Pros and Pawns: 5 Facts To Know Before Filling Out NCAA Tournament Bracket
Forget snowstorms, the real Madness of March is about to begin. With it comes millions of spectators who wouldn't normally tune in to watch men's college hoops, but when it's tourney-time even non-sports fans keep an eye peeled to see if this is their year for bracket magic.
From those who pick based on which colors they prefer or who has the cuter mascot, to those track the sport from October to April, here are five facts you should know before you build your bracket.
Nobody's perfect, so focus on the champ, not meaningless first round games
Who has the poise and experience to take-in all the pressure on a national stage? I understand, if the team you've selected to win the National Championship catches an early round exit, your bracket is busted. But, many people spend too much time trying to figure out the opening round if a 9-seed can beat the 8-seed, or is this 7-seed is worthy to hold of a 10-seed.
A vast majority of the energy you spend here is moot. Focus more on the Sweet 16, Final 4 and National Championship. And, consider filling out your bracket backwards. Start with the tournament winner, then Final Four and so-on.
For the average person, the odds of hitting a perfect bracket - correctly picking all 63 games is 1 in 9.2 quintillion. If you're a hardcore fan of the hardwood, you chances improve to 1 in 120 billion.
Who are the favorites?
You may have incorrectly assumed that a team with a higher seed in the tournament must logically have a better chance of winning it all. Not the case, however.
For the 2022 tournament, the overall top spot is held by Gonzaga and industry odds-makers agree that the 'Zags have the best chance to cut down the nets. The Bulldogs are a 7-to-2 favorite.
From there, Arizona, another No.1 seed, has the second highest odds of winning it all, at 6.5-to-1. Don't assume the other two No.1 seeds have the third and fourth best chances to win - because they don't.
Number-two seeds Kentucky and Duke actually do, at 8-to-1 and 10-to-1, respectively, according to DraftKings. From there, it's No.1 seed Kansas at 11-1 and fellow No.1 Baylor at 12-1.
Where to pick your upsets
There will be many 'upsets' throughout the tournament. Some will be major shockers, others less so. But, you should know that since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, these seeding matchups are the most likely to end with a first round upset:
- 16 over a 1 - has only happened once
- 15 stuns a 2 - has happened 9 times, including last year when Oral Roberts shocked Ohio State
- 14 over a 3 seed - has happened 22 times. Abilene topped Texas in the 2021 tourney
- 13 beats a 4 - it's happened 31 times, or about 20% of the time since 1985.
- 12 tops a 5 - This particular matchup is among the most likely to bust a bracket, as it's happened 51 times. That means on average, there is a least one 12-5 upset every year
- 11 over 6 - is actually less likely to have a surprise finish that 12 vs. 5. It's happened 44 times in history, including twice in the 2021 Dance (Syracuse over San Diego State, and UCLA over BYU)
- 10 upends at a 7 - This is likeliest place to find a seeding-upset, historically. It's happened 57 times, or just about 40% of the time since 1985. It also happened twice in 2021 (Maryland over UConn and Rutgers over Clemson)
The 9 vs. 8 matchup is usually an upset in seeding only, as the two competing teams are often evenly matched.
Correctly calling an upset early likely doesn't mean that much
While some office pools do have a weighted system for upsets, the vast majority do not.
The point is, while you may shock your co-workers by correctly calling a 15-seed edging a 2-seed on day-one, picking that stunner is worth exactly as much as picking a 1 to beat a 16. And, then what does the 15-seed do from there?
You may have called it correctly over everyone else, but it's first round action, so this upset pick likely won't be the difference between you winning the office-pool prize and finishing in the middle of the pack.
To have an impact on your chances of winning, you'd need that 15-seed to go a little deeper in the tournament, and have correctly picked them more than once, for it to really help your chances in the end.
Your Final Four should have more than 1 crooked number
I eluded to this earlier about the odds of each team staking a claim to the National Championship. There are No.2 seeds with a better shot, according to odds makers, of being crowned champion that some of the No.1 seeds.
Too many times, people go 'all-chalk', as it's called. Picking, favorites, favorites and more favorites all the way through results in a Final Four selection of all No.1 seeds. If your bracket looks like this, grab a pencil and turn it around.
Surprisingly, since 1985, the men's basketball NCAA Tournament has had all four number-one's Marching to the Final Four exactly one time. In happened in 2008: Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and UNC.