March Madness 2019: Bracket Voodoo’s six tips you must know to fill out a winning NCAA bracket

Opening tip is less than 24 hours away! Stuck on a few picks? Haven’t even started your bracket? Here are some tips to help you succeed in your NCAA Tournament pool this year.

Don’t try to pick the perfect bracket

You may have heard this before, but there are over nine quintillion combinations of picks you can make to fill out an NCAA March Madness bracket. Don’t bother shooting for a perfect bracket, because it’s not gonna happen. We know there will be some surprising upsets, maybe even a lot of them – that’s why it’s called March Madness. But if you go reaching for too many early round upsets, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself dug in a hole at the end of the first weekend. We recommend focusing on making one or two bigger picks instead, like advancing a lower seed to the Final Four or picking a less popular team to win it all. That way you have more room for error in the early rounds if one of those picks hits, and you only have to root for a few bigger things to break your way instead of a lot of little ones…

Time is Almost Up! Fill out your bracket now for your chance to win a trip to the 2020 Final Four. Get in the action today!

Use variance to your advantage

…but nailing an upset pick is fun, so if you do decide to go for it, try picking a team that has the characteristics of an upset team. In our pre-tourney research, we found that the double-digit seeds that had the most success in the Round of 64 have a higher variance style of play – particularly ones who win the turnover battle and play with a short bench. That’s good news for St. John’s and Florida this year. On the flipside, higher seeded teams that busted in the early rounds also play a high variance style, characterized by a slow pace of play and relying heavily on 3-point shooting. Watch out for Virginia and Virginia Tech, two favorites who play slow and shoot well from the outside. 

Differentiate yourself from the group

Remember that the goal of your pool isn’t to construct the perfect bracket, it’s to beat your opponents. Of course, you have to hit on your picks. But the pool is won by hitting on value picks that others aren’t making. Pay attention to the common picks, especially the ones in your own pool, and use that to your advantage by going against the grain (If you’re in a local pool, beware of homer bias – you might be better off steering clear of the home team). A strong contrarian play this year is to go against Duke; despite the Blue Devils having a 17.3 percent chance of cutting down the nets, nearly half of all brackets at CBS Sports have them winning it all. While we still think Duke is the best team in the tournament, the value just isn’t there.

Don’t be swayed by recency bias

It’s tempting to fall for the team on a hot streak. But for every Michigan or Loyola-Chicago, who seemingly coasted to last year’s Final Four on a wave of momentum, there’s a Virginia and Arizona who won their conference tournament and got promptly bounced in the opening weekend. A few years ago at Bracket Voodoo, we looked at the recent performance of every tournament team over the previous five years and found that momentum heading into the tournament has virtually no correlation with tournament success. So before you pencil Oregon into the Sweet 16 or get scared off from advancing Texas Tech, evaluate them on their entire body of work first.

Furthermore, you shouldn’t put any stock into how a team performed in recent tournaments when evaluating them this year. A few years ago we found that in general, a team’s historical tournament success has no correlation with their performance in the current year. Virginia and Tennessee falling early last year doesn’t make them any more likely to do so again this year, and just because Syracuse had some unexpected runs in recent tournaments, doesn’t make their odds any better in 2019. 

Know your pool

Every March Madness pool is different, and the size and scoring rules of your contest greatly affects how you should approach your bracket. You can make your bracket chalkier in smaller pools because there’s less competition, while bigger pools require you to take more risks to differentiate yourself. For example, our algorithms think top teams Virginia and Gonzaga make good championship picks in smaller pools, but recommend a sleeper like Texas Tech for larger contests. However, if your pool’s scoring system differs from the standard 1-2-4-8-16-32 format, you may need to put more focus on early round picks. If you need any consultation on how your bracket will fare under your pool’s specific parameters, our state-of-the-art Bracket Optimizer has you covered. 

Accept that you will probably lose

At the end of the day, winning a March Madness pool takes a lot of luck. According to our Bracket Optimizer, even the most optimized bracket in a 100 person pool is only five times more likely to win than the crowd..meaning you’d still have a 95 percent chance of losing. The crazy, unpredictable upsets are inevitable and part of what makes March Madness so special (and, well, maddening), so our best advice is to just embrace it and enjoy the greatest sporting event of the year. 

Good luck, and happy Madness!

Dan Loman (@DanLo1108) is a writer/editor for, the world’s most advanced NCAA Tournament bracket analysis and optimization engine. Try it out now at

Categories: National Sports

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