There are many different ways to navigate through the madness of March, but the way to make the tournament the most fun to watch—and the brackets the most fun to fill out—is to diversify.
Some people find more integrity in having just one bracket each year, as if winning a tournament challenge with your friends or taking home first prize in the office pool has anything to do with integrity. It has to do with winning, so who really cares if you won on your first or your 50th bracket as long as you take home the cash and/or bragging rights year after year?
Think of the NCAA tournament bracket as a stock portfolio. Why would you put all your money on one stock—even a safe pick without a lot of risk—if you could diversify and throw a little extra juice on a few stocks with a tad more upside?
Remember, even in a year like this with a wide-open field, most people will pick the top seeds to win it all. Throwing in an upset-laden bracket could be a high risk, but it may yield enormous reward in your neighborhood pool.
With that, here are some tips for filling out multiple NCAA tournament brackets. As always, the first tip is to never invest so much that you can't enjoy the tournament for what it is…flat-out madness.
Your first bracket should be your "Bragging Rights Bracket," filled out as if you had just one bracket for the entire tournament. This should be the only bracket you bring with you to the bars to watch the first weekend's action, high-fiving those perfect strangers who also picked San Diego State to upset Michigan and Oregon to get to the Sweet 16.
If you fill out multiple brackets, you will undoubtedly meet up with those snobs who think it's unfair or somehow cheating the spirit of the brackets to pick more than one. This is nonsense.
Most online outlets allow you to fill out up to five brackets for a reason, and if you're in a money game, you're adding in the extra scratch for your second and third brackets, so who really cares about having more than one?
Still, to appease those bracket purists, select one bracket to be your Bragging Rights Bracket and go with that in any fight. If your Bragging Rights Bracket gets busted, remember, you still have options to win the money and/or glory with another entry.
For me, this year is particularly hard because a lot of the teams I expected to advance in my Bragging Rights Brackets got horrible draws. North Carolina got a terrible draw as a No. 8 seed having to face Big East team Villanova and then Kansas in Kansas City.
I felt Saint Louis was underseeded on the No. 4 line, yet it would have been somehow better off getting a No. 6 seed. Temple got in, but it has to face a No. 8 seed in N.C. State that can be really dangerous.
My sleepers are all dead before the games even start.
That's why my Bragging Rights Bracket has very few major upsets this year and ends up with an Elite Eight of Louisville, Michigan State, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Michigan, Georgetown, Indiana and Miami, with a Final Four of Louisville, New Mexico, Michigan and Indiana.
I have Indiana over Louisville for the title (for now). I don't expect to be right, but if I am, you will surely hear about it.
The "Chalk Bracket" is boring and lame and no fun at all until a year like 2008 comes around, when all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four and everyone who picked chalk was rolling in March Madness glory (and money).
The thing is, the last few years have tried to show us a trend that picking chalk is not the way to go, with only one No. 1 seed making the Final Four in the previous two seasons and just two No. 1 seeds in the last three seasons.
Having said that, both of those top seeds—Kentucky last year and Duke in 2010—won the national championship.
The overall record for top seeds in the NCAA tournament is staggering. Since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 46 No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four out of a possible 112 spots. In comparison, just 24 No. 2 seeds and only 14 No. 3 seeds have made it to the Final Four in the same span.
Oh, but there's more.
Since 2000, No. 1 seeds have won nine national championships, while the No. 2 seeds have won just one title. The No. 3 seeds have won three titles in that time.
Since 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, No. 1 seeds have won 17 of the 28 titles, while No. 2 seeds have won just four titles. The No. 3 seeds have also won four, and one title has gone to a No. 4, No. 6 and No. 8 seed in the last 28 tournaments.
Since the tournament expanded to 64 (and now 68) teams, a No. 1 seed has won 61 percent of the time.
That is incredible, but this is more incredible: Over the last 28 years, a No. 1 seed has failed to reach the Final Four just twice—2006 and 2011—while multiple top seeds have made it there 15 times.
What does this mean? Well, it means the committee almost always gets the seeding right, at least when it comes to the top line.
Need more reasons to pick chalk? OK, here are some more.
The national champion—assuming that team doesn't come from the First Four games—will win six games in this year's NCAA tournament. The runner-up will win five games, and the two other Final Four participants will win four apiece, which means the total number of wins for the four Final Four teams in each tournament is, most likely, 19 wins.
If we take those 19 single-tournament wins and multiply that number over 28 tournaments (every event since 1985), the total number of tournament wins for all Final Four teams is 532. (That's also the maximum number of wins for any seed, if—like in 2008—every No. 1 seed made it to the Final Four every year.)
