In one of my favorite Cheers episodes, Diane infuriates Sam by choosing game results according to which city’s orchestra conductor she prefers. And winning.
Which is why when it comes to making a bracket, I think casual fans actually have an advantage; they haven’t been barraged with two prior months of BRACKETOLOGY! and Hoopdemonium with Hal! (brought to you by Taco Bell and Wells Fargo and…)
A bracket’s possible winning outcomes are 147.57 quintillion (more cool tourney factoids here). Even insiders have joked to me they have considered uniform color as a parameter. So don’t overthink it – get to pickin’! But here are some tiny guidelines just in case:
Don’t believe the hype. (#1)
The mind-numbing math is a lot to grasp even for experts. Don’t worry about all the algorithms, just stick with the basics—wins, seedings, and experience.
It doesn’t hurt to consult some pundit pals. CBS Men’s College Basketball Analyst Greg Anthony shared with me he relies on strong seniors and road wins:
“Teams that have at least three starters who are seniors averaging double-figures are a good idea. Teams who have lots of road wins—those are the upset specials.”
Go with guards. (#4)
CBS Radio’s 106.7 The Fan host and George Mason University play-by-play voice Bill Rohland recommends a solid backcourt. “Guards win tourney games. Trust a team with above-average guard play.”
Just a few guards to consider: Peyton Siva (Louisville); Joe Jackson (Memphis); Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse). Sports sites like CBS and ESPN will give you quick looks at rosters and schedules. Note: “Vs.” a team means “home”; “@” a team means “away.” And for help on understanding the five basic basketball positions, allow my family photo album to assist.
Not-sweet-sixteen seeds. (#5)
It’s a classic rule-of-thumb not to pick a 16 seed to win even one round. It could happen, but not so far.
Then again (again)…(#6)
Don’t put all four 1-seeds in the Final Four either. This has only happened once in modern tourney history (2008). I personally pick at least two upsets for each of the four regions and cross my fingers from there.
What’s a good upset? (#7)
Teams are paired from end to end – 16 vs. 1, 15 vs. 2 etc. If I have particular vitriol for a 4-seed I might have them go down to the 13 just for fun, but I only have an 18% chance of winning.
However, a 12 has beaten a 5 almost every year since 1989. Pick an 11 over 6 and your odds are 32%, and they get better from there. If you’re looking to pick an upset, look in the 12-9 range.
Pick more than one bracket. (#8)
Spread the fun around. I always do a sentimental one that advances my favorite teams, no matter how many unicorns they have to ride, and a second bracket based on reality. Either way, I win.
You don’t have to bet or join a group to participate. (#9)
Find free blank brackets at any sports website (CBS, ESPN etc.) where you point and click your choices, then track them online as the tourney proceeds.
Location, location, location. (#10)
Teams are supposed to play at neutral sites, but it’s almost impossible to pull this off as the tournament progresses. A (hypothetical) top-ranked New Jersey team might struggle to travel three time zones and play a (hypothetical) 16-seed Santa Barbara at noon in Los Angeles, UCSB fans’ backyard. Take note.
Go with your gut. (#11)
If picking a perfect bracket were easy, and all the rules applied, then burger and bubble gum companies wouldn’t offer millions in contests seeking one. Go with your alma mater, the furriest mascot, your gut, your heart, your kid’s heart…you never know.
Because in the end, taking part in this grand, silly, exciting ceremony unites you with an entire country for three weeks – far longer than a one-day Super Bowl. You have common ground with your kids, your co-workers, your mechanic, that cute guy on the morning train. So get on board, and get those brackets done!