March Madness Brackets

Best Bracket Contests & Bracket Selection Tips

March Madness is big business in the sporting world. According to an estimate from the American Gaming Association, a staggering $10 billion is expected to be bet on the tournament this year both legally and among friends.

While there are plenty of individual games to bet on throughout the tournament, nearly half of all bets will be dedicated to March Madness brackets and trying to predict who will emerge from each region with a shot at the National Championship.

All told, 67 games will be played as the field is cleared towards the Final Four. When all is said and done, a new NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion will be crowned in Atlanta on April 6.

Picking your bracket(s) for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is a simultaneously fun and nerve-wracking experience shared by nearly 70 million Americans. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about March Madness Brackets, including some essential tips you need for your own bracket pool contest.

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Best Free March Madness Bracket Contests

draftkings free bracket challengeAs the legal sports betting environment across the US continues to expand you’ll see even more options pop up for March Madness.

Several major operators have unleashed free contests in which users compete for huge prizes. Let’s take a look at two of the best from 2019; expect to see something similar in 2020.

$64,000 DraftKings Sportsbook Brackets

This was a free-to-play contest which was open to all players across the US (including non-legalized betting states) who competed for a $64,000 prize pool.

$16,000 DraftKings Second Chance Bracket Challenge

For those who have their brackets busted early on there’s still hope with the DK Second Chance Bracket contest in 2020. The prize pool is a fitting $16K as it only requires picks from the Sweet 16 on in. It won’t make you rich but it does give you a chance to redeem yourself from the 1st and 2nd rounds!

fanduel bracket madness$250,000 FanDuel Sportsbook Bracket Madness

Another free-to-play contest which was open to participants across the US. There was a $250,000 overall prize pool with the top scoring bracket walking away with $100,000.

In addition to the above two choices, major fantasy sports operators such as ESPN, Fox Sports, and Yahoo regularly offer bracket contests for real prizes which have proven to be quite popular.The ESPN bracket contest, for example, drew 17.2 million entries last year.

In the legal sports betting state of NJ, DraftKings offered a $20 buy-in tournament contest with a $100,000 prize pool. Expect more of the same in every legal state this year.

What is a March Madness bracket contest?

A March Madness bracket, as it’s known, lays out the entire NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament from the first round to the final. All 64 teams are matched up based on seeds from 1-16 in four different regions.

Each game is single-elimination with only the winners advancing to the next round. For a March Madness bracket contest, your goal is to pick the winners of each game all the way down to the champion – before the tournament begins.

After you work through the first-round pairings, you then select the winner of the second-round games based on the teams you picked to advance, and so on. Once you have pick a winner for every game through each of the rounds, all the way to the National Champion, you’ll have a completed bracket.

How Do I Get Paid in Bracket Contests?

Most if not all bracket contests work off of a points system. Each correct selection is worth a certain value; picks in the early rounds are usually scored low and correct picks in the later rounds are typically worth more.

NCAA Tournament Bracket

Prize pools for bracket contests will vary based on the number of participants. For now, let’s focus on smaller pools that include anywhere from 10 to 100 participants.

As a general rule of thumb, 10 percent of participants win prizes in smaller pools, while the number shrinks to 5 percent for larger pools. In a 10-person pool, that means the overall top finisher is the winner; the Top 5 places would collect a payout in a 100-person bracket contest.

For an alternative, there are pools which pay out the overall winner for each round in addition – or instead of – the outright top finishers. This can keep the interest going throughout March Madness, especially for those who don’t fare too well in the early going. See below for more on March Madness bracket scoring:

If your bracket gets busted early …

You are not alone. Very, very not alone. Getting your bracket picks completely obliterated within the first few games of Round 1 is a rite of passage for every March Madness bracket die-hard.

To add another layer of intrigue, though, you can now also consider second-chance bracket contests. These take place with the start of the second round or later. It’s a completely new contest that’s separate from the original full-bracket competition.

