10 Fun Ways to Pick a March Madness Bracket
You went and did it again.
Despite your best intentions, another entire college basketball season passed you by without a single game making it onto your television.
These things happen.
Unfortunately, Mike from Accounting is insisting that you pitch in a few bucks and fill out a bracket. You didn't have the heart to say no. Now, you're pot-committed and staring at the names of 68 schools you don't know the first thing about.
It's too late to do all the research now, so just have fun with it!
Here are 10 fun ways to fill out a bracket, starting with the absurd ones that will never actually win your pool and working up to ones that might give you a chance.
The Coin-Flip Bracket
Even the most knowledgeable college basketball entities would agree that some of these games don't have a true favorite. As one example, the computers are giving Colorado a 50.7 percent chance of beating Illinois.
Go ahead and flip a coin on some of those tougher early games, but if you're actually trying to win your pool, don't leave it up to the coin as to whether a No. 1 seed will beat a No. 16 seed.
As random as coin flips can be, doesn't it always seem like you end up with two double-digit seeds playing each other in the national championship? Has anyone ever gotten the national champion with a coin-flip bracket, let alone won their pool? That person has to exist somewhere, right?
Which Mascot Would Win in a Fight?
This is probably the most popular "random" bracket and easily the most fun to fill out.
Exactly how fierce is a Badger?
How brutally would a Wolverine murder a Jackrabbit?
Would a Buckeye be able to defeat a Gael? Buckeyes are poisonous, but can also be stepped on. Is Ohio State secretly sneaking buckeye powder into the Gaels' food or is this a face-to-face battle in the Coliseum?
And has there ever been a better first-round mascot showdown than the Spartans vs. the Crusaders?
The best part of the mascot-battle bracket is that it's totally subjective, with battles involving Hurricanes and Cyclones up for debate most of all.
I'm convinced it was this bracket idea that spawned every other non-sports bracket you've ever seen. I'm also convinced this bracket has never won a March Madness pool.
"Buddy the Elf. What's your favorite color?"
If McDonald's Shamrock Shakes were placed on this earth for the sole purpose of pleasing your taste buds, there's a good chance you'll have Notre Dame going all the way in this bracket.
Probably your best shot at a championship is to convince yourself that you really love the color red. You could end up with a Final Four of Louisville, Ohio State, Indiana and...Western Kentucky? Well, that's no good.
Maybe instead of your favorite color, you could make a "Roy G. Biv" bracket! In the play-in games, pick the teams closest on the color spectrum to red. Do the same with orange in the second round and so on.
This would be a really fun one. Someone needs to do this and tell me who wins the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
If you're color blind, I apologize if this idea offends you.
Proximity to the School
I moved to the Fairfax, Virginia area a few years after George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006. I didn't get to experience the environment, but I understand the buzz was everywhere.
It usually doesn't work out that way, but if your hometown team makes a deep run in the tournament, do you really want to be the jerk rooting against them in order to win a bracket pool? Unless they denied your college application and fatally damaged your self-worth, probably not.
My mid-west geography is far from perfect, but based on this idea, it looks like there could be a pocket of brackets in Seymour, Indiana that wind up with at least Louisville, Indiana and Ohio State in their Final Four...though they might also end up with Western Kentucky.
How does that Final Four show up in two completely unrelated random brackets?
Whether you base this bracket on your hometown or your current location is irrelevant to me, but if you're filling it out while on an airplane, be sure to bring an eraser.
If all the No. 1 seeds advance to the Final Four, this bracket will be completely garbage. No offense if you live there—though it probably means you agree with my sentiments—but who wants to vacation in Indiana, Kansas, Louisville or Spokane, Washington?
On the other hand, we've got some great early-round pairings with this idea. Would you rather visit Chicago or Denver? Are you more intrigued by spending time in Miami or what I assume is the Pacific Ocean? And how about that second-round battle between Florida and UCLA?
The interesting thing about this one is that clearly not everyone has the same idea of what would be a fun vacation. Perhaps you still spend your evenings listening to Elvis records and would love nothing more than to spend a month in Memphis. Or maybe your degenerate gambling instincts lead you to pick UNLV to win it all.
One thing's for sure, though: Whoever survives the Oklahoma State vs. Oregon game isn't going very far.
