Remember that time your friend’s girlfriend won the bracket pool because she picked the champion based on fun facts? Maybe:
“My grandma had a Husky when I was little.”
“My favorite color is Orange.”
“Terrapins happen to be my favorite turtle.”
Knowledge of basketball is useless when picking a bracket, so regardless of whether you are a sports fan, here are the 10 rules you should follow when filling out your bracket.
1. Don’t do research. You either know college basketball or you don’t. If you do, it probably doesn’t matter. If you don’t, you’re not going to learn enough to make informed picks in the time you devote to filling out your bracket.
2. Pick the blue teams. I once named my bracket, “Blue teams win 60% of the time.” I can’t remember where I heard that statistic, but it’s a good rule when you’re in doubt on a match-up.
Think about the champions since 2004: UConn, UNC (twice), Florida (twice), Kansas, Duke. What do all these teams have in common? They all incorporate blue somewhere on their uniforms.
3. Fill out your bracket in less than three minutes. Elementary school teachers tell students to go with your first instinct on multiple-choice tests. Why? Because it is generally right. The same rule applies to bracketology.
I can’t tell you how many scratched-out brackets I have in my drawer that would have won the pool in any given year until I changed my mind and filled out another. Stick with what you think.
4. Fill it out by hand. You are probably doing your bracket pool online, but there is something about printing out a bracket and filling it out by hand that makes the experience.
Forcing yourself to write the name of the team you think will come out victorious is often a gut check that will cause you to think for an extra second (not more, see rule number three) to make sure you like your pick.
5. Play favorites. March Madness is the name of the game. Madness will ensue and no one will predict it unless they are certifiably insane. So if you have a horse in the race, ride it longer than everyone else.
For example, if you are in college and your school is in the tournament, you better be picking them to go further than anyone else. If not, karma will ensure you lose your pool—and lose miserably.
6. But don’t mess around with your champion. More often than not, a number-one or number-two seed will win the tournament. With the number of points that often rely on picking the correct champion, if you don’t choose one of the top few teams, you aren’t giving yourself a realistic shot at the money.
Choosing below a four-seed is only acceptable only in exceptional circumstances, like rule five.
7. Only use one bracket. You can do multiple pools, but any person with courage will use the same bracket for each one. Knowing your bracket is infallible (until the first upset you didn’t pick) is one of the best parts of March Madness. If you create multiple brackets, how can you brag about picking the five-12 upset?
And if you can’t brag, why even fill out a bracket?
8. Choose your bracket pool carefully. If they count play-in games, don’t do it. If the name of the bracket pool refers to an individual school, don’t do it. If the buy-in is over $20, don’t do it. If they’ve got a guy who has a statistical formula that will determine the winner of every game, well, actually enter that one because he’s got no chance.
9. Pick a 16-seed. I’m feeling it this year. I haven’t filled out my bracket yet, and when I do, I doubt I will have the courage to follow through with this, but it’s going to happen. Parity has come to college basketball and the teams have never been closer in talent.
Imagine being the first person to call a 16-one upset—ever. It’s all about being the first: ultimate bragging rights. You might not win the pool, but you’d win everyone’s respect.
10. Don’t invite girls to your pool. They will win every time. This year there’s probably a girl in your pool who will say:
“Well, there was this one time I almost got chased by a Panther in Pittsburgh.”
But if you want a real prediction, find a real girl.
Follow me on Twitter: @collinberglund