Remember that number: 532.
Since 1985, the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament have won 378 games.
In that same span, the No. 2 seeds have won 271 games, or 107 fewer games than the No. 1 seeds. The No. 3 seeds have won 208 games, and the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 seeds have won 167, 130 and 131 games, respectively. Those are the only seeds to win more than 100 games over the last 28 tournaments.
That's a lot of numbers. What do they mean?
Well, for starters they mean that over the course of the last 28 years, the No. 1 seeds have, collectively, advanced one full round further in the tournament than any other seed every year.
The numbers also mean that the No. 1 seeds, since 1985, have won 71 percent of all possible games they could win in the NCAA tournament. The No. 2 seeds fall in just under 51 percent, and the No. 3 seeds are trailing with 39 percent.
The NCAA selection committee almost always gets it right with the top line. We should respect that when filling out our brackets.
Do you hate numbers and love chaos? Why not pick a bracket of all upsets? It's fun, and for the three upsets you get right out of the dozen you pick, you totally get to say, "See, I called that!"
While it seems unlikely we'll get two No. 15 seeds upsetting two No. 2 seeds like in last year's tournament, there are a few really delicious upset possibilities to choose from this year.
The sexy pick has always been the 5-12 game, but it's actually the 6-11 game that, historically, has provided as many or more upsets. Certainly, the Cinderella seed is the No. 11 seed, with both VCU in 2011 and George Mason in 2006 coming from that deep in the field to get to the Final Four.
The committee didn't do us any favors by putting a No. 11 seed game as a First Four game, making it hard to pick Middle Tennessee or Saint Mary's over Memphis, but Minnesota is a great upset pick over UCLA in the South, lots of people have Belmont upsetting Arizona in the West and many folks pick Bucknell to upset Butler in the East as well.
Still, the committee butters its bread on sneaky 5-12 matchups, and none are sneakier than Ole Miss facing Wisconsin in the first round.
It's a bit of a shame, to be honest, that three of the No. 12 seeds are from power conferences—Ole Miss, Oregon and Cal—and the one remaining team on that line, Akron, faces No. 5 seed VCU in the South. It's always more fun to see the mid-majors beat up on the power-conference teams.
Upsets abound in this tournament for sure.
I would not rule out UNC beating Kansas or N.C. State making a run through Temple and Indiana. I have no idea what to make of Florida, so I hasten to tell you to pick Northwestern State to upset the Gators in the 3-14 matchup in the East because you'll do it and Florida will end up in the Final Four, or you won't and Florida will lose that game.
That's how crazy this bracket is, so pick your upsets wisely.
There are a lot of folks reading this, having not watched one minute of college basketball before this week, looking for all the bracket answers. If you didn't get them yet, the next few brackets are for you.
The RPI is a bit of a flawed stat for several reasons, but instead of ripping the RPI for what it's not, let's acknowledge what it is: The college basketball Ratings Percentage Index is the best tool we have for ranking every single team in the country, from Duke to Grambling State and every school in between.
The RPI takes into account wins and losses for each team, its opponents and the teams its opponents face, also factoring in where each game was played and simultaneously looking at each team's strength of schedule.
The RPI doesn't explicitly dictate which teams will get in, but it does help break a few ties for those teams on the bubble, and it certainly helps the selection committee with seeding all 68 teams.
Really, it doesn't much matter if Duke is a No. 2 seed but best in the RPI or if Gonzaga got a No. 1 seed with a strength of schedule that's 92nd in the nation.
Unlike football, where rankings like this help choose which teams play for the national championship, the RPI merely helps determine seeding and the last few teams in. The beauty of the NCAA tournament is the winner always being determined on the court, not by the computer.
Inexact as it may be, the RPI can be a fantastic tool for filling out your bracket.
The All-RPI Final Four this year would be Duke, New Mexico, Miami and Kansas. Louisville is actually ranked third in the latest RPI, but it would face Duke in the Midwest Region final, so it isn't as simple as taking the four teams with the best RPI and putting them in Atlanta.
(Yeah, the committee got that one wrong.)
If you're looking for sleepers, the RPI loves a few teams with lower seedings like No. 6 seed Memphis (RPI 14), No. 6 seed Arizona (RPI 15) and No. 8 seed North Carolina (RPI 18). Hell, Belmont is a No. 11 seed and is tied for No. 21 in the RPI. Sadly for the Bruins, Arizona is their first game.
It's an inexact science, but it would be fun to see if the RPI bracket could take home your pool. It's probably better than picking with your gut.