As for buy-in amounts, they will naturally vary. Some March Madness bracket contests keep it simple and have everyone throw in a nominal amount such as $10 or $20, while others are more high-stakes. Either way, the entry fees go into the pot and the winner or winners split it up when all is said and done.

Bracket contests can be loads of fun, but keep in mind that they’re quite different from single-game betting. When placing individual wagers, you know what each matchup will be before handicapping the game and placing your bets.

A bracket contest revolves around projecting the whole tournament out to the end.

When do March Madness brackets come out?

March Madness brackets are unveiled on what has come to be known as Selection Sunday. For 2020, you can mark your calendars for March 15.

ncaa selection sundayThe NCAA Men’s Basketball championship bracket is released after the last of the conference finals are in the books. There are 32 automatic qualifiers to the tournament. These are teams which have won their conferences outright.

The remainder of the bids are considered to be ‘at-large’ and are chosen by the selection committee with the assistance of the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), a ranking system which was designed to separate teams based on important metics.

Teams that make it to the tournament are then divided into four quadrants: East, Southeast, Midwest, and West. Each of those four brackets will get 16 teams, which are seeded from number one through number 16.

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, you will hear plenty of chatter about teams that are ‘locks’ for the tournament, as well as ones which are ‘on the bubble’ or in danger of missing out.

After the brackets are released, the First Four “play-in” games will take place on March 17 and 18, followed by the beginning of round one on March 19.

How do March Madness Brackets work?

march madness brackets

A March Madness bracket is divided up into four parts which represents the four regions that will be contested. Teams are generally seeded in order of overall strength.

Here is what the pairings will look like for round one in all four regions.

● Seed 1 vs. seed 16
● 2 vs. 15
● 3 vs. 14
● 4 vs. 13
● 5 vs. 12
● 6 vs. 11
● 7 vs. 10
● 8 vs. 9

In the opening round, there are eight matchups in each region, followed by four in the second round, and so on. Seeds remain the same throughout the tournament, which is single-elimination.

Ultimately, there will be a winner in each region. The champions of the regions then advance to the Final Four, which is the semifinals for the whole tournament. The winners of those two games advance to the final.

For bracket pool purposes, the goal is to forecast the entire bracket before the first game even tips off. However, there are second-chance brackets out there for those in search of a do-over. These types of contests begin with the second-round or later.

When are March Madness brackets due?

For a standard pool game that’s played among friends or co-workers, the general rule of thumb is that brackets need to be in no later than the morning of the first-round. Games typically tip off shortly after noon ET on the first day of the tournament, so it has to be a firm deadline.

As for major contests, rules can vary. Some may stand by the same morning of first-round rule to allow for the completion of the First Four games, while others will require brackets to be submitted on the Tuesday or Wednesday before the tournament.

The First Four games won’t be finalized by then, but these will be lower-seeded teams so most folks lean towards the high seeds anyway – barring a really competitive First Four participant, that is.

For contests that go round-by-round with the picks or second-chance contests, the general rule is that picks need to be in the night before the round is set to begin. Consult the official rules for all contests you’re entering for exact due dates of picks.

How are March Madness brackets scored?

Scoring systems can vary for March Madness bracket contests. There are some that keep it extremely simple and award a point for each correct pick and use a tiebreaker of closest to correct score in the final game.

Others get much more advanced than that, but one scoring system has gained a good deal of traction and become somewhat of a standard. In this system, points are awarded on sliding scale for correct picks made in each round as follows:

  • Round 1 games: 1 point
  • Round 2 games: 2 points
  • Round 3 games (Sweet Sixteen): 4 points
  • Round 4 games (Elite Eight): 8 points
  • Round 5 games (Final Four): 16 points
  • Round 6 game (Championship game): 32 points

Points are tallied up along the way, and the highest scoring bracket at the end is declared the winner. There are some offshoots of this system. For example, the points per round can be weighted differently, and some contests may award bonus points for upset picks. As always, consult the rules section for contests you’re entering for exact scoring details.

