15 tips for filling out your men’s 2024 March Madness bracket


The field of 68 is official, which means that at some point between now and early Thursday afternoon, you’re probably going to be asked to fill out a bracket. It’s always a daunting task, and the fear of embarrassing yourself in front of friends, family or colleagues who you didn’t care for much to begin with can be unnerving

Thankfully, we’re here to help with 15 bracket tips you can ride to an admirable finish in your bracket challenge.

1. Get a little wild with one Final Four pick.

Sure it’s scary to take one team that could easily lose in the first round and advance it all the way to the Final Four, but it also might be the key to winning your bracket pool. Every single Final Four but one since 2012 has featured at least one team seeded No. 7 or worse. Since 2011, a total of 12 teams seeded seventh or worse have crashed the season’s final weekend.

A year ago, it was 9th-seeded Florida Atlantic making a run to the national semifinals.

The only recent season in which a 7-seed or worse hasn’t made a Final Four was 2019, and even then, you had a 5-seed crashing the party. So take the three teams you like the most to the Final Four, and then maybe throw a dart in the region where you feel like the top seeds are the most vulnerable.

2. Believe in at least one power conference underachiever.

One of the longest active March Madness streaks that isn’t discussed enough is that a “power six” conference team seeded 8th or worse has reached the Sweet 16 in every NCAA tournament since 2008. Michigan State kept the trend going a year ago by upsetting second-seeded Marquette before falling to Kansas State in the East regionals semifinal.

Teams that fit that description this year:

Mississippi State (8)
Nebraska (8)
Michigan State (9)
Texas A&M (9)
TCU (9)
Colorado (10)
Virginia (10)
NC State (11)
Oregon (11)

You may hate all these teams, but history says at least one of them is going to be one of the last 16 squads standing.

3. Believe in at least one “First Four” team.

Even though the “First Four” — those four games typically played in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday featuring the lowest-seeded four teams in the field and the last four at-large teams to get in — has been fairly controversial and often mocked since its inception in 2011, a team coming out of Dayton has won at least one game in the tournament’s “main draw” in every year but one since the First Four became a thing. The only time it hasn’t happened was in 2019.

Overall, the First Four has produced a total of 21 victories in the “main draw” of the tournament, five Sweet 16 squads, and two Final Four teams, the most recent being UCLA two seasons ago.

While Virginia, Colorado, Colorado State and Boise State might look unappealing to you on paper, there’s a great chance at least one of them will still be standing on Saturday or Sunday (the Buffaloes feel like the safest bet).

4. Don’t pick a No. 5 seed to win it all.

This might seem a little strange coming off of a year where multiple 5-seeds played in the Final Four, but it’s a thing. Every seed line from 1-8 has produced at least one national champion besides the 5-seed line.

No. 5 seeds have made it to the title game four times, including last season with San Diego State, but have never been able to be the last team standing.

My most sincere apologies to San Diego State (again), Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and Wisconsin.

5. Pick at least one 12 seed to win in the first round. The 12/5 upset has a reputation for a reason.

The 12/5 upset is a March Madness tradition unlike any other.

In 32 of the last 38 years, at least one 12 seed has advanced out of the first round of the tournament. Over the last 15 years, 12 seeds actually own a highly respectable overall record of 25-35 against five seeds.

Last year was an unfortunate one for 12-seed enthusiasts, with all four bowing out in the first round. This year’s crop — McNeese, James Madison, Grand Canyon and UAB — is stellar, so don’t expect the 12-seed o-fer to become a thing.

One last nugget: While taking at least one 12 to beat a 5 is a safe bet, taking that 12 much farther than that is not. Just two 12-seeds have made runs to the second weekend of the tournament over the last decade, and in the 68-team era (since 2011), there have been just as many No. 15 seeds to make the Sweet 16 as No. 12s (four).

6. Take a close look at the 13/4 matchups as well.

We just talked about the frequency of the 12/5 upset in the NCAA Tournament, but how about some love for the work the No. 13 seeds have been putting in recently? At least one 13-seed has won a game in the tournament in 11 of the last 15 years.

A year ago, Furman did the trick, knocking off Virginia at the buzzer in one of the tournament’s signature moments.

Charleston, Yale, Vermont and Samford is a very capable quartet of potential Cinderellas.

7. Clemson is on high upset alert.

One of the more surprising revelations of Selection Sunday was that New Mexico would have been out of the field entirely had it not won the Mountain West tournament championship.

The big loser in the UNM being assigned an 11-seed wasn’t the Lobos themselves, but sixth-seeded Clemson, the team that has to face Richard Pitino’s squad.

