Home » Columns » Currently Reading:

How to Choose Your Bracket

March 19, 2003 Columns No Comments

How to Pick Your Bracket

by Jed Tai

The bracket has been announced and it’s now when the fun begins. Your office is having about 20 different tournament pools with tons of money at stake, and you want to kick serious butt on Hoopville’s bracket challenge as well. You’ve been staring at the brackets all day long and surfing the net for information on possible Cinderellas. The big question remains — how am I going to fill out my bracket?

Is there a true winning formula? Some say there is, some say there isn’t. You may think that you know more about the game than most, but doesn’t it always seem like the winner of the pool doesn’t even follow college basketball? In truth, there often is a lot of luck that goes into having a winning tournament pool entry — having won an office pool myself, I can tell you that sometimes things simply fall into the right places. But that’s not to say you can simply flip a coin to choose all the games; of course, there are sme general guidelines to follow. Here are a few I go with every year when filling out my bracket:

1. Go with the #1 seeds

Especially in recent years, the #1 seed is guaranteed to be at least in the Sweet 16, if not the Elite 8. Almost 50% of all #1 seeds in the past 15 years have made it to the Final Four. When in doubt, go with the #1 seed, especially far into the tournament.

2. Watch the #4 and #5 seeds

Almost every year, at least one #4 or #5 seed goes down in the first round. Look particularly for games when teams differ significantly in style or makeup. Sometimes the team that pulls the upset is good enough to make a run all the way to the Sweet 16, so be aware of teams who could pull off two wins that first weekend.

3. Beware of the MAC!

In recent years, a member of the Mid-American Conference has made noise in the tournament. Last year it was Kent State going all the way to the Elite Eight. A team from this league always seems to be ready to wreak havoc on a higher seed in the first round of the tourney. If they don’t win the game, they at least make it very interesting. Why the MAC in particular? Well, let’s just say they’ve hurt me enough in the past that I’ve gained a good respect for them.

4. Seniors, seniors, seniors

Experienced teams typically do well in the tournament. With the exception of Arizona in ’97, national title teams have typically had good senior or upperclassman leadership. Sometimes young teams can make a good run, but it’s the more experienced teams that usually seem to come out ahead. Last year, it was Maryland with their senior trio of Dixon, Baxter, and Mouton. Good seniors help a team go a long way.

5. The Revenge Factor

It’s always hard to beat a team more than once. It’s also harder to beat a team seeking revenge. If a matchup features two teams that have either 1) met up during the same season, or 2) met up in a previous NCAA tournament — you may want to strongly consider picking the team that lost the last time. Now this isn’t completely failproof (see Kentucky versus Utah in
the 90’s), but it seems to happen more often than not.

6. Make sure you get the later rounds

It’s fun to pick upsets in the first few rounds, but if those teams don’t go very far, it’s not really worth too much. Different pools have different methods to calculate points, but most of them, including the Hoopville Tournament Challenge, give more points to choosing the later rounds correct. With that in mind, don’t worry if you miss some of the upsets in the first round. As long as the teams you pick to go far don’t get knocked out early, you’ll be in good shape. Don’t risk trying to pick the big upset while losing out on a team who could possibly make a long run.

7. Go with the flow

The first time you look at the bracket, some games will immediately strike you as possible upsets. Go with this initial feeling and mark it down already, as it probably has a good chance of coming true. The more you think about it, the more you’ll doubt your selection, and it always feels worse when you kick yourself laster because you know you felt the right way about it the first time.

There are many other methods to use, but those are some of the basic ones I use to fill out my bracket (and not to brag, but I do fairly decently in the pools I enter).

If you’re big on picking based on historical trends and assorted facts, here is a site to check out:

Jeremy Benson’s Tournament Reports:
The reports Jeremy presents here provide a variety of good info — team records when ranked higher/lower, versus ranked/unranked teams, versus particular coaches/opponents, etc. Some more information to bombard your brain with when deciding who should beat who.

If you don’t know much about some of the teams themselves, perhaps you should go with the ratings route — hoping that unbiased/objective math formulas might indicate who indeed is the better pick. Some ratings to definitely check out include:

Sagarin Ratings:
Jeff Sagarin’s ratings are often maddeningly accurate when used to choose winners/losers, as well as point spreads. It’s not
always right (then again, what is), but it seems like it’s more often right than wrong.

These ratings are similar to Sagarin’s, and are worth consideration. What’s nice about this site is that it not only has ratings, but also breaks down each team’s performance this year against differently rated teams, on home/road/neutral courts, in league/non-league games, and has predictions for future games.

Massey Ratings:
Another set of ratings for the true numbers guru.

Jerry Palm’s RPI:
The NCAA committee takes into consideration a team’s RPI rating when seeding teams and placing them in regions, but whether or not it’s useful in picking games is a different story entirely. This isn’t the actual formula the NCAA uses, but it is a reasonable facsimile. Use at your own risk.

Of course, while not personally recommended, you can take the advice of other so-called “experts” and base your picks off their pools. Be aware though, as most prognosticators probably don’t know much more than you do.

But most of all, have fun – that’s what it’s all about. Good luck!


Comment on this Article:

Subscribe to Hoopville

Enter your email address to subscribe to Hoopville


Hoopville Archives

College Basketball Tonight

We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show aired on AM 710 WOR in New York City on Sunday evenings starting with Selection Sunday and running through the NCAA Tournament.

Here are links to the shows:

March 13, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 20, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 27, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

April 3, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

Everybody Needs a Head Coach

Former college basketball coach Mike Jarvis has a new book out, Everybody Needs a Head Coach.

"As you read this book, I hope that Coach Jarvis' experiences inspire you to find your purpose in life."
-Patrick Ewing, NBA Hall of Fame center

"Mike Jarvis' is one of my special friends. I am so pleased that he has taken the time to write this fabulous book."
-Mike Krzyzewski, Five-time NCAA championship head coach, Duke Blue Devils

"In reading this book, I can see that Mike hasn't lost his edge or his purpose. Readers should take a look at what he has to say."
-Jim Calhoun, Three-time NCAA champion, UConn Men's basketball

Review on Hoopville coming soon!

Coaching Changes and NBA Draft Early Entrants

The coaching carousel is moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Also, keep track of players who have declared early for the NBA Draft.

Hoopville Podcasts

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – December 8, 2017

December 8, 2017 by

In our latest podcast, we talk about a bizarre finish to an early-season tournament game, the Pac-12’s early struggles, Florida teams going in different directions and two northeast teams trending less relevant even as they excite fans at a famous arena.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – November 22, 2017

November 22, 2017 by

In our pre-Thanksgiving podcast, we look at a key injury that is likely to be devastating for his team and an under-the-radar 4-0 week, then move on to some early SEC impressions and a couple of teams that just continue to win.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – November 9, 2017

November 10, 2017 by

The season is almost here, and we take a look at some of what to expect this coming season. We have preseason polls, conference changes, a look at some conferences and some matchups to start the season.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – October 2, 2017

October 2, 2017 by

The FBI has zeroed in on college basketball in a big way, and what has happened may be the beginning of a massive hit to the sport. We discuss what we know thus far in our latest podcast.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – August 17, 2017

August 18, 2017 by

In our latest podcast, we check in with some good news from a few teams overseas after a big scare, plus a big addition for a championship contender, a conference on the rise, and a great coach thinking about a return to the bench.

Phil Kasiecki on Twitter

Recruiting Coverage

Lincoln captures Hamilton Park title

August 15, 2017 by

For the first time, a public school won the Hamilton Park Summer League, and they were led by a big effort from a junior point guard in the title game.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Boston Shootout

June 12, 2017 by

Some news and notes coming from the second and final day of action at the 2017 Boston Shootout, where the host program provided plenty of talent, but so did a program that produced a team that beat them.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Northeast Hoops Festival

April 11, 2017 by

The Northeast Hoops Festival helped bring in the new spring travel season in New England, and we have notes from some of Saturday’s action.

2016 Boston Back to School Showcase notes

September 12, 2016 by

We look back at the 2016 Boston Back to School Showcase, where a couple of Boston City League teams were among the most impressive on the day.

2016 Hoopville Spring Finale championship recap

June 28, 2016 by

We look back at the championship games of the 2016 Hoopville Spring Finale, which had a big local flavor as one might have expected.