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Win Your March Madness Bracket without Knowing Sports

BY: Collin Brennan | Feb 16, 2016

Between last-minute victory shots and Cinderella stories, March Madness is perhaps the least predictable tournament in any sport. Its format is also beautifully simple: 64 teams divided into 4 regions of 16, with each team given a ranking (a.k.a, a “seed”) between 1 and 16. This means that anyone can play in the annual office pool and possibly win—even people who couldn’t care less about college basketball. We’ve collected a few helpful March Madness bracket tips so that you’ll be ready to send the rest of the pool home with empty wallets.

1. Familiarize Yourself with How Seeds Work

There are 16 seeds in each region; the No. 1 seed is the strongest team, and the No. 16 seed is the weakest. The highest seeds are always matched up against the lowest in the tournament’s first round, so 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15, and so on. This creates the March Madness bracket structure.

2. Always Bet Against 16-Seeds

Let’s start with the easiest bracket tip. In the history of the men’s tournament, no 16-seed team has ever won its first-round matchup. These are the teams that barely scrape their way into the tournament, and the top seeds typically eliminate them by the end of the first quarter. This is not the place to be a contrarian. Steer your bracket clear of the 16s.

Basketball Player

3. Pick at Least Two 8-Seeds to Lose in the First Round

Here’s where it gets a little more interesting. The first matchup between the 8- and 9-seed is a notorious tossup. But surprisingly, the 9-seed actually wins a bit more often than it loses. Just be ready to cut ties with your 9-seed victors immediately: fewer than 10% of them win their second-round matchup.

4. Pick at Least One 12-Seed to Make the Sweet Sixteen

Historically speaking, if a 12-seed team can make it out of the first round, they have a nearly 50% chance of winning their second-round game and making the Sweet Sixteen. Those are pretty good odds, so we suggest you roll with them. But be sure to heed this bracket advice: don’t send any 12-seed further than that. They’ll probably face a 1-seed in the Sweet Sixteen, and it won’t be pretty.

5. Roll the Dice and Send an 11-Seed to the Final Four

In the course of March Madness bracket history, an 11-seed has made the Final Four exactly three times. So, what’s the appeal? Two of those times have come within the past decade, with George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011. The tides of history are turning, and it’s time to hop on that rickety 11-seed boat and see if it floats.

6. Only Send Two Top Seeds to the Final Four

In 2008, all four top seeds made the Final Four. That tournament was an incredible snoozefest, but it was also a statistical anomaly. It’s actually far more likely for two 1-seeds to make the Final Four, as hubris tends to get the best of teams stuck on cruise control.

Basketball Players

7. Don’t Pick a Champion Seeded Any Lower Than 8

Picking upsets is fun. So is playing with a samurai sword, but you’re probably better off taking a few good swings than throwing the thing in the air and trying to catch it while blindfolded. Our advice: fill your bracket with as many early-round upsets as your heart desires, but know that the lowest-seeded team to ever win the tournament was Villanova in 1985, and they were an 8-seed. Pick a team any lower than that, and there’s a good chance you won’t catch that proverbial sword.

8. On the Fence? Pick a Team in Blue to Win It All

Nothing is predictable in March Madness, so we tend to grasp onto whichever flimsy straws we can. Here is a straw that is both flimsy and strangely alluring: dating back to 2004, every national champion except for one (Louisville in 2013) has prominently featured blue in its color scheme. The Duke Blue Devils are the odds-on favorites this year, and they have blue in both their uniforms and their name. Coincidence? We’ll let you decide.