How many possible March Madness brackets are there?

warren buffett perfect bracket
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Advanced mathematicians have tackled this question, and the answer they came away with is nothing short of mind-blowing. There are 9.2 quintillion possible different outcomes for a March Madness bracket.

So what the heck is a quintillion? A single quintillion is equal to one billion billions. Said another way, the chances of picking the perfect bracket are really small.

However, that doesn’t stop folks from trying. Legendary investor Warren Buffett has made headlines through the years with his ‘Perfect Bracket’ challenge. These days, the contest is restricted to employees of the Berkshire Hathaway family of companies.

The prize for a perfect bracket in that contest? $1 million per year for life. No one has gotten close to making it happen.

Can I pick a perfect March Madness bracket?

As mentioned, the chances of picking a perfect bracket are incredibly minute. While that’s discouraging, advanced math wizards have explained that odds can be improved for those with a reasonable knowledge of basketball. Odds for folks in that camp check in at one in 120.2 billion.

In short, picking a perfect bracket is just not going to happen. Contests which solely award prizes for perfect brackets shouldn’t be entered with a ton of optimism as a result.

However, that doesn’t mean you should shy away from March Madness bracket competitions altogether. There are a number out there which have reasonable scoring requirements and attainable prizes. Your focus should be on those contests while treating perfect bracket contests as little more than a fun diversion.

4 Essential Tips for March Madness Bracket Selection

When it comes time to pick your brackets, there are plenty of different approaches to take. Those with an abundance of time on their hands may be able to dig into the stats and matchups for each game on the docket.

For the time-pressed, that’s just not going to happen. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enhance their chances of making correct selections. As opposed to going down the rabbit hole of research, use a basic approach while saving time to dig into questionable matchups. Here are some simple tips you can use.

1. When it comes to March Madness odds, the favorites usually win

The games that every March Madness fan remembers are the huge March Madness upsets. Nothing thrills like the unexpected.

However, don’t let the siren call of underdog victory sway you too much. The seedings are usually pretty accurate for determining which teams are the best squads.

In the 34 years since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, a No. 1 seed has won the championship 21 times. In fact, No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four 56 times, meaning that No. 1 seeds are usually half of each final quartet.

Nine more championships have gone to No. 2 or No. 3 seeds. The lowest seed ever to win the whole tournament was a No. 8 seed (Villanova in 1985).

So, generally speaking, stick to the higher-ranked teams. The top four teams in each bracket win their first games at least 80 percent of the time.

2. Everyone Knows to Watch 10-12 Seeds

Of course, the higher ranks don’t always win, either. If they did, there would be no point to play any of the games.

Logically, the higher the discrepancy between the seeds, the lower the chance of an upset. Indeed, the nearest first round seed collision — No. 8 vs. No. 9 — is split exactly evenly in terms of win-loss record.

Statistically, the best chance of an upset has laid with the Nos. 10 and 11 seeds. Each of these seeds has defeated their first-round opponents more than 50 times.

No. 12 seeds perform only slightly worse, with 47 wins to their collective names. In terms of probability, Nos. 10, 11 and 12 seeds have odds of winning slightly better than 1 in 3.

With four matchups at each seed level, that means that one of these teams usually wins its first game each year. Predicting which one is the hard part, but choosing all Nos. 5, 6 and 7 teams to win their first-round games seems like a bad move.

Otherwise, March Madness upsets are far less likely. Until 2018, a No. 16 seed victory seemed an impossibility.

3. Watch out for March Madness favorites who are limping or cresting

College basketball teams are finicky by nature. Earlier success does not necessarily predict later glory for teams.

Texas Tech vs Virginia ncaa odds
(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

However, one of the biggest problems for “bracketeers” is determining which higher-ranked teams are due for a letdown. The best clues to answer that problem are in each team’s recent performance.

For instance, a No. 1 seed that lost its second-best player in the conference championship is not the same team that earned its seed. Even if the team survives the first round, it is considerably weaker than its seed would indicate.

Similarly, a loss in a conference tournament can bode poorly for a high-ranked team.

