Win Your March Madness Pool Using These Seven Strategies


It’s that time of year again when college basketball’s March Madness sweeps across the country. Whether you’re an avid hoops enthusiast or just a casual fan, there’s no reason not to get in on the fun of a tournament pool.

However, the problem many people have is making enough correct picks to participate in the cash prizes. If you are tired of guessing and want to increase your odds of winning, here is a winning formula that will make you the envy of your friends and co-workers.

Work Backwards

The first step to increase your odds of winning your tournament pool is to fill out your bracket backward. Most people will fill out their bracket starting with the first round and moving to the championship game, meaning they must pick 64 winners. 

By starting at the end and working your way back, you reduce the number of games you have to pick the winner for. With the Final Four teams picked first, you already picked the winners of 12 additional games. Fewer picks result in fewer chances of making a mistake.

Size Up Your Competition

Another critical factor in winning is all about knowing who your competition is. In this case, your competition is your friends or co-workers. If you know one colleague who graduated from Duke and is an avid sports fan, chances are they will be biased towards teams in the ACC and pick them to go farther.

Alternatively, if you work in the South, many of your co-workers are familiar with teams in the SEC and might favor them to go the distance. Knowing these biases can help you to fill out your bracket differently and get an edge. If your co-worker is a Duke alum and they are playing a competitive game, your co-worker will default to picking Duke. You picking the other team could give you a competitive edge.

Understand Upset Probabilities

Upsets constantly happen in the NCAA Tournament, but not every matchup is ripe for an upset. Historically, a 16-seed has only once defeated a one-seed.

Here are the records of the lower seed in the first round from 1985-2021:

  • 15-seed vs. 2-seed: 9-135
  • 14-seed vs. 3-seed: 22-122
  • 13-seed vs. 4-seed: 31-113
  • 12-seed vs. 5-seed: 51-93
  • 11-seed vs. 6-seed: 54-90
  • 10-seed vs. 7-seed: 57-87
  • 9-seed vs. 8-seed: 73-71

Knowing these stats, you should pick some upsets in the first round for all but the 14-seed and 15-seed games.

Be Realistic With Cinderellas

As much fun as it is watching lower-seeded teams pull off upsets early on, you must not allow your emotions to control your thinking. As lower-seeded teams advance into the later rounds, they play more formidable teams and the odds of winning diminish.

Historically, a low-seeded team is unlikely to make it past the Sweet 16. Since 1985, of the 83 Cinderellas that made it this far, only 21 made it to the next round, with only four reaching the Final Four. No team seeded tenth or lower has reached the championship game. So while it is wise to pick upsets early, you need to move away from these picks in the later rounds if you want any chance of winning.

Be Aware Of Recency Bias

Recency bias is when we use information from the near past to persuade us into making incorrect choices. For example, you might think to increase your odds of winning the lottery, you should pick numbers that have not recently won. But there is no reason why one of the same winning numbers will not win again.

In the tournament, recency bias shows up when a good team might lose early in its conference tournament, leading you to believe they are not as good as they actually are. When you begin filling out your bracket, you might have them losing early in the NCAA Tournament.

The opposite is true as well. A lousy team might go on a run and win their conference tournament, leading you to have them going farther in the NCAA Tournament, even though they are a flawed team.

To overcome this, you must look at the entire season to increase your odds of picking winning teams deeper into the tournament.

Picking The Champion Is Important

With most tournament pools, you earn points for every correct prediction you make, and the points double in value each round. In the first round, each correct choice earns you one point. In the second round, you earn two points for each correct pick. You earn four points for every correct pick in the Sweet 16 round, eight points for each in the Elite Eight, 16 points for a winner in the Final Four, and 32 points for picking the champion.

While scoring many points the first weekend may put you in a good position early on, ultimately, it all comes down to the final two rounds because of how many points the games are worth. This is why using the previously mentioned tip of working backward is so powerful.

Don’t Forget About The Tiebreaker

The last tip is to remember the tiebreaker. If a handful of people have picked the same champion and end up with the same number of points, the tiebreaker determines the winner. While the odds of needing to go to the tiebreaker are slim, you don’t want to look back, wishing you had put more thought into it.

Most bracket tiebreakers are guessing the total points scored in the Championship game. To help you predict an accurate number, in the last 20 years, the median points scored was 144. Use this number as your guide. If you have a team in the Championship with a strong defense, consider picking less than this number. You might want to go a little higher if you have two teams with great 3-point shooting.

While nothing will guarantee you will win your March Madness tournament pool, using these tips can help you score more points and be in the running longer. With most pools offering a cash prize to the top three finishers, you might still place high enough to win back your entry fee, plus put some money into short-term savings for future use.

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