New Mexico is currently a 2.5-point favorite in the game, a number which does not bode well for Brad Brownell’s Tigers.

There have been prior 11 instances in tournament history where the 11-seed has been favored over the 6-seed in the first round. The 11-seeds are 10-1 in those games. Nine of the 10 victories have been by double digits.

New Mexico is a proud program with a rabid fan base, but the Lobos have not once advanced to a Sweet 16. That could change this weekend.

8. Don’t automatically move all four No. 2 seeds to the second weekend.

In 24 of the last 26 years, at least one No. 2 seed has been knocked out of the tournament before the Sweet 16. Straying from the chalk is always scary, especially before the second weekend, but you need to conquer that fear in at least one region.

Last season, Arizona was stunned by Princeton in the first round and Marquette was bounced by Michigan State in the second.

9. Be especially wary of overachieving No. 2 seeds.

Another note here: There have been 23 No. 2 seeds in tournament history that started the season unranked and entered the tournament ranked in the top 10. Fifteen of those 23 teams have failed to make it to the Sweet 16.

One team fit that description last year: Marquette, which fell to seventh-seeded Michigan State in the second round.

One team once again fits that description this year: Iowa State.

10. You need at least one “surprise” Elite Eight team.

Maybe you’re not comfortable getting too crazy with your Final Four, but at least make sure your Elite Eight has some flavor.

In each of the last 12 seasons, at least one team seeded fifth or worse has played in a regional final, and in 11 of the last 12 seasons, at least one team seeded 7th or worse has advanced to a regional final. We’ve also seen at least one double-digit seed in the Elite Eight in five of the last seven years.

Half of last year’s Elite Eight was comprised of teams seeded for fifth or worse, including ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic.

11. Conference championships typically matter.

In the history of the NCAA tournament, there have only been five national champions (who participated in a conference tournament) that didn’t first win either their league’s regular season or postseason title. Villanova in 1985, Kansas in 1988, Connecticut in 2014, Duke in 2015 and UConn last year are the only exceptions.

Marquette is the only team on the top two lines that doesn’t fit that description this year, but the Golden Eagles won both the Big East’s regular season and tournament titles a year ago before watching conference mate UConn cut down the nets. Perhaps they can return the favor to the Huskies this season.

12. Be wary of the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.

The NCAA tournament selection committee began designating a No. 1 overall seed in 2004. Since then, that team has gone on to win the national championship just three times — Florida in 2007, Kentucky in 2012, and Louisville in 2013.

It’s not exactly news that the best team doesn’t always win this thing, but it is a bit jarring to see just how rarely the team most people believe to be the best going into the tournament actually winds up cutting down the nets.

A season ago, the tournament’s top overall seed, Alabama, was upset in the Sweet 16 by San Diego State. It marked the second straight year that the pre-tournament favorite was eliminated before the regional finals.

It’s now been more than a decade now since the pre-tournament king has gotten the job done. UConn, you’re on the clock.

13. Be mindful of the Big Ten/West Coast drought.

One of the longest-running debates in college basketball is when a team from the West Coast or the Big Ten will win its next national title. It has reached a fever pitch the last couple of seasons with the Big Ten appearing to be one of the two best conference in the sport and a resurgent West Coast producing multiple national title contenders.

A team from the Big Ten team hasn’t won it all since Michigan State in 2000, and a West Coast squad hasn’t cut down the nets since Arizona stunned Kentucky in 1997. No. 1 seed Purdue and 3-seed Illinois certainly seem like live shots this year, while second-seeded Arizona is carrying the banner for the West Coast.

14. Gonzaga and Kansas are (usually) early locks.

Since 2008, there are only two teams that have appeared in every single NCAA tournament without losing a single first round game: Gonzaga and Kansas. The Bulldogs also have the longest active consecutive run of Sweet 16 appearances (and the third longest in tournament history), making it to the tournament’s second weekend in every year since 2014.

These streaks will be put to the test in a year where Samford over Kansas and McNeese State over Gonzaga seem to be two of the trendiest pre-tournament picks out there.

15. Don’t feel bad about picking a No. 1 seed to win it all.

Even if you’re not going with the overall No. 1 seed (see rule No. 12), don’t let anybody shame you for picking a top seed to cut down the nets. Since seeding the field began, No. 1 seeds have won more national titles (25) than all other seeds combined (18).

A No. 1 seed has won five of the last six national titles, six of the last eight, and eight of the last 11. Also, if we assume Baylor would have been a No. 1 seed in the canceled 2020 NCAA tournament, five of the last seven national champions were a No. 1 seed the year before. The 2023 No. 1 seeds: Alabama, Kansas, Houston and Purdue.



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