The third element that may be cause for alarm is if the team has some intrinsic flaw. A team that doesn’t play defense but wins because it turns every game into a track meet is highly susceptible to running into an obstacle. Favor teams that have solid fundamentals and more than one way to succeed.

4. Look for lower-ranked teams that are peaking

A basketball season is long. It is not uncommon for teams to change or develop identities as the season progresses. So, a team’s record is not the whole story. Look for when the losses occurred to get a sense of the team’s identity.

A team on a hot streak entering the tournament is a far better bet than an up-and-down squad. So, when it comes to NCAA March Madness betting, examine how the team performed in its final games of the season and/or its conference tournament.

If the team has seemed to put it all together recently, it may be a good bet for a deep run. For instance, Loyola Chicago’s Final Four run last year capped a two-month period in which the team only lost once — in its Final Four game with Michigan.

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Above all else, have fun with your Bracketology

All the advice above notwithstanding, don’t lose your house on NCAAB basketball betting in 2020. To date, no person in history has filled out a perfect bracket.

Some fans have found plenty of success using unscientific methods as to who will win March Madness. These include choosing teams at random, choosing based upon mascot, and choosing based upon school color are all valid methods.

So, above all else, remember to check the March Madness schedule, watch the games and enjoy the drama. Watching someone’s bracket go up in flames is almost as grand a tradition as filling them out.

How to fill out multiple March Madness brackets

You’ve been getting ready for March Madness and feel like this is the year you could finally make some noise. Now what?

For starters, expand your horizons. The pool you’ve been entering for years and years with friends and co-workers is fine and all, but you can also go for some serious prizes at sportsbooks such as DraftKings and FanDuel.

When entering multiple contests, you can enter the same bracket in each one and hope for the best. However, you can also diversify the risk a bit. For example, you can change up the upsets you like in each entry, perhaps by weighing them from most confident to least confident.

You can do the same with the games you’re on the fence about. In one contest, you pick one team, but you switch to their opponent in the other. You can also get creative with your Final Four selections to see if you can hit on the right combo in at least one of your entries.

If your plan is to enter multiple 2020 March Madness bracket contests, don’t be afraid to switch up your entries to give yourself even more of a chance. However, there’s also nothing wrong with using the same bracket selections in each contest if you feel strongly about it. The choice is entirely up to you.

March Madness Brackets FAQ

How many March Madness brackets are filled out each year?

According to estimates from the American Gaming Association, about 70 million March Madness brackets are filled out on a yearly basis.

What is the best-ever March madness bracket?

In a 2019 bracket challenge game, an Ohio resident picked the first 49 games of the tournament correctly before finally having the streak broken. The previous verified record was 39 correct picks before a loss.

How many games do I need to pick right to win a typical bracket contest?

This will depend on the size of the contest and overall level of competition. For really big online contests, you’re going to have to be incredibly prescient in forecasting your bracket. For smaller pools with average fans, the number of correct picks that wins can be all over the map. It’s a safe bet that if you don’t have 35+ picks right you’re likely not winning your bracket pool.

What is the best point system for March Madness brackets?

A weighted scoring system that gives points based on correct picks for each round has proven to be quite popular. Correct picks in round one are good for one point, two points for round two correct picks, and so on.

Which celebrities fill out March Madness brackets?

Plenty of celebrities fill out March Madness brackets. You can track many online, and social media will be littered with posts from famous folks who share their entries with the masses.

Among the more notable celebs to fill out March Madness brackets year-to-year:

  • Barack Obama
  • George H.W. Bush
  • Charles Barkley
  • Conan O’Brien
  • Method Man
  • Jim Parsons
  • Bryan Cranston
  • Adam Sandler
  • David Spade
  • Will Ferrell

You can track celebrity bracket result in the Celebrity Bracket Challenge on NCAA.com.

How did Obama’s March Madness brackets do?

The former president is a noted basketball aficionado, but he doesn’t always knock it out of the park with his March Madness bracket selections. In 2019, his bracket scored 61 points in a standard weighted scoring system.

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