How to create the perfect March Madness bracket

A beginner’s guide to bracketology



March is finally here, which means the NCAA basketball tournament is right around the corner. Every year, 68 of the top NCAA Division I college teams from around the country battle in a single-elimination style tournament for the national title. 

With an average of just over 10 million viewers per game, March Madness is arguably one of the most highly anticipated sporting events of the year. From casual Thursday night channel surfers to die-hard alumni, basketball fans of all kinds can create their tournament predictions.

If you are thinking about creating your own bracket, here are some things to consider:


Do not expect perfection

The odds of creating a perfect bracket are nearly impossible. According to the NCAA, there has never been a verifiable perfect bracket. The longest streak occurred in 2019 when one man correctly predicted the entire tournament heading into the Sweet 16 (49 games) before having his bracket busted when Purdue beat Tennessee, 99-94 in overtime.

“To get a perfect bracket you need to basically predict 63 games. Right?” said Georgia Tech professor Dr. Joel Sokol in an interview with NPR. Sokol researches sports analytics including predictive modeling and ranking for the NCAA tournament. “The odds are astronomical against it.”

To be exact, you have a 1 and 9.2 quintillion chance at perfection; which is a nine with 18 zeros behind it. You are more likely to die by a falling coconut, become president or be born on a leap day than fill out a perfect NCAA basketball bracket.

But hey, this could be your year.


Don’t shy away from upsets

It is no coincidence that the tournament is dubbed “madness.” The chaos of bracket busters or the heart-stopping buzzer beaters of upsets is what March is all about.

Throughout the history of the tournament, numerous top-seeded teams projected to “win it all” have fallen in various rounds. On average, there are just under 13 upsets throughout the duration of March Madness. The most upsets came in 2019 when 19 underdogs were able to snatch their victories, while the fewest upsets took place in 2007 when only four teams were able to surpass their higher-seeded opponents.

Perhaps the most legendary upset occurred in 2018 when the sixteenth-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County shocked the world by rolling past No. 1 Virginia in a 20-point blowout in the first round. This has been the only No.1 vs No. 16 upset in the tournament’s 38-year (since expanding to 64 teams) history. 

According to the NCAA, the most common upset is the 10-over-7 pick, with 10-seeds surpassing 57 out of 144 match-ups, amounting to a 39.5% success rate. However, the most notorious upset, the dreaded 12-over-5 match, earns an honorable mention with a slightly less 35.4% success rate.

March is known for its Cinderella stories, where some of the top schools in the nation fall to the mercy of teams you never knew existed. So, do not disregard the lesser-known teams; just because they did not earn an automatic bid does not mean you should overlook their chances.


Top seed for a reason

While upsets are bound to happen throughout pool play, you have to remember that top-seeded teams earned their rank for a reason.

In the past 28 years, 44 1-seeds have made it to the title game, by far the most of any other seed. In fact, all five national champions from the past five years have come into the tournament as a 1-seed.

The lowest seed to ever win the NCAA men’s championship was eighth-seeded Villanova who defeated No. 1 seed Georgetown 66-64 in 1985. Since 1985, 33 out of 37 national champions have been either a 1, 2, or 3-seed, which is nearly 90%.

While any team in the tournament has a chance to claim their throne in the national spotlight, the crown is mostly going to a top seed.


Go with your gut

At the end of the day, there is no wrong way to fill out your bracket. Whether you do hours of analytical research, pick teams based on your favorite colors or by your preferred mascot, (in which you might ponder what team has the better wildcat) the choice is up to you.

“I think one of the big takeaways that I’ve gotten personally from so many years of tracking the NCAA tournament is that there is just a lot of randomness in sports, and that’s partly why people like it. I think it’s not predictable,” said Sokol. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

For more information on how to fill out your bracket, check out the official March Madness website