Words That Are Fun to Say
The hidden benefit of this bracket is that if you know how to pronounce the name, it's probably because they're popular enough to be a good team.
Gonzaga, Villanova, (Mike) Krzyzewski, (Matthew) Dellavedova, Shabazz (Muhammad), (Victor) Oladipo and Gorgui Dieng are all fun to say.
Maybe you prefer alliteration over absurdly valuable Scrabble words. In that case, you've got the Pitt Panthers, Kenny Kadji, Shaka Smart, the Golden Gophers and even Phil Pressey if that's technically alliteration.
Or take your pick from options like most consecutive consonants, fewest letters in team mascot, alphabetically by school or whichever team has the most letters that also appear in your own name; it doesn't matter. If you're picking based solely on spelling, you might as well just make it as crazy as possible.
The Weighted Coin-Flip Bracket
So you want to do a coin-flip bracket, but you don't want it to be a completely impossible mess? Try the weighted coin-flip bracket.
This one is not for the weak of heart or thumb.
Now, you don't actually add weight to the coin, but you weigh the number of results that each team needs in order to advance. Take Pittsburgh vs. Wichita State, for example. Assign heads to Pitt and tails to Wichita State. Because Pitt is the No. 8 seed and Wichita State is the No. 9 seed, Pitt would need eight heads before Wichita State gets nine tails.
You would think this would end up having virtually no upsets, but you would be discounting the randomness of probabilities. When I did this bracket two years ago, I had a No. 13 seed knocking off a No. 4 seed and a No. 3 seed winning it all. That was the year Connecticut won it all as a No. 3 seed, but unfortunately I picked the regions in the wrong order.
As you can imagine, there will be several pairings where you'll actually need to flip a coin 16 times in order to decide the outcome. Probably not the best bracket to fill out in your cubicle.
The Lottery System
I threw the fun bracket idea out on Twitter (@kerrancejames) and got a mixed bag of responses. Most of them were ones I had already come up with, but @phillipbeneteau came up with one that I really liked.
He suggests putting all the school names in a hat and then as you pull the name, that team advances as far as possible. So, for example, if the first name you pull is Notre Dame, they're your national champion. If the second name you pull is Iowa State, too bad so sad, because they play Notre Dame in the first round. Keep pulling names until your bracket is full.
It's a fun idea, but it's way too random. I say let's combine that idea with the NBA Draft Lottery.
Each No. 1 seed gets 16 entries into the hat. Each No. 2 seed gets 15 entries into the hat, and so on and so forth. Better yet, if you have a lifetime supply of ping pong balls lying around, you're really weird but you're well-prepared for this bracket idea.
As each team is drawn, put them as far as you can in your bracket.
Yeah, you're going to pull a lot of duplicates, but you just took the time to put 568 slips of paper into a hat. Clearly, you have nothing better to do.
I've been trying to perfect this one for several years, but I always seem to guess wrong.
Over the past five tournaments, there have been an average of nine first-round upsets—no more than 10, no fewer than seven. On average, four of the Sweet 16 teams pull off an upset to get to that point. And save for 2011, which was just an insane year for the brackets, there have been exactly two upsets to get into the Elite Eight in four of the last five years.
For this bracket, I should point out that an upset is considered any win by a worse seed. Even though no one would really consider it an upset if Missouri beat Colorado State, it's technically one of the nine you should be looking to count on in the first round.
So there you go. Pick nine upsets in the first round, four in the second, two in the third round and hope for the best. The upsets are going to come from somewhere, and you have as good of a chance at finding them as anyone else.
Try not to rely on the No. 15 and No. 16 seeds, though.
For many college basketball teams, it's been months since they had to travel to a different time zone.
Syracuse, for example, played one game in Arkansas almost four months ago and hasn't traveled further west than that since. The Orange have the joy of playing the first two rounds in San Jose, CA, and the first game won't tip off any earlier than 10:00 p.m. ET.
On the flip side of that coin, many highly ranked teams aren't traveling far at all for their first weekend in the tournament.
Traveling is probably overstated in many professional sports, but college kids are hardly accustomed to long trips—other than backpacking through Europe, of course.
Pick the team playing closest to home each game and chances are you'll have a strong bracket heading into the second weekend of the tournament.