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Need NCAA bracket help? Follow these 5 tips

Published On: Mar 06 2012 02:12:43 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 09 2012 03:59:15 PM CST
college basketball tournament bracket graphic


The NCAA tournament is looming and your co-workers or friends want you to enter their bracket pool. However, you haven't watched a single NCAA men's basketball game all season and you can't tell the difference between a Blue Devil and a Sun Devil.

No worries -- you don't need to be a basketball genius to enter a bracket in a pool.

After all, there are more than 9 quintillion ways to fill out a bracket (9,223,372,036,854,775,808 possibilities, to be exact) and that's not including the "First Four" play-in games, in which case that number climbs to more than 147 quintillion.

In other words, if you nail a perfect bracket, you may want to start playing the lottery as well.

Whether you're in it to win it or just playing for fun, we've got some tips to ensure your bracket is a solid contender this -- or any other -- year.

filling out college basketball tournament bracket, office pool

No. 5: Stick with highest seeds

It might not be the most entertaining -- nor the riskiest -- way to fill out an NCAA bracket, but simply picking the top seeds to win each game gets the job done and will at least save you from embarrassing yourself.

Top seeds not only don't lose in the first round, they also tend to stick around longer. Historically speaking, No. 1 seeds have an 86 percent chance of winning at least two games before heading home.

Remember that, and the fact that last year the four No. 16 seeds were blown out by an average of more than 28 points, before you get cute and pick that first-round upset.

Things aren't much brighter one seed up the bracket ladder, with No. 15 teams posting a 4-100 record in the first round since 1985. And of those four Cinderellas, none of them were able to win another tourney game.

glass slipper, Cinderella

No. 4: Choose your upsets carefully

Don't take our warnings about No. 15 and No. 16 seeds to mean you should avoid picking upsets all together.

While it can be tricky to predict Cinderellas, if you want to spice up your bracket be sure to select a few games that notoriously produce an underdog winner.

The most likely games to result in upsets tend to be the Nos. 5-12, 6-11 and 7-10 matchups. Looking at historical numbers (No. 10 seeds are 19-23 in the second round while No. 7 teams are 17-45), it especially makes sense to target a No. 10 seed to not only pull a first-round upset, but also to send a No. 2 packing on its way to the Sweet 16.

When it comes to No. 8 vs. No. 9 games, they are statistically a coin flip. So simply focus on picking the better team. However, if your league offers bonus points for picking the lower seed to win, a smart move might be to simply pick all No. 9 seeds.

Duke North Carolina 2011, college basketball

No. 3: When in doubt, go with tradition

If you really can't decide which team will win a matchup, go with the more storied squad. In the NCAA tournament, teams with experience tend to be annual contenders, so going with a school such as Duke, North Carolina or Connecticut can be a wise pick.

Tradition also can be used to identify conferences that are particularly strong in the tourney. For instance, a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) has made the Final Four in 22 of the past 28 tournaments, including the 2010 champion Duke Blue Devils.

Those same storied teams also tend to be the ones who get the No. 1 pick. When you're narrowing your Final Four choices, keep that in mind.

While only once has all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four (in 2008 with Kansas, North Carolina, Memphis and UCLA), at least one top seed has made the Final Four in every year except for 1980, 2006 and 2011.

basketball on court

No. 2: Consider the body of work

While it can be tempting to latch on to the "hot team" that came out of nowhere to win its conference tournament, you may want to reconsider before inking them into your bracket's Final Four.

Sure, last year saw three of the Final Four teams win their conference tournaments. But, over the past 10 years, only 20 of the 40 Final Four teams were conference-tournament champions. In fact, over the past decade, more than 60 percent of the league-tournament champions from the power conferences have lost by the NCAA region semifinals.

The numbers are much more solid when you look at regular season conference champions. Since the expansion to 64 teams in 1985, the national champion has won its regular-season conference title 19 times in 27 years.

Basketball pundits have often theorized that a long conference tournament run may actually hurt contenders, wearing them down before the NCAA tournament begins. Looking at those numbers, there may be something to the theory.

Yet another thing to keep in mind when filling out your bracket.

Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan in 2010 NCAA Tournament

No. 1: Stay true to your school

Even if your school isn't seeded high this year, it's usually a good idea to fill out at least one bracket with your team advancing far.

This way you don't have to choose between rooting for your school or your bracket, and you can be excited if your team happens to pull an upset to advance into the late rounds.

The same can go for teams in your conference. If you can't decide between two schools, picking the squad that plays in your conference is a noble choice.

And never discount sentimentality. After all, a team sometimes needs to reach deep when it has to win six straight hotly contested games on the big stage to capture a national title.

So consider the "win one for coach" rallying cry. It worked wonders for North Carolina coach Roy Williams when he won his first title in 2005. Which team is going to get that extra burst this year? Could it be Bo Ryan in Wisconsin? John Thompson III with Georgetown? Mark Few with Gonzaga? Maybe San Diego State's Steve Fisher?

Only time will tell.


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