How to Fill Out a March Madness Bracket – NCAA Men’s Basketball

It’s one of the year’s most exciting sports event. Compete against your friends, family, and office colleagues alike and get excited for the NCAA Tournament, best known as March Madness.

There are three weeks’ worth of games to consider, and the bracket competitions this year are as formidable as ever. After all, it’s essential to beat your friends and family so you can trash-talk them throughout the spring and summer.

Read on to find out how to fill out a bracket, learn the best March Madness bracket strategies and different ways to organize your bracket competition.

March Madness bracket

What is a March Madness Bracket?

It’s simple, but at the same time almost impossible.

A March Madness Bracket is your attempt to pick the winners of all 63 games that make up the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Pit your wits (or your luck) against friends, family, and colleagues to see who can pick the most teams to go the furthest in the competition.

Although March Madness applies to the women’s NCAA Tournament as well as the men’s, we’ll focus our attention on the men’s side for this article (although Caitlin Clark’s final shot at an NCAA title for Iowa is infinitely intriguing).

The conference tournaments that determine the March Madness seedings conclude just prior to the announcement of the full tournament field of 68 teams on Selection Sunday, March 17, 2024, and the reveal is televised on CBS and ESPN in the U.S.

The NCAA selection committee, made up of 12 conference commissioners and athletic directors, produces the full field of teams with the bracketed matchups that lead to the Final Four.

Fans of March Madness brackets get to work immediately, printing out their brackets and studying the matchups. Contests are available to enter – from family-only to nationwide competitions featuring thousands of participants and huge prizes.

Each matchup includes a “seed” number, or a ranking. The March Madness bracket is divided into four regions, with each region having seeds numbered 1-16.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Format

Once the seedings have been confirmed across the four regions it’s time to play.

The competition is a simple knockout. Win and a team moves on to the next round, lose and they go home. This means it take six rounds of games, including the final, to narrow the field from 64 to one national champion.

Rounds after the first two are called the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four, and the final is the championship game. Each round has a bit of romance about it and just reaching the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight can represent a huge achievement for low-seeded schools.

The Dates for March Madness 2024

Although the real excitement doesn’t begin until Thursday, March 21, when 16 first-round games are played (another 16 are played on Friday, March 22), the First Four is held on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 19-20.

The First Four features the two lowest-ranked conference representatives and the two lowest-ranked at-large teams. These games are played in Dayton, Ohio, but usually aren’t part of the March Madness brackets; you will see a blank line to begin your selections with the Thursday or Friday games that feature the First Four games’ winners.

Here is the March Madness schedule, with game times and team matchups to be determined:

  • Selection Sunday: 6 p.m. ET March 17 on CBS
  • First Four: March 19-20
  • First round: March 21-22
  • Second round: March 23-24
  • Sweet 16: March 28-29
  • Elite Eight: March 30-31
  • Final Four: April 6 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
  • NCAA championship game: April 8 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Best March Madness Bracket Strategies

When filling out March Madness brackets, understand that your competition likely won’t be won or lost on the first two days. Successful brackets are those that have as many teams as possible in the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four – those are vital in staying alive.

Because of this, your Elite Eight and Final Four picks must avoid first-round upsets.

Recent NCAA bracket challenge game winners have one thing in common: the past seven winners in that contest combined to hit on 27 of their 28 Final Four picks. It seems obvious, but picking teams that will play late in the tournament is where the big advantage lies. These games are worth more points so it makes sense to try and pick teams that will contest games in the Elite Eight and Final Four, rather than try and uncover the team who’ll cause one upset and be knocked out themselves. You want a team that will go on a run.

Some Tips for Consideration

Don’t be afraid of a double-digit seed

Over the past seven years, 50 double-digit seeds have won their first-round game. With 28 double-digit seeds in each tournament, that’s about a 25% average win rate for double-digit seeds each year.

Take the location into account

A team seeded No. 1 generally is awarded a location near its home base, but other teams occasionally luck into a favorable placement.

See where a team lands and factor a potential “home-court advantage” into your selections.

Don’t waste your picks on Nos. 15 and 16

During the 2023 tournament, No. 16 FDU beat No. 1 seed Purdue and No. 15 Princeton ousted No. 2 Arizona. Unless you have a very strong belief that this level of madness will happen again, don’t predict it for 2024.

march madness biggest upsets
Some of the biggest Marsh Madness upsets. Image: Twitter/College Basketball Report

These seeds have won tournament games, but not nearly enough to help you in bracket competitions. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds are tough and tested. They are not likely to suffer a first-round upset.

And don’t go crazy picking upsets, in general. Over the past couple of decades, approximately 80% of March Madness games have been won by the favorite.

Steer clear of too many upset picks – especially games involving seeds No. 15 and 16.

Unless, of course, you have a very strong opinion pointing to another upset.

Study the betting lines

As you scroll through the matchups, you’ll find that not all 10 vs. 7 and 11 vs. 6 games are the same. The bookmakers are sharp, and so are the bettors who know how to bet on march madness, so you can use the betting lines to your advantage. In the West Region, you might find the No. 10 seed is actually favored over the No. 7 seed while in the East Region, its No. 10 seed is a nine-point underdog against the No. 7 team.

These betting lines can guide you toward avoiding a wayward selection, and when choosing your national champion, consider going with the favorites.

A No. 1 seed has won the tournament 24 times since 1985, with a No. 2 seed winning five times, No. 3 winning four times and No. 4 winning twice, including last year (Connecticut).

The Nos. 6-7-8 seeds have each won once in that time span (the 2020 tournament was canceled during COVID).

Specific instruction: Pick at least one 12 vs. 5 upset

For whatever reason, this is the sweet spot for March Madness upsets. First, it’s usually going to be a competitive game, since the No. 5 seeds are teams ranked roughly 17 through 20 at the close of the regular season. That means these teams have some deficiencies that can be exploited, especially when it’s a one-game sample against a hungry underdog.

According to USA Today bracket data, the No. 12 team wins 36% of its games vs. the No. 5 team over a span of three-plus decades.

With all four 12 vs. 5 games last year being won by the No. 5 seed, the 12-seeds are due for a comeback in 2024.

Much like the most famous two points in March Madness history — Duke’s Christian Laettner hit a buzzer-beater against mighty Kentucky in 1992 — it’s worth a shot.

March Madness
Image: Twitter/College Basketball Report

Hosting Your Own March Madness Bracket Contest

If you want to make the rules and run a March Madness bracket competition, you can design the contest as you see fit.

There are several top-quality sports sites at which you can form a group for your contest. And most are free to use!

Just find the “create” option, find the settings for the specific points values and invite your friends.

Among the options are using the scoring default or adjusting the settings to reward more upsets — or give more weight to picking the Final Four. It’s all your choice, and it certainly adds to the entertainment value during March Madness.

FAQs

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References

Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert

Jay is a Sports Betting Writer at Techopedia.com, and has been working in US sports for more than 20 years. He's worked for Daily Racing Form, the Arizona Republic, The Athletic and FanDuel among other sports and gambling positions.