March Madness Betting 101: How to Fill Your Bracket

Jason Lake

Wednesday, March 9, 2016 7:54 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 9, 2016 7:54 PM UTC

If you want to put some sharp basketball picks in your March Madness bracket, you have to do more than just find the right teams in the right spots. You have to go meta.

Jason's 2015-16 record as of Mar. 8: 10-9 ATS, 1-2 Totals


Welcome back, hoopheads. We hope you've enjoyed our March Madness series so far. In Part 1, we introduced the basic contrarian strategy for making sharp NCAA basketball picks (and presaged the 30-second shot clock, coming very soon to a court near you). In Part 2, we identified four potential Cinderella teams; congratulations to the Chattanooga Mocs for winning the Southern Conference. And in Part 3, we put out the early warning for teams who might be worth fading at the Big Dance.

Now it's time to start putting it all together. Millions of basketball fans will be filling out their March Madness brackets very soon. You might be one of them. There are many different ways to go about this task, but we recommend a two-pronged approach here at the home office: One, make good picks, and two, make different picks than everyone else.


Nice Belt
The “good picks” part may be the easiest. Your chances of filling out a perfect bracket are somewhere north of one in a billion, depending on who qualifies for the Tournament and how they're seeded. Instead of worrying about perfection, just look for the spots that tend to produce upsets, like when a team from Part 2 of our series meets a team from Part 3.

It could happen. As we go to press, bracketologists are projecting the Iowa Hawkeyes (21-9 SU, 14-13 ATS) as a No. 5 seed, facing the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans (27-4 SU, 17-10 ATS) as a No. 12 seed. The Trojans still have to win the Sun Belt tourney to get their automatic bid, but this is exactly the type of matchup you want, both for your bracket and when you're scouring the NCAA basketball odds.


Mountain Mama
There is one problem, though: You're not the only one looking for these spots. If you're filling out a bracket for a small office pool, you can probably go ahead and just focus on making good picks, but if you're in a larger nationwide contest, you have to add another layer of strategy if you want to win. You have to make at least some picks that go against the grain; choosing the obvious 12-5 upset won't separate you from your competition.

Conveniently enough, a 2005 academic paper from the University of Minnesota (prof: Bradley P. Carlin) laid out a sound contrarian strategy focused on picking a somewhat-unlikely champion. Not too far beyond the pale: Picking Arkansas-Little Rock to win it all is asking a bit too much. However, a team like, say, the West Virginia Mountaineers (24-7 SU, 18-10 ATS) could be worth a spin. They're projected as a No. 3 seed despite ranking No. 3 overall on the Simple Rating System at Sports-Reference, and No. 6 overall on Ken Pomeroy's efficiency charts. The more you know.

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