5 Long Steps to complete your March Madness bracket

Here are the rules to follow when making your March Madness bracket. Just like everything else on this blog, this doesn't guarantee to get everything right, but maximizes your chances of winning money via your office pool. That means that we're not going to be taking crazy risks and we're not trying to be perfect. You need to get insanely lucky to win on ESPN or Yahoo simply because those groups are so large, but to win your office pool your biggest priority is to mitigate risk. My bold prediction for this tournament: A Pac-10 7 seed will make the Sweet 16. Either Washington will beat UNC or UCLA will get revenge against Florida. But I'm not going to make those picks in my official bracket. The slight advantage I stand to gain if I happen to pick the correct Pac-10 team does not outweigh the points I will lose to everyone else in the field when the favored 2 seeds advance an extra round or three. And if I pick the 2 seeds to advance, but I was correct that they lose? Then I am in the exact same boat as everyone else and still close enough to the lead. The philosophy of picking a successful bracket is "Don't be stupid."

1. Round one. All the 1 and 2 seeds advance. Remember, don't be stupid. We just discussed this. For the rest of round one we are looking for 8-10 upsets by seed. Pick four upsets among the 8-9 and 7-10 games, usually two 9 seed and two 10 seeds. Don't spend any extra time because they are going to lose their next game anyways. Pick three 11 and 12 seeds to win (usually one 11 and two 12's) and at least one 13 or 14 seed. That adds up to 8. If you want to get to 10 upsets add an 11 seed (two 11's and two 12's) and a 13 or 14. Also pay attention to the Vegas line where lower seeds may actually be favored. This year, #10 Michigan St. is favored over UCLA and #11 Missouri is favored over Cincinnati.

2. Pick your Final Four. Yeah, we kind of jumped ahead there. This makes sure that you're looking big picture and that you don't try to get too cute. I really want UCLA to beat Florida in the second round, but that means I'm choosing from UCLA, St. John's, Gonzaga and Davies-less BYU to make the Elite Eight and all of those teams have problems. AND I'm picking Pitt as the 1 seed that is most likely to miss the Final Four. So all of a sudden I'm picking Wisconsin or BYU to make the Final Four? That just doesn't feel right. Wisconsin? Hmmmmm......kenpom.com says they're pretty good...And the rest of the region is kind of week....STOP! See how easy that was? Wisconsin just lost 36-33 to Penn St. in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. That's not a first half score. Wisconsin scored 33 points. There's a reason Wisconsin is at 50-1 to win and Florida is at 18-1...ok, I kind of got off track. Pick your Final Four teams. Pick either two or three 1 seeds. They're the favorites to win for a reason. Remember, we're mitigating risk. Even if only one 1 seed makes it, the odds that your opponents pick the correct lower seed is pretty low. And the more likely scenario is that you pick three 1 seeds, two of whom make it while your opponent gets their single 1 seed correct, but misses on their other Final Four teams. Don't pick anyone below a 4 seed. Remember, don't be stupid. So look for a 1,1,1,2 or a 1,1,2,4 or something like that. You also want to look at who has NBA talent on their roster. Chad Ford can help you identify those guys. If someone in your office pool gets lucky enough to pick the correct non-1-seed champion, the best you can do is second in your pool (which probably still pays). But if you are the only person who doesn't have Kansas in the Final Four, you just might come in dead last.

3. Second round. All the 1's and 2's advance. Sure, Northern Iowa could beat Kansas, but no one outside of whatever city Northern Iowa is from picked that upset and everyone in your office pool was hurt the same. If one of your opponents picks a 2 seed to lose, laugh and call them an idiot (silently or audibly) OR commend their bravery as you take their money. I'm not going to be getting cute and try for that 2 point win and take the chance of missing out on the 4-12 points everyone else will get as that 2 seed advances a couple more rounds. Now, the odds of any 2 seed missing the the Sweet 16 are about 40%, but the odds of you getting the right team in the right year is less than 15%. Next, pick one or two double digit seeds to make the Sweet 16. No more. It works out nicely if you have a 12-13 or 11-14 playing each other, but this isn't entirely necessary. Make sure to advance at least two 3's and two 4's. Don't be afraid of chalk. More 3's and 4's is perfectly acceptable in a small to medium pool. The other three teams should be: a 5 or 6, and two of whatever the hell you want. Another 3 and 4 for more chalk? Sure. Another 6 and another double digit seed? Fine by me.

