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Sports editor shares tips for March Madness brackets

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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With 68 teams competing in March Madness, the dream of filling out the perfect bracket has become almost impossible. Experts estimate that the odds of filling out a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion (that’s 18 zeros after the nine).

Every bracket either picks too many upsets (a higher seed beating a lower seed) or not enough. In the 2015 NCAA tournament there were only five upsets in the first two days of the tournament and nine upsets through the first two rounds. The 2014 NCAA tournament had eight upsets in the first two days and six more on Saturday and Sunday.

You probably won’t be the lucky one to predict all of those upsets and complete the perfect bracket or hit the $500 million lottery, but you may want to consider some of strategies that I use with every bracket I fill out:

First is finding teams with McDonald’s All-American on the roster.

Almost every team that has won the NCAA tournament since the inaugural McDonald’s All-American team in 1977 has had at least one McDonald’s All-American on the roster. The 1979 national champion Michigan State Spartans had Earvin “Magic” Johnson , who was on the inaugural McDonald’s All-American team.

The only two teams that have won a championship without a McDonald’s All-American on their roster were the 2002 Maryland Terrapins and the 2014 Connecticut Huskies.

This tip had held true 35 out of 37 times. So don’t pick teams without a McDonald’s All-American on the roster. The University of Kanas has four on its roster: Perry Ellis (2012), Wayne Seldon (2013), Carlton Bragg (2015) and Cheick Diallo (2015).

Second is picking the 3v14 and 4v13 matchups correctly.

A 13th or 14th seed has won at least one game in every NCAA tournament since 2007, so the odds are in your favor to pick at least one to win. These teams don’t traditionally fare well in the round of 32, but for one game against a third or fourth seeds, these teams can usually pose a threat.

Take at least one 13th seed and one 14th seed in this year’s field, but make sure you don’t have them in your Final Four.

Third is picking the 6v11 matchup.

This is usually a tricky game because the 11th seeds are typically one of the better mid-major schools or a team from one of the power five conferences that barely sneaks into the tournament. Sixth seeds are usually not Top 25 teams either, which makes this game even harder.

Teams seeded 11th have won seven times against the sixth seeds in the last four years and have won 12 of the last 24 games. Multiple 11th seeds have won in five of the last six years, including three of the four 11th seeds winning in 2011.

This game tends to favor some of the 11th seeds, but with the addition of the first four games on Tuesday and Wednesday, half of the 11th seeds are involved in a play-in game. This can either be good because the team can get rid of the first-game jitters or bad because there has already been so much energy exerted in the first game and travel to the next game.

My final tip is to fill out as many brackets as you feel comfortable doing.

There are some people who only like to fill out one bracket for the entire tournament. Others fill out multiple brackets for multiple bracket pools and challenges.

For a long time I’ve filled out multiple brackets for different reasons. I would fill out my main bracket, the one that I entered in contests and betting pools. Then I would have brackets in which I either predicted more upsets than I thought would happen or I would go much more conservative with fewer upsets.

You may also be able to learn from my typical mistakes. In general, I tend to pick too many upsets, have the No. 1 seeds bowing out early in the tournament or pick Kansas to win it all without even looking at the rest of the bracket.

There aren’t many worse feelings than when your mom, who doesn’t watch more than five basketball games per year and has never heard of St. Bonaventure, has a better bracket than you after two rounds. It’s all about teams getting hot at the right times.

Maybe the perfect bracket is out there this year, but more than likely we’ll all be losers by the time the national champion is crowned.