March Madness Tips:  How to Win Your Office Pool 

As also appeared in Brightest Young Things.

March Madness starts this week!  It’s that wonderful time of year when your office internet slows to a crawl because everyone is “working” aka busy watching games.  Don’t have a clue how to fill out your bracket?  While the chances of picking a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion, there are ways to get ahead of your office pool.  We collected tips and tricks to break down the tournament and make your picks!


The Basics 

March Madness aka “the Big Dance” is the single elimination tournament that starts with 68 teams and whittles them down to 1 big winner over several rounds.  Thirty-two teams automatically qualify based on winning their conference championship and a selection committee picks the remaining teams.  Then the committee “seeds” or ranks them dividing them into 4 different regions.

That’s where you come in.  You create a bracket to predict who wins each match up.  There are always upsets (unexpected wins by the lower seeded team), so the question is can you predict the big winners?


Picking Your Bracket

1.     Be objective. B-E Objective!  The first tip is not to be swayed by your alma mater.  I know it’s hard because the ties run deep and you have such great memories of going to games and late night parties, but the best way to win your pool is to take the subjectivity out of the equation.

2.     Picking upsets is fun, but don’t go bananas.  There are always upsets in the tournament, that’s why it’s not called March Expected-ResultsBut there are certain time-tested trends for upsets that make good conventional wisdom.  Here’s your history lesson:

  • First of all, no #16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed.  I know we all love a good David versus Goliath story, but probably don’t pick a #16 seed as your Cinderella story team this year.
  • Speaking of Cinderella teams, it’s fun to pick a couple crazy upsets, but don’t have them make it too deep into the tournament.  For example, only one #12 seed has made it to the Elite 8 (Missouri in 2002).  The later rounds of the tournament also usually give you more points in your pool, so it’s smart to play it safe deep in the tournament.
  • Don’t be super boring with your bracket either.  The last time only #1 seeds made it to the Final Four was 2008.  Overall, only 40.5% of #1 seeds have made it to the Final Four.  For example, last year #7-seeded Michigan State duked it out with the #1 seeds in the Final Four.
  • When picking upsets, you may have heard about the 5th seed jinx.  Basically, the story goes that 5th seeds are more often upset by 12th seeds (41%) than 6th seeds are upsets by 11th seeds (34%). But don’t necessarily buy the hype because it’s not always the case.  Just last year no 5th seeds were upset by 12th seeds.

3.     Heating up.  It’s important to look at how teams have been performing most recently and their longest streaks during the regular season.  Why?  March Madness is really a test to see which team can win 6 games in a row, so if a team is just hitting its stride that could mean success in the tournament.  Both Kansas and Michigan State ended the regular season with a bang and won their conference tournaments, so that could be a good sign of things to come!

4.     Root root root for the home team.  Even though all of the venues for the tournament are “neutral sites,” they can end up being closer to one school than the other.  In particular this year, teams have had lot more success at home than they did on the road (check out Virginia who has won 100% of their home games, but only 45.5% of their games on their road), so you may want to think about which teams will have more fans in the stands cheering them on.

5.     Put me in, coach.  Another helpful tip is to look at coaches who frequently make it deeper in the tournament that you would expect based on their seeding.  The whiz kids over at FiveThirtyEight did the analysis and liked Tom Izzo (Michigan State), John Calipari (Kentucky), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Roy Williams (UNC), Sean Miller (Arizona), and Archie Miller (Dayton).

6.     Well-rounded.  You’re probably saying “duh” to this one.  Well-rounded teams tend to go far in the tournament.  You can check out famed college basketball stats man Ken Pomeroy’s site for his offensive and defensive ratings.  This year it looks like Kansas, Virginia, Michigan State, UNC, Villanova, and Oklahoma are in the top 20 rankings both offensively and defensively. 

7.     Have fun!  This year is probably one of the craziest years of all because there are no clear front-runners.  No team has held onto the top spot in the country for longer than 4 weeks, and every team except Villanova has lost to an unranked team! This promises to be a seriously bonkers tourney, so get out there, be creative and use your gut instinct!

Want more helpful tips?  Check out our team primers here!