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Daniel Wilco | | March 19, 2019

7 of our best NCAA bracket tips that just might make the difference this year

What does it take to make a deep run in March Madness?

Filling out your NCAA tournament bracket is the best kind of fun — 63 games to pick and you can do it any way you like.

But it can also be tricky. So we're here to help. Here are our 7 best bracket tips that we think will give you an edge when you fill out that NCAA bracket.

1. Work backwards

Bracket scoring increases exponentially as the tournament progresses. That means each first-round game is worth just one point, but Final Four games are worth 16 points each. No one has ever won our Bracket Challenge Game without picking the Final Four and championship correctly. Those are the games that can make or break your bracket, so start with them, and then worry about the opening round.

You can read more here about how much important that pick really is. It's surprising.

2. Don’t pick a 16 seed

Is this the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history?

We get it. No 1 seed is safe after UMBC, right? Wrong. Not only is the 1 seed still the heavy, heavy favorite, it is a huge risk to get rid of a 1 seed in the first round. Historically, no team has a better chance to make it to the Final Four or win the championship. Don’t jeopardize your bracket for the shot to get one opening-round game right.

We checked to see if 16 vs. 1 games have been getting closer.

3. Don’t go chalk

The 1 seeds are the most likely team to make it to the Final Four, but that doesn’t mean you should pick all of them to do so. In fact, all four one seeds have only made it one time in the history of the tournament. So throw some upsets in there.

How many No. 1 seeds should you pick in your bracket?

4. Pick between 10 and 16 upsets

All-time 13 seed upsets in March Madness

The modern tournament has been around for 34 years. In 27 of those tournaments, there have been between 10 and 16 upsets (where the winning team was at least two seeds worse than the losing team). In all 34 years, there has been an average of 12.7 upsets. So don’t be shy.

How to pick upsets, according to the data.

5. Don’t pick the best defense in the country to win it all

Virginia's Tony Bennett on moving on from painful UMBC upset

Sports Reference’s Defensive Simple Rating System ranks all 353 college teams on a combination of their defensive prowess and strength of schedule. In the past 34 years, no team that has finished with the top DSRS has ever reached the national championship, and only one has ever been to the Final Four. What’s more, 25 of the 34 either didn’t make the tournament or lost in the first two rounds.

In each of the past five years, the top DSRS team has been Virginia. In those five tournaments, the Cavaliers never made it past the Elite Eight, falling in the second round twice, and losing in the first round last year.

The top team in DSRS this season? You guessed it: Virginia. 

Virginia had the top-ranked defense in the 2018 tournament, and we know how that turned out.

6. Do pick dogs over cats  

Okay, this one may not be the best picking strategy, but if you want to pick based on mascot showdowns, dogs really are your best friend. They boast a 37-26 record against cats in the tournament.

How to pick your bracket based on mascots.


Seriously. Just don’t.

March Madness brackets: How do seeds perform in the Final Four?

When thinking about Final Four picks, what should you look for?

How much experience coaches have when they reach their first Final Four

A look at the years of experience (as a head coach) it took each NCAA coach to reach the Final Four in March Madness.

How First Four teams do in the NCAA tournament

Here is how at-large participants in the First Four have done since 2011 and why you should consider picking one in your NCAA bracket.

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