If you want to enter a March Madness bracket contest (free or paid entry), you’ve got to make some predictions. A lot of predictions, in fact. You ultimately need to pick the winners of all 63 NCAA Tournament games in advance.
Since literally no one has ever picked a perfect bracket, you’ll have to accept some L’s along the way. And realistically, a lot of L’s.
If you’ve tried to be a bit more scientific in your bracket predictions, you’ve likely scoured the internet for the best bracket building strategies. As you’ve also likely noticed, most March Madness advice is overrated. And the internet doesn’t know a damn thing about college basketball betting.
The end result for most of us, advice or no advice, is a busted bracket. But there are some intelligent and smartly researched ways to bust a bracket. And then there are some just plain stupid ones.
If you want to avoid the most awful bracket-busting mistakes, we’ve singled out the worst right here.
We know you’ve seen this out there before. Basing your March Madness picks on which team mascot would win in a real-life fight sounds like fun. It is fun.
But it’s really just the shortest shortcut to a busted and completely hopeless bracket that will never, ever see you make the money in a bracket contest.
Yes, Joe Bruin would destroy Bucky Badger inside an MMA octagon. And Sparty the Spartan would eat Syracuse’s Otto the Orange on a break during an ancient Greek battle. Fights between BYU’s Cosmo the Cougar and Kentucky’s Wildcat, or Miami’s Sebastian the Ibis and the Oregon Duck, are probably both toss-ups.
Anteaters are always funny; true.
Obviously, that tells you nothing about how the two NCAA basketball teams match up. And it has no bearing on who might advance in an NCAA Tournament game.
The lesson here is that if you simply base your March Madness picks on literally anything basketball-related, you avoid one of the dumbest ways to bust your March Madness bracket.
A fun way, sure. But dumb. So very dumb.
Letting your kids or family pets make your picks. Throwing darts at a board. Pulling numbers out of a hat.
They all have one thing in common: They’re 100% random.
In any NCAA Tournament year, there seem to be just enough upsets, Cinderella stories and unexpected outcomes to make you think March Madness actually is random.
It isn’t. Top seeds win more often than not. A No. 8 seed is the lowest seed ever to go all the way. Talent almost always wins, as mad as March Madness might seem sometimes.
Making random picks is a huge March Madness bracket mistake that puts your bracket immediately in the fast lane to “bustoville.” Even if you can only bet $50 on March Madness, treat it carefully. Spending even just a few minutes looking at the teams and their regular-season records will produce markedly better results.
Start there, and you’ll at least avoid yet another of the dumbest ways to bust your March Madness bracket.
Going entirely in the other direction from randomness, picking all four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four may seem smart on the surface. But all four No. 1 seeds have made it to the Final Four exactly once in March Madness history.
Yes. No. 1 seeds get to the Final Four and win more championships than any other seeds. But historically, they don’t all do it at the same time. Picking all four No. 1 seeds to get to the Final Four is too dependent on the NCAA selection committee’s seeding and, frankly, it’s a lazy way to build a bracket.
Technically, it’s not “the” dumbest way to bust a bracket. But it still makes this list because it’s one of the surest bets to doom your bracket in any contest you enter it in — especially ones that award the most points to correct Final Four picks.
If picking all four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four is among the laziest ways to make sure your bracket is a loser, picking no No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four is an even worse idea.
As mentioned, No. 1 seeds make the Final Four and win the championship more than any other seeds. In fact, No. 1 seeds have won seven out of the past 10 NCAA titles and 14 out of the past 20.
That’s 70%. And 70%, as a general sports betting rule, is a very good bet.
Yes, having the correct “big” upsets in your bracket is the key to competing in any March Madness contest. But having too many upsets in your bracket – and ignoring the statistics in March Madness regarding No. 1 seed success – is sure to bust your bracket first.
Trust us. Looking back at a losing bracket with no No. 1 seeds in the Final Four will have you feeling pretty dumb.
You need to have certain March Madness upsets in your bracket, absolutely. And nothing feels sweeter than nailing the upset of a No. 1 in the second round or Sweet Sixteen. But your upset picks need to be balanced and spread out, from the first round to the last.
Ignoring the very real possibility of several first-round upsets is another dumb mistake that’s easily avoided. The March Madness first-round upset facts are pretty well known at this stage:
Winning brackets get the upsets right and losing ones don’t. It’s as simple as that. That means you’ve probably got to have a bracket with at least five or six first-round upsets if you want to compete.
In other words, too many first-round upsets is a mistake, but filling out a bracket with exactly zero first-round upsets is not smart. And you’ll regret it when your bracket busts.
As is likely clear by now, seeding is not the only thing you should lean on when building your March Madness bracket.
As we’ve shown above, picking all four No. 1 seeds to get to the Final Four is relying too heavily on the seeding to do the work for you. But filling in the second round of your bracket with the top four seeds in each region is even lazier.
In exactly 24 out of the last 27 NCAA Tournament years, at least one No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 seed has failed to post a first-round win. That means at least one highly touted team won’t be up to the task this year. It’ll likely be more.
Look for at least one team that limps into the tournament but still gets that high seed from the selection committee. Then, make sure you don’t have it in the second round on your bracket.
Yes. In 2018, the UMBC Retrievers beat the Virginia Cavaliers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to become the first-ever No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed.
Heading into the 2021 NCAA Tournament, that means No. 1 seeds are now 139-1 against No. 16 seeds.
Do the math and you’ll quickly realize picking even one No. 16 to win is a historically bad idea. However, picking two (or even three or four!) No. 16 seeds to advance out of the First Round is the No. 1 dumbest way to bust your bracket.
Pick any No. 16 seeds and not only are you pinning your first-round hopes on teams that have won only one out of 140 games in history, but you’re also then removing a No. 1 seed from your bracket entirely.
That’s as bad an idea as you can have, considering No. 1 seeds historically make the Final Four upward of 40% of the time.
Why are we even mentioning this bracket picking madness, since it seems too obviously dumb for anyone to even consider? You’d be shocked at the number of people who fall for the draw of the epic #16 over #1 upset every year.
In fact, according to the NCAA itself, almost 8% of all entrants in their 2018 bracket challenge picked a 16 seed to pull off a first-round upset.
That’s just…a gift to everyone else in your bracket challenge.
Related reading: How to Use Vegas Odds to Pick Your March Madness Bracket
And then again … not all dumb brackets are created equal. Honorable mention in this sub-category goes out to 12-year-old Sam Holtz, aka “The Boy Who Broke the March Madness Bracket.”
Why does Sam get an honorable mention? Because one of the dumbest ways to bust your March Madness bracket can’t still be considered dumb if it wins your bracket contest. And the story gets 6.5 million hits on YouTube.
As the story goes, Holtz won the 2015 ESPN March Madness Bracket Challenge. He beat out close to 12 million entries with no system or science of any kind. Well, except that he simply picked the teams he liked.
He picked teams where he had visited the campus and liked it. Or teams with Italian coaches, because he’s part-Italian. He even picked against traditional powerhouse schools because he thought it was boring to watch the same team win all the time.
On their own, these are all dumb ways to bust your March Madness bracket. But, in this one mind-melting circumstance, combining them all actually worked.
Should you try it yourself? Well… Holtz’s advice to anyone who wants to emulate his March Madness success is simply to pick the teams you want to win and go with your gut. Which may be as good as any March Madness bracket building advice we’ve ever heard.