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How to fill out your March Madness bracket like a pro

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March 17th, 2021

It’s time for March Madness! 68 teams will converge on Indiana to contest the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and only one will be left standing following next month’s Final Four.

Are you filling out a bracket? If you’re new to the art of bracketology, or if you just want to up your game, here are some basic do’s and don’ts you’ll want to follow.

Do Pick a #12 seed to upset a #5 seed

If you’re going to focus on early-round upsets, the 12-over-5 pick is a standby you shouldn’t ignore. While the disparity in seeding may imply a significant gap in talent, #12 seeds have topped #5 seeds in nearly 36 percent of their meetings. This year’s teams on that line include 23-1 Winthrop, 22-4 UC Santa Barbara, and conference champions Georgetown and Oregon State.

DON’T Pick a #16 seed to upset a #1 seed

It may seem tempting to send a #1 seed home early, but the numbers reflect just how hard it is for a team seeded at the bottom of the S-curve to make it out of the first round. Only one #16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed. That happened in 2018, when the Retrievers of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, thumped Virginia 74-54 to spring one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history.

DO Pay close attention to teams that have been impacted by COVID-19

This could go either way. Some teams, such as #10 seed Virginia Tech, had their seasons significantly shortened due to COVID-19 issues and may be better (or worse) than their body of work may indicate. Others, meanwhile, had to pull out of conference tournaments. Kansas and Virginia each had to withdraw and may be shorthanded for their first-round matchups against Eastern Washington and Ohio. Stay tuned to your preferred outlets for the latest news and notes.

DON’T Pick all #1 seeds to reach the Final Four

This may seem counterintuitive, as Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, and Illinois have all enjoyed tremendous seasons. However, since 1979, all four #1 seeds have reached the national semifinals in the same season just once. It happened in 2008, when Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, and UCLA won their regionals to advance to the Final Four.

DO Pick at least one #1 seed to reach the Final Four

Conversely, it may also seem appealing to go an unconventional route to get a leg up in your bracket pool. However, only two tournaments since 1985 have featured Final Fours without at least one #1 seed. It hasn’t happened since 2011, when #3 seed UConn topped #8 seed Butler to win it all.

DON’T Forget to have fun

This is one of the most exciting times of the year for sports fans, and last year’s cancellation reminded us all not to take anything for granted. The first few rounds will be a wall-to-wall smorgasbord of college basketball, and high-profile games will be televised across multiple networks each day. Follow your brackets, celebrate the buzzer-beaters, and enjoy the action taking place in the Hoosier State over the next several weeks.