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Ryan Chien | | March 23, 2023

How to fill out a March Madness bracket if you've never done it before (and that's OK)

How to play NCAA March Madness Men's Bracket Challenge

The odds of filling out a March Madness men’s tournament bracket with the winner of every game correctly picked is a staggering 1 in 9.2 quintillion.

No one has ever achieved the feat of completing a verifiably perfect bracket (the best we've found is 49 straight). Doing so would reap seemingly endless benefits — fame, fortune, and a great story to tell, to name a few. 

In other words, filling out a bracket is a low-cost, high-benefit endeavor. Don't know where to start? Here is a beginner’s guide to March Madness brackets for people who have never filled one out but would like to try.

March Madness

What even is March Madness?

You’ve heard the name before. You know it’s about basketball. But what is it?

March Madness refers to the championship tournaments for NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball, respectively. All teams are placed within a “bracket," in which they face off against an opponent (based on seeding) in a single-elimination game. Win and advance. Go home if you lose.

The goal for every team: move up each round until you win the championship.

Qualifying teams include those 32 that have earned automatic bids by winning their respective conference championship tournament and those who have earned at-large bids, as selected by the appropriate NCAA committee. Each earns a “seed" numbered 1 through 16 — 1 is best — with the highest seeds playing the best seeds in each “regional” branch of the bracket. In total, there are four “regions” made up of matchups sorted during Selection Sunday.  

2023 MBB Bracket

Why fill out a bracket?

It's fun. It's free. And depending on how seriously you take it, you can fill one out quickly. There are also some other incentives to participate in March Madness. 

ANYONE can win

Yes, you read that correctly. Like one mascot over the other? Recognize one of the schools? Any strategy can work. There are many things you can do to make your bracket better, but the simplest one to start with: don't pick a 16 seed to win unless you really, really want to. It's only happened twice in this history of the tournament. The most recent was 2023, when FDU defeated No. 1 Purdue.

Every game is exciting to watch 
Because of the nature of such a large single-elimination tournament, every game matters. You’ll root for outcomes that are favorable to your bracket. This is one reason March Madness is such a thrilling event — you can quickly become a fan of the teams you’ve picked, even if you know next to nothing about them. Not to mention, every game is fast-paced and jam-packed with action. Several game-winners and buzzer-beaters are almost guaranteed in every March Madness tournament. 

Be a part of a community 

Even if you’re not a sports fan, March is a chance to feel like one. NCAA’s Official Bracket Challenge cultivates a diverse community. From celebrities to sports analysts, you can see which teams different people picked to win it all.

2023 WBB Bracket

How do I get a bracket?

You can fill out a bracket virtually through’s Official Bracket Challenge. Sign up for free, if you haven’t already done so, and start picking a winner for every matchup! You can print a bracket here and fill it out by hand, too.

Once your bracket is complete, watch those games live on TV. Click or tap here for the men’s March Madness TV schedule; click here for the women’s March Madness TV schedule. Those articles are updated every year when it's tournament time.

OK, I have a bracket. What's next?

There are a lot of games and a lot of blank spaces — yes, it can be daunting. To start, let's start on the top left, with No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Texas A&M-CC, using a bracket from the 2023 men's tournament.

Top left bracket

See that 1 next to Alabama? That's called a "seed," which indicates the strength of a team. The lower the seed, the stronger the team, in general. The 29-5 is the Crimson Tide's record this season — 29 wins and 5 losses — before the tournament started. Alabama plays the team listed below. That's Texas A&M, which was 24-10. Whoever you think will win, advance them to the next line here (or click the button to advance them in an online game). For this example, we'll choose the No. 1 seed Alabama:

top left

Nice work! Next up, do the same with Maryland and West Virginia. There are tools to help if you don't want to pick all the games yourself, like this computer-generated "Auto-pick" button in the Bracket Challenge Game:


Tips for bracket success

In addition to aiming for a perfect bracket, your goal is to accumulate as many points as possible. Though every game is up in the air, there are a few general pointers you can follow for a greater chance of succeeding. If you are playing an online game, be sure to complete your bracket!

Seedings matter…to some extent

As mentioned before, the lower the seed, the stronger the team. Conversely, the higher the seed, the weaker the team. By strength, we mean the total number of quality wins leading up to the start of March Madness. The further a team goes that you picked to advance through the rounds, the more points you’ll accumulate. 

Upsets are inevitable

The beauty of March Madness is in its spontaneity. “Upset” wins — in which a higher seed team beats a lower seed team — are common. Here’s a guide to picking those upsets correctly, according to data. 

BCG: Make your women's bracket challenge game picks here 

Picking a champion is all important

You can accumulate points in every round, but they are not all evenly weighted. The closer the round is to the national championship game, the more points there are up for grabs. Therefore, focus your concentration on choosing the champion as well as several teams you think will make it to the latest rounds.  

Welcome to the Madness! 

Ryan Chien joined in 2023 and is serving as a spring editorial intern. He previously served as a Turner Sports Production intern in the summer of 2022 and worked on shows including NBA-TV, Inside The NBA and MLB on TBS. Ryan is currently a student at the University of California, Berkeley majoring in Media Studies and Society and Environment. You can follow him on Twitter @RyanChienMedia

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