Bracket IQ

BACK TO Bracket IQ
basketball-men-d1 flag

Wayne Staats | | March 14, 2023

5 NCAA bracket tips learned from studying every Bracket Challenge Game winner since 2015

Tracing the NCAA bracket from 1851 London, through 1977 Staten Island, to today

The chances of having a perfect men's NCAA tournament bracket are so small that we're talking a 1 in 120.2 billion chance. That's "b" for a billion. Well, unless you're flipping a coin for all 63 games. Then it's 1 in 9.2 quintillion.

But winning bragging rights in your Men's Bracket Challenge Group against friends? Those odds are more in your favor. So, what does it take for that to happen? Looking at recent winners in our Men's Bracket Challenge Game, we have some answers for you. We went through the seven BCG game winners since 2015 to see the picks they made and how they moved to the top of the leaderboard ahead of millions of fans, friends, experts and many others.

First, here's a look at "Mine 1," the winning 2022 bracket:

The winning 2022 BCG bracket

1. It's important to win around 50 games

The 2015 Bracket Challenge Game winning bracket2015 BCG winner bradmmsmith744 correctly picked 54 games

When filling out your BCG bracket, you have to pick winners in 63 games. The last seven BCG victors picked the correct winner in 54, 50, 54, 51, 53, 47 and 53 games in their respective winning years. That's an average of 51.7 correct picks for the entire tournament. In other words, BCG winners get about 11.3 games wrong each year, on average.

Correct picks are worth more the later you go, so a big percentage of the incorrect games happened early for our champs: "mjbrewer" in 2015, "Che 3" in 2016, "KELSEY 2017" in 2017, "Tenny schmidt" in 2018, "bradmmsmith744" in 2019, "Lawdog V2" in 2021 and "Mine 1" in 2022.

The seven winners "lost" a combined 79 games in their brackets. Of those, 42 (53.16 percent) came in the first round — not surprising since 32 of the 63 games (50.8 percent) you have to pick are in that first round.

About those remaining losses? Twenty-five of those showed up in the second round. In other words, you're going to need to be close to perfect from the Sweet 16 on to win, particularly in the later rounds.

2. It's all about the National Championship Game

Here is the winning 2017 BCG bracket2017 BCG winner "KELSEY 2017" picked North Carolina to beat Gonzaga for the title.

It's obvious but clear.

If you rightly predict the title game teams, chances are you're looking down on almost everyone else on the leaderboard. As others come up empty on those big points late, the seven winners picked up clutch points for predicting finals like Virginia-Texas Tech in 2019, North Carolina-Gonzaga in 2017, Baylor-Gonzaga in 2021 and Kansas-North Carolina in 2022.

That all sounds simple enough. But getting there is the challenge.

3 and 4. Watch your Elite Eight and then your Final Four picks

Here is the winning 2019 BCG bracket2019 winner "mjbrewer" went 8-for-8 in picking the Elite Eight teams.

Don't worry if you miss one of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 games (or two, or three...). If your Final Four and Elite Eight picks remain in the bracket, you're looking good.

Six of the last seven BCG champs missed between zero and two Elite Eight teams — with just one going a perfect 8/8: 2019 winner "mjbrewer."

Moving onto the Final Four, the last seven BCG winners correctly picked 27 of the 28 Final Four teams: 2018 Cinderella Loyola Chicago the lone miss. That's where the separation happens. It's one thing to have all eight Elite Eight teams. It's another to correctly pick the winners of those Elite Eight games.

5. Don't stress about the early rounds and picking those first-round upsets — for the most part

Here is the winning 2016 BCG bracket2016 BCG winner "Tenny schmidt" missed seven games in the First Round and still won.

You're not going to get every game right (probably!). Three of the last seven BCG winners even got more than seven games wrong in the first round.

You don't have to pick every big upset, either. In fact, five of the last seven BCG winners have had at least one "wrong" double-digit upset pick — incorrectly picking a double-digit team to advance to the second round.

In the last seven years, 50 double-digit seeds pulled off first-round wins to advance to be one of the last 32 teams. Our last seven BCG champs combined to pick exactly half (25) of those surprising winners.

Want more evidence of avoiding early-round worry? "Che 3" won the 2018 title despite picking Virginia to advance to the Elite Eight. What helped "Che 3" out is many picked the Cavaliers to go even further than that.

It's all about timing. Later games are worth more points, so dropping a game or two or seven (or more!) in the First Round won't necessarily eliminate you. Hopefully, all your losses come from teams that bow out before reaching the Sweet 16.

Here is the 2018 BCG winner2018 BCG winner "Che 3" won despite the massive UMBC-Virginia upset.

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.

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

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

March Madness: Getting to know the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament

Here's a detailed history of how No. 5 seeds have fared in the NCAA tournament.

Subscribe To Email Updates

Enter your information to receive emails about offers, promotions from and our partners