Editor's Note: This is a guest post from TeamRankings.com.
Let's be honest: Winning your March Madness bracket pool this year will take a combination of luck and skill.
Yes, occasionally, dumb luck reigns supreme. We all remember that year when your Great Aunt Ruth took first place by advancing the team with the cuter mascot for every pick.
We've all got a story like that.
In the long run, however, skill always comes out ahead. It's the reason that the odds of picking a perfect bracket go from 1 in 9 trillion (if you guess, or flip a coin) to 1 in 120.2 billion, if you know something about the teams.
To get an edge in your 2022 NCAA bracket pool, make sure you avoid the four habits of terrible bracket pickers, which we've outlined below.
They Pick Only By Seed
Every NCAA tournament is different. Some years, the No. 1 seeds are a cut above the rest of the field, while the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds are weak by historical standards. In that scenario, picking all No. 1 seeds in your Final Four may be a wise decision.
Other years, no big difference in team quality exists between the weakest No. 1 seeds and several other teams on lower seed lines. In those years, it pays to pick a more diverse Final Four, perhaps even featuring a team seeded No. 4 or worse.
In short, team dynamics and NCAA seeding decisions are not consistent from year to year. As a result, a bracket strategy built around seed-based quotas (e.g. “Which No. 12 seed should I pick this year?” or “What team should be my dark horse Final Four pick?”) is almost never ideal.
Our advice: Forget about all of the seed-based golden rules for picking brackets. Instead, use computer power ratings or betting market odds to evaluate the advancement potential of each team.
They Don't Anticipate Opponent Picks
In a bracket pool, you don't win a prize for getting a certain number of picks right. Winning is a relative proposition; you simply need to finish with a higher score than all of your opponents do.
If you get a bracket pick right, but all of your opponents also get it right, you don't move up in the pool standings. You only gain ground on an opponent if you get a pick right and they get it wrong. (Of course, it helps the most if that pick is worth many points.)
This comparative dynamic has huge implications for bracket strategy, because the picks that your opponents make influence your odds to win a pool. For instance, if you put a No. 12 seed in your Sweet 16, but almost half of your opponents also make the same pick, then the joke's on you: You've taken extra risk for a limited potential reward, which is the worst of both worlds.
Our advice: Never pick a bracket in isolation. Find reliable pick popularity data for bracket pools nationwide and use it to guide your bracket decisions. Unpopular picks with a good chance to advance always warrant special consideration.
They Pick Too Many Upsets
Going buck-wild with upset picks is the silent killer of many a bracket, at least in the standard (1-2-4-8-16-32 points per round) scoring format. It makes sense why bracket pool players tend to pick more upsets than they should. The improbable does occasionally happen, and when it happens during March Madness, millions of people see it and remember it.
Here's the problem. Nailing a dark horse Final Four pick or a perfect Sweet 16 may earn you major bragging rights, but it's super unlikely to happen. More importantly, it's rarely necessary to win. Unless you're in a huge pool, correctly picking the national champion and one or two other Final Four teams is often sufficient to finish in the money.
Our advice: Avoid trying to pick the perfect bracket—one with a Cinderella run to the title game for a No. 5 seed, a No. 8 seed in the Elite Eight and four double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16. That may look exciting on paper; however, it doesn't give you the best chance to win.
They Don't Consider Their Pool's Size And Rules
Picking a lot of upsets is often a problem, but not always. How many risks you should take with your bracket picks is largely a function of two factors: the number of entries in your pool, and its scoring system.
For example, upset bonuses can change pick strategy in a big way. Imagine that your scoring system awards one point for a correct First Round pick, but five bonus points for correctly picking a No. 11 seed to beat a No. 6 seed (a "seed difference" bonus).
In that case, picking all four No. 6 seeds and going a perfect 4-for-4 yields four points. In comparison, picking all four No. 11 seeds and going just 1-for-4 yields six points. In these types of scoring systems, it's often wise to be ultra-aggressive with upset picks.
The number of opponent entries you have to beat is also a key consideration. If you are in a small pool of 10 or 20 entries, playing very conservatively is usually a good strategy, while bigger pools demand more calculated risk-taking to maximize your odds to win.
Our advice: Don't start filling out your bracket until you understand where the points are won and how many people are expected to enter the pool.
The Best Bracket For Your Pool
The four habits above aren't just our opinions. We’ve spent over 15 years conducting objective research into bracket pool strategy, and we've run billions of computer simulations of NCAA bracket pools.
The product we developed from that learning has generated over $1.75 million in bracket pool prizes since 2017, using technology so sophisticated that even WIRED Magazine wrote about it.
In minutes, our algorithms generate ready-to-play bracket sheets that incorporate all of the strategies explained in this article, giving you the best chance to win your 2022 bracket pool.
Click here to get picks now: NCAA Bracket Picks from TeamRankings.com
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