There’s a slim margin for error when it comes to winning your NCAA tournament bracket pool. College basketball fans devote their attention to making the right call on upsets and Final Four.
But one way to win your bracket is to simply avoid obvious errors that could prove costly.
Here’s a look at five tips of what not to do when making your March Madness picks:
1. Don’t pick a team that hasn’t been better than .500 in its last 10 games. Ahem, Marquette. A winning bracket takes a little research. The best way to avoid mishaps is to assess a team’s play in late February and early March because as much as the tournament is about matchups, a team that’s playing poorly shouldn’t be ignored. The Golden Eagles, for instance, are the best-seeded team from the Big East. But they’ve also lost five of six and do not look like they’re about to peak. Same story for Louisville, which has lost seven of 10.
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2. Don’t be fooled by the recency effect. Don’t be the person who says, “Oh, they won their conference tournament, they’re a good Elite Eight darkhorse.” That’s lazy. Iowa State is a good example. The Cyclones unexpectedly won the Big 12 tournament, but they lost three in a row before that. They also have a tough draw in Ohio State, which was only seeded as a No. 11 due to injury. This is more like a No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup than a No. 6 vs. No. 11. A team’s streak should be a factor, but don’t let that motivate you to completely ignore a bad matchup (i.e., No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 11s Arizona State or St. John’s).
3. Don’t pick a No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1. It won’t happen again, so don’t get your hopes up. While UMBC’s upset of top overall seed Virginia busted brackets everywhere last year, it took 136 tries for it to happen, and it’s unlikely the same fate would occur to one of the four No. 1s this year. Plus, if you do make that pick, what’s the payoff? You get one first-round pick right on the good end (because don’t expect a No. 16 seed to win again). Is it for bragging rights? Pick wrong and you’d lose a potential Sweet 16, Elite Eight or Final Four finisher.
4. Don’t assume that a team that did well last year or historically does well will do well this year. There’s a ton of turnover in college basketball with one-and-done players. Yes, bluebloods and historically good teams are a good starting point, but make sure to do a little investigating first. For instance, Villanova won the national championship two of the last three years, but the Sweet 16 is probably the Wildcats’ ceiling this year.
5. Don’t pick a team because it’s your favorite. Don’t let your enjoyment of a team drive your bracket into the ground. Don’t overlook Kentucky’s advantage over No. 7 Wofford just because you want to see Houston vs. the Terriers in the Sweet 16.