NCAA Tournament 2014: Foolproof Strategies to Help You Win Your Bracket Pool

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31:  (L-R) Russ Smith #2 , Peyton Siva #3 and Wayne Blackshear #20 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrate with the Midwest Regional Championship trophy after they won 85-63 against the Duke Blue Devils during the Midwest Regional Final round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 31, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When $1 billion is on the line, you need all the help you can get.

As many college basketball fans know by now, Quicken Loans and Berkshire Hathaway are combining to make whomever fills out a perfect bracket an instant billionaire.

Doing that is as close to impossible as impossible gets, so it's probably not smart to quit your job because you're banking on hitting it big in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

However, settling for bragging rights over your friends and a couple hundred bucks isn't all that bad.

When figuring out how your bracket will look, you'd be smart to heed these three suggestions.

 

All Your Bracket Essentials:

Bleacher Report

 

Don't Pick the No. 1 Overall Seed

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 14:  Patric Young #4 of the Florida Gators reacts after a basket against the Missouri Tigers during the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Georgia Dome on March 14, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It's not necessarily the worst thing in the world to pick the No. 1 overall seed to win it all. Florida is the best team in the country, so of course the Gators have a strong chance of going all the way.

However, the problem is that most fans will take the No. 1 overall seed, too, which can be a double-edged sword.

If everybody picks the same team, then everybody's fate is tied to one outcome. In the event that Florida loses, your bracket won't be affected much more so than everybody else's, which wouldn't be the case if you select a team that's a little less popular.

There's a comfort that comes with selecting the path of least resistance.

The converse is that backing a different horse can set you apart from the rest, thus opening the door for you to earn points when everybody else is out of the game.

Another thing to consider when thinking about Florida is that this season has been wildly unpredictable. The gap between the great teams and the good teams is closing, leveling the playing field quite a bit. The recent history for No. 1 seeds since 2009 isn't all that impressive, per ESPN Stats and Info:

When filling out your bracket this year, consider teams like Louisville, Virginia and Villanova. They all have a good chance of being national champion, but they're also low enough seeds that not everybody's going to be picking.

 

Back the Right Cinderella

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 14:  Lenzelle Smith, Jr. #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes attempts to keep the ball from Marshall Bjorklundj #42, Kory Brown #22, and TrayVonn Wright #32, all of the North Dakota State Bison during the second half at Value City Arena
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Back in 2004, I thought I'd be the smartest guy in the room and predict a No. 15 seed to upset a No. 2 seed. Hampton beat Iowa State in 2001, so I figured, why not have it happen again just three years later?

Unfortunately for me, Vermont didn't beat Connecticut, and the Huskies went on to win it all, compounding the idiocy of my decision.

There was a lesson to be learned, though. While you always want to pick out one or two Cinderellas, don't try and get too cute. Take some chances, just nothing so extreme that it will wreck your entire bracket when it goes wrong.

Teams to target this year are North Dakota State, Western Michigan, Louisiana Tech and Delaware. The NDSU Bison, in particular, could be primed for a huge upset.

Here's what Bleacher Report's Brian Pedersen wrote about them last week:

The Bison feature a solid, senior-heavy lineup that features dynamic scorer Taylor Braun and the nation's most accurate shooter in 6'8" forward Marshall Bjorklund, who makes more than 63 percent of his field goals. NDSU as a team shoots 50.9 percent from the field, tops in Division I.

It doesn't have to be North Dakota State, though. You can't be afraid to take risks with your bracket. Just make sure they're the right risks.

 

Don't Pay Too Much Attention to the Conference Tournaments

NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 02:  Anthony Davis #23 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates before he cuts down the net after the Wildcats defeat the Kansas Jayhawks 67-59 in the National Championship Game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Some may look at the conference tournaments as an indicator of which teams are ready for the NCAA tournament.

But coaches often say that losing before the NCAA tournament can be a good thing. Teams that think they're invincible are brought down to earth, and as a result, the players are much more focused heading into the Big Dance.

Last year, Michigan, Syracuse and Wichita State all lost in their respective conference tournaments, yet they all made the