Building a bracket with a realistic shot at winning a March Madness bracket contest is far from easy. You need to find that unique combination of favorites and underdogs — the right top seeds primed for a deep run and those lower seeds ready to pull off an upset.
While bracketology has proven to be more art than science, there are still some facts you can lean on to help you build a bracket with a chance to win.
First, obviously: examine regular season and conference tourney records, mull over the key offensive and defensive stats, identify stars capable of leading a team to glory, and check what trusted experts think of each team’s NCAA Tournament chances.
Then, take a long, hard look at history because it does tend to repeat itself.
Most NCAA Tournament seeds perform as others have in the past. For example, history tells us that a #1 seed has won seven out of the past 10 and 14 out of the past 20 NCAA tournaments. That’s 70% of the time, so it’s probably a good idea to have a #1 winning your bracket.
Here’s a look at 10 more things history tells us that can help you build a winning bracket or make the most of your March Madness bets. For live odds on the NCAA basketball tournament at Michigan online sportsbooks, check our College Basketball betting page.
Florida Gulf Coast did it in 2013, beating South Regional No. 2 Georgetown in the first round and No. 7 San Diego State in the second round.
Intrastate rival Florida eventually knocked off this Cinderella in the Sweet 16. However, the truth is, No. 15 seeds are just 8-132 all-time against No. 2 seeds, and Florida Gulf Coast is the only one of those to ever win a second game. That means most winning March Madness brackets will have four No. 2 teams in the Sweet 16.
In 2018, UMBC shocked Virginia, and the world, becoming the first ever No. 16 to knock off a No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history. The miracle run ended there, however, as Kansas State took care of this Cinderella in Round 2. That 139-1 record tells you that you’re really going out on a limb if you pick a No. 16 to win even a single game, and most winning March Madness brackets won’t.
Four No. 11 seeds have made it as far as the Final Four, but these Cinderella stories all ended in the national semifinals: Loyola-Chicago in 2018, VCU in 2011, George Mason in 2006 and LSU in 1986.
This tells you that winning March Madness brackets aren’t likely to have a seed higher than a No. 11 in the Final Four, and even then, they won’t put a Cinderella in the national championship.
It happened in 2008, when Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA all made the Final Four together. The fact is, three out of four No. 1 seeds have only made it to the Final Four together five times.
Two No. 1 seeds have made it 13 times, and just one a total of 15 times. This should give you some indication that winning March Madness brackets won’t just slot in four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four.
You can pretty much double down on at least one No. 1 seed making the Final Four, since that’s failed to happen only twice in NCAA Tournament history. That’s less than 6% of the time, meaning that winning March Madness brackets are almost always built with at least one or two No. 1 seeds in the Final Four.
Villanova wrote the ultimate Cinderella story when it won the 1985 NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed. In fact, three No. 8 seeds have made it as far as the national championship game.
Although Villanova was the only winner, that’s as many appearances as No. 4 and No. 5 seeds have posted, and more than No. 6 and No. 7 seeds. However, a No. 8 seed has only made the Final Four five times in NCAA Tournament history.
So don’t start thinking that winning March Madness brackets must have a No. 8 going deep. Instead, just keep in mind that eighth is about as high as a real Cinderella will be seeded.
Even though No. 2 seeds have made 29 Final Four appearances since 1985, compared to just 17 for No. 3 seeds, both seeds have made the same number of national title game appearances at 12.
That means No. 3 seeds that make the Final Four have advanced from there 70% of the time. In other words, most winning March Madness brackets that have a No. 3 in the Final Four will also have them in the national championship game.
However, with just four NCAA Tournament wins, you won’t see too many brackets with a No. 3 in the top spot.
If you think the No. 2 seeds have almost as good a chance of winning as the No. 1 seeds, think again. In fact, No. 2 seeds have made only 29 Final Four and 12 championship game appearances since 1985.
Most winning brackets will not have a No. 2 seed winning the title, since it happens less than 15% of the time. However, you should keep in mind that the last time a No. 1 seed did not cut down the nets at the end of the NCAA Tournament was in 2016, when Villanova won it all as a No. 2.
If you’re looking for Cinderella, you start at No. 12. Since 1985, No. 12 seeds are responsible for 50 first-round upsets. Three of them in 2019 alone. That makes No. 12 seeds a grand total of 50-90 against No. 5 seeds, a .357 winning percentage.
That’s as good as it gets among the highest-seeded NCAA Tournament teams and a good place to start when you’re looking to slot a few early-round upsets into your March Madness bracket.
It’s also worth noting that 19 of the 50 winners have gone all the way to the Sweet 16. Just one advanced to the Elite 8, though: The Missouri Tigers in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.
In 1985, March Madness was expanded to 64 teams. Since then, there have been 35 NCAA tournaments, and a No. 1 seed has won a whopping 22 of them. That means a No. 1 seed has won more than 60% of the NCAA tournaments in the modern era. It also means there’s a good chance most winning March Madness brackets will have a No. 1 seed winning again this year. By the way, No. 1 seeds have also made 57 Final Four and 34 national championship game appearances.