How to Win Your NCAA Basketball Tournament Pool

David Lawrence

Monday, February 24, 2014 4:18 PM UTC

Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 4:18 PM UTC

Winning your March Madness office pool is easier than you think. First of all, Lisa in accounting knows absolutely nothing and is still entering a bracket. That means that if you do a little bit of homework and follow these five tips, you’ll have a great chance to take her – and everyone else’s – money.

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1. Go With Favorites

Sure, everyone wants to be the genius that picks the upsets. And believe me, there’s going to be plenty of upsets in the March Madness bracket. After all, that’s what the tournament is all about. 

However, there’s no need to go overboard. History shows us that the chalks still do pretty well. In the past seven years, 11 of the 28 Final Four teams were No. 1 seeds. Delving a bit deeper, five more were No. 2 seeds. You don’t have to pick all No. 1 seeds as only about 42% of them make the Final Four (since 1985) but look at twos, threes and fours. If you’re going beyond that, you’re grasping for straws. 

2. Go With Experience 

There’s always an exception to the rule (see: 2012 Kentucky Wildcats) but typically, experience pays dividends in the NCAA tournament. There are teams that are led by seniors who have been there before and there are teams who rely upon freshmen, who may wilt under the pressure of the limelight. Also, experience with head coaching matters too as guys like Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski are always good choices compared to coaches who simply haven’t done it before. If a team has a Hall of Fame coach on the sidelines, there’s a far smaller chance they’ll be ripe for an early-round upset. 

3. Go Easy With Cinderellas 

Everyone loves to try and predict the first-round upsets, but take a look at the numbers. The statistics just aren’t on your side. Since 1985, the best double-digit seed winning percentage is the No. 11 and No. 12 seeds, who win 33.9% of the time. No. 13 seeds cash in at 21.4% while everyone else is under 15%. No No. 16 seed has ever won a game

4. Go With Defense 

Teams that play good defense or have a strong defensive foundation tend to go further in the tournament. That means full-court pressure, forcing turnovers and guards that suffocate on the perimeter. It also means above-average rebounding and blocking. NCAA Basketball mathematical whiz Ken Pomeroy can crunch the numbers for you ( and according to him, the 2011 VCU Rams are the only team ever to make it to the Final Four with a ranking of 40-plus in defensive efficiency. Make sure you have a peak at his numbers before you fill out your bracket.

5. Go Do Some Homework 

There are 68 teams in the NCAA tournament, which is a lot, but you have to do the research. If you think you’re going to blindly pick winners in a bracket with 68 teams, then you’d be better off playing the lottery and saving your time. 

There are a million resources out there from the major news sites, to team reports, to podcasts, to advanced statistics. Make sure you take it all in before you do your bracket. Otherwise, it’s just a guessing game.

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