5 Traps To Avoid When Filling Out Your March Madness Bracket

Written By Drew Ellis on March 16, 2021

March Madness is upon us. That can only mean one thing: It’s time to fill out your college basketball winners, and you’re looking for NCAA Tournament bracket tips.

Everyone has their own idea behind a “winning” strategy when it comes to conquering the 68-team field.

It’s easy to overthink things when filling out your bracket, so here are five tips on what not to do.

1. Be wary of high March Madness seeds

It’s easy to want to just go with the top seeds to run through their regions, but it’s not sound strategy.

As we all know, March is a time for some upsets, and relying on the No. 1 seeds to all escape the minefield of the NCAA Tournament is dangerous.

Only once has all the Final Four been composed of the top four seeds. That came in 2008 when Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina all managed to run through the first four rounds.

Over the past 10 NCAA Tournaments, only 13 No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four. It’s okay to like a top seed and pick it to do well. Just don’t get too enthusiastic about all of them.

Also, Gonzaga is likely to be the team most likely chosen to win, so consider another option for strategic purposes if you aren’t fully on board with the Bulldogs.

2. Don’t be too loyal to your state, or your heart

I know March is usually a good month for the state of Michigan, to a certain extent. But don’t let yourself be blinded by fan loyalty when filling out your bracket.

Michigan is a well-deserved No. 1 seed in the East Region, but there is definitely a big red flag for the Wolverines.

Isaiah Livers is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot. Michigan hasn’t ruled him out for the entire tournament, but a return would be a surprise.

The senior forward has averaged 13.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. His absence was felt in a 68-67 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal on Saturday.

Without one of their top scorers and senior leaders, Michigan faces a much tougher climb to get to the Final Four.

 

In the case of Michigan State, dreams of another run to a Final Four seem more far-fetched.

A First Four team has made the climb before (VCU in 2011), but Michigan State has not shown any kind of consistency all year to believe it can string together five straight wins against tournament-caliber competition. Since the start of Big Ten play, the Spartans have not won more than three consecutive games.

 

3. Don’t look at NCAA Tournament games in a vacuum

When discussing NCAA Tournament bracket tips, understand that this event is always a crapshoot. But it’s important when filling out your regions to feel confident in those winners.

Keep in mind, your bracket pool isn’t going to be won on the opening round. It’s about hitting on Elite Eight and Final Four squads, and hopefully the eventual champion.

In each region, look for the team you feel most confident in and map out their path. That leaves the door open for you to pick upsets in other March Madness matchups.

If you elect to look at each game individually and break down styles, you’re going to overthink things.

Look at trends. Think about momentum. Examine schedules.

You can’t predict a hot hand, but you can predict which teams are battle-tested and should be able to handle any challenge in the coming weeks.

4. Have reasons for picking bracket upsets

Although picking upsets is fun, it doesn’t always lead to great long-term success in your bracket pool.

With that said, there can be a strategy with picking an upset — limit your risk.

Focus on what teams you feel strongly about, and pick your upsets to coincide with those feelings.

For example, let’s say you feel strongly about West Virginia, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region. You’re confident the Mountaineers are making a run through the first weekend.

Perhaps that is where you should then look at the upset on the other side of their weekend matchup. Should WVU win its opener, it would face the winner of No. 6 San Diego State and No. 11 Syracuse. Taking the Orange is a low-risk underdog pick.

You don’t see either team getting past WVU, so why not be contrarian there?

5. Don’t be afraid of finding a Cinderella

Knowing that a team can make a Cinderella run isn’t the hallmark of NCAA Tournament bracket tips. But what is: If you have a good feeling about that double-digit seed making a dent, go for it.

Hitting on a Cinderella can really turn the tide for you in a bracket race.

As mentioned in a previous article, the Nos. 11 and 12 seeds have been pretty common for upsets in March Madness.

According to ESPN, an average of 9.97 of the top 16 seeds reach the Sweet 16 each tournament.

Since 1985, at least one double-digit seed has reached the Sweet 16 in 33 of the 35 NCAA Tournaments. In 23 of those tournaments, at least two have.

Among this year’s potential Cinderella teams is Winthrop, a No. 12 seed in the South Region.

The Eagles are 23-1 on the season and face a fifth-seeded Villanova team that has lost three of its last four and is without star guard Collin Gillespie because of a knee injury.

If not Winthrop, find the double-digit seed you feel confident in and roll the dice for a few wins. It could lead to a lot of bracket money for you.

Good luck!

Photo by Carlos Osorio/AP
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis has lived in Michigan his whole life, and has been writing professionally for the last 21 years. Ellis has covered anything from youth baseball in mid-Michigan, a top-25 college football program, and pro sports in the Detroit area. Always keeping busy, Ellis also has over 10 years of experience in covering sports betting, handling all major sports.

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