We could also call this bracket the "teams the average Joe has actually heard of bracket," which, to be fair, isn't a terrible way to fill out your bracket if you don't know much about this year's field.
This year, the best conferences have been the Big Ten and the Big East, with the SEC and Pac-12 barely worthy of the term "power conferences."
In truth, the Mountain West and the Atlantic 10 deserve to be in consideration with the big guys this year as much as, say, the Big 12 and ACC do. It's a strange time in college basketball, and it's only going to get stranger next year when the Big East reboots.
For now, though, a "Power Conference Bracket" will help you pick some early-round games (poorly, perhaps), but at some point you would have to decide between the Big East or Big Ten team to advance in each region.
Why not just pick two of each?
Imagine a Final Four of Louisville, Georgetown, Indiana and Ohio State. Heck, some people may pick No. 3 seed Michigan State over Louisville (and Duke) and No. 4 seed Michigan over Georgetown (and Kansas) and go for an all-Big Ten Final Four.
The all-Big East Final Four is harder to fathom this year, with the top Big East team out West being No. 7 seed Notre Dame or No. 8 seed Pittsburgh. Still, the East has No. 3 Marquette and No. 4 Syracuse, so three out of four could happen.
Historically speaking, picking one conference to get two teams to the Final Four is a pretty good bet.
While the last three tournaments have featured Final Four participants from four different conferences—funny, VCU and Butler were both at the 2011 Final Four from different conferences; they are in the same conference now but won't be next year—18 of the last 28 NCAA tournaments have seen two teams from the same conference make the Final Four, including a span of eight straight years from 1999 to 2006.
When in doubt, pick two Big East and two Big Ten and hope for the best.
When all else fails, do something totally random. I have had my five-year-old daughter pick a bracket every year since she was two. She had Butler in the Final Four both years they made it. Turns out she just liked saying the word "butt" without getting yelled at.
People put the teams on a dartboard, which would be fine, but I am terrible at darts, so I'd constantly aim for one team and end up with the other.
However, my favorite random bracket is…wait for it…the "Ultimate Mascot Fight Bracket."
What if every mascot in the NCAA tournament fought to the death? Who would win it all? Let's find out!
The Midwest would have the Liberty Flames get through the North Carolina A&T Aggies, the Louisville Cardinals and the Missouri Tigers before losing out to the Duke Blue Devils, who one would think must be adept at handling flames.
Duke would beat the Michigan State Spartans on the way to the Final Four, assuming a Spartan can defeat a Memphis Tiger or whatever the flying horse is at Middle Tennessee State.
In the West, we run into that old Simpsons line, "Who are we? The Wildcats! Who are we going to beat? The Wildcats!" for the first time, as there are a lot of Wildcats in this bracket.
Could a Kansas State Wildcat defeat a Pitt Panther? I mean, seriously, if Kansas State changed its name to the ThunderCats like its logo suggests, maybe.
No matter, as Iowa State is totally making it out of the West. A Cyclone would destroy any cat, dog, bear or leprechaun in its way.
In the South, we have some must-see fights, including a Michigan Wolverine against a VCU Ram with the winner taking on yet another Wildcat from Villanova. I'm assuming a Wildcat can thwart a Tar Heel, but maybe I'm wrong on that.
The other side of that region is fascinating, as the UCLA Bruins would face the Florida Gators in the second round with the winner likely facing the San Diego State Aztecs. OK, it seems as though this fight has actually happened, and the winner was…anyone who just clicked that link to watch a bear fight a gator. (Winner: Bear, in extremely violent computer-generated fashion.)
Now, is there a video of an Aztec Warrior fighting a bear? I'm going with the warrior, who would beat the Bruin and take out any Wolverine or Ram in his path.
In the East, we have an interesting decision, because the Montana Grizzlies could face the Cal Bears in the second round. The winner is Montana, mainly because Cal's website said its bear is "lovable," which is code for soft.
The Grizzlies could destroy the N.C. State Wolfpack, but none of them—not even the Fighting Illini—would be a match for the Miami Hurricanes. (And yes, I know the mascot is technically an ibis and the nickname a Hurricane, but you try to make your mascot a giant wind storm and see how that works out in your gym, OK?! OK.)
With that, the mascot Final Four would be the Duke Blue Devils, Iowa State Cyclones, San Diego State Aztecs and Miami Hurricanes. The Hurricanes would surely make the title game over the Aztecs, and the winner of the other semifinal would depend on if you think a Blue Devil is more powerful than a natural disaster.
Never bet against the Devil. Duke is probably a safe bet on this one.
What did we miss? What's your favorite way to fill out multiple brackets?