, the basketball teams just start playing their games. The number of teams still in the running gets cut in half after each round. Rounds don’t get cutesy with names until after the second when — mathematicians are you ready? – There are just 16 teams left. Now the cutesy names probably make sense.

The final round, by the way, isn’t called Dynamic Duo or anything like that. It has to be content with the prestigious title “National Championship.”

Tournament Pool

People don’t talk about March Madness just because it’s fun. Heck, some people get caught up in the excitement of the tournament even if they don’t like basketball. One reason so many people get wound up is you can bet on the March Madness Tournament.

Ok, technically you can bet on anything…However, this tournament has such a systemized method of betting on the games that it has its own science associated with it – bracketology.

I’m not going to lie – I think bracketology may be a pseudo-science. But then, who cares, because when was the last time high school Biology helped you win your office pool?

Basically, if you want to participate in the tournament pool, you have to fill out a bracket starting with all 64 teams and predict the winners of each round, ultimately picking the winner. You do this all before a single game is played.

How to Fill Out Your March Madness Bracket

There are all kinds of stats and tips for how to choose your teams. For instance, a number-16 has never beaten a number-one seed. A number-one seed has only ever failed to make it to the Final Four, like, three times.  However, if you’re really into it, you can probably spend some time looking at the teams’ records, their strengths, weaknesses, injuries…

Personally, I just usually choose the team with the coolest uniforms or the greatest characters and manipulate my bracket backwards so that they win. Needless to say, I have never won the office pool, but I’m pretty sure I have way more fun in choosing than anyone else.

Here are the best tips:

  1. Focus on how teams have played in the last month, not the entire season and certainly not seasons prior. Who’s beginning a hot streak?
  2. Don’t pay too much attention to conference tournaments.
  3. There are different levels of schools, the big guys (the major conferences) and the little guys (or mid-majors) so make sure you’re taking into account who they’ve played.
  4. Pick some upsets…but like 1.  They’re super hard to predict and in the past 14 years, only one national champion has been lower than a No. 3 seed. And only three teams with double-digit seeds have ever made the Final Four.  So don’t try to play psychic too much.
  5. BUT don’t overthink it.  The odds of you picking a perfect bracket are near impossible so have some fun.  Root for your teams but if they’re a dumb pick, have the sensibility to pick a correct game in your bracket over your alma mader in the later rounds.
  6. The 12-5 is the most common upset.  Meaning a 12 seed beats a 5 seed most often in tourney history when it comes to upsets.  Not 12-2s.
  7. Stick to one bracket.  This is why it’s fun.  This isn’t a survivor league, its literally supposed to be funny how many you get wrong. Plus, when you’re expectations are realistic, it’s more fun when you get one right.
  8. When in doubt, go with your intuition.  Never heard of Old Dominion, don’t go too crazy with research and worst case, trust your gut.
  9. Don’t forget to enter into a pool! There are tons of free ones but it not only helps you keep up but when its more official its more fun.

FYI Warren Buffet offers $1 billion (with a B) for the perfect bracket.  I mean you have to get every single game correct, but the pay off is INSANE.  Good luck and no matter what it’s fun to root for your alma mater, the underdog or the favorite.  Point is, just participate and you’re guaranteed to have some fun.

Download your March Madness Bracket for practice!

March Madness Bracket
March Madness Bracket

Check out my bracket from last year here. I’ve linked my Fried Mozzarella (basket)balls here too so you can plan the perfect watch party.  If you’re headed to any of the tournament games check out my post on Basketball style so you know exactly what to wear. And last but not least…check this post on clear stadium bags so you know exactly what you can carry into the games.

Good luck on those March Madness Brackets! Click here if you want to enter the ESPN tournament challenge.

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