4. Sweet 16. Ok, now you can actually break down games and styles, but you already know who is going to be your regional champ from step #2. You have four teams, you already know the overall winner so half your picks are already made. And the other half are going to lose in the next round anyways. North Carolina or Syracuse? I have no idea, I didn't watch any non-UCLA college basketball games this season. And if you're coming to me for help filling out your bracket, you probably didn't either.

Skipping the Elite Eight because we already know our Final Four teams.

5. Final Four. Pick someone. I suggest a 1 seed. This year I suggest any of the teams that have better than 5-1 odds to win and multiple NBA players. That's Ohio State, Kansas and Duke.

Go Bruins!!


  1. 5 Long Steps is right... I like the general theory though. Don't be stupid is a great guiding light for trying to win an office pool.

    I have Pitt, Purdue, North Carolina, and San Diego St in my Final Four, with Pitt beating UNC in the nat'l championship game. But I think I'm probably 100% wrong.

    However, I correctly predicted Morehead State upsetting Louisville, so I'm feeling pretty proud of myself right now.

  2. Wow - this seems like a very legit strategy. I've got a 1,1,4,6 final four, with the 4-seed winning, so I'm almost to what you're looking for. We'll see how I do!

  3. Even though I think this year will be upset heavy, our group is so small, I went super chalky, with Ohio State, Duke, Kansas and Florida. With Kansas beating Duke in the final. The easiest way for me to win this group is for Duke to make the championship game. Most other situations either eliminate me or are duplicated by someone else. And since the odds of them winning are 4.5-1 (according to Vegas) I'm going to say that the odds of them making the final are about 3-1. And since there are 9 people in the group, I effectively tripled my chances of winning by choosing three 1 seeds.

  4. Yeah, that's the smart way to play it. I get a little emotional with my brackets though - I'd rather have my bracket aligned with my natural rooting interests. So for instance I picked UCLA to beat Florida even though that's extremely unlikely.

  5. I wouldn't say it's extremely unlikely, but the fact that we're playing in Florida is brutal. If it were a somewhat more favorable location, I'd give us 30-40% chance of winning. As it stands, I'd give us a 15% chance.

  6. I hate that 3 of our 5 tournament losses in this decade will have come at the hands of Florida if we lose tomorrow... damn the Gators!

  7. There were 7 upsets in the first round. One 9, one 10, three 11's, one 12, one 13. And with Morehead St.'s win over Louisville and Richmond's victory over Vanderbilt, we will have a double digit seed in the Sweet 16. The West went chalk and the East and Southeast had an 11 over 6 as the only upset.

    Did you stay smart?

  8. After two rounds, I'm in third place, but I'm not worried. The guy in first place picked Pitt to win it all, and with their loss to 8 seed Butler, he isn't going to win and my prediction that they are the 1 seed least likely to make the Final Four comes true. I picked Purdue and Notre Dame to make the Sweet 16, but no one picked VCU or Florida St. so I haven't lost any points to anyone. No one picked Butler to beat Pitt, so I am only hurt in the fact that Wisconsin is playing an inferior opponent and I picked them to lose in the next round. Overall, I am still mostly dependent on Duke to distinguish myself (or neither Ohio St. nor North Carolina make the Final Four) and the only way for Royce to have a chance is if both Ohio St. AND Kansas miss the Final Four.

  9. Hahaha... whatever, I am just proud of my early picks. My bracket was gunned down by Butler in a vicious foultastic display.

    I mean seriously, did you see the end of that game? I have never seen a basketball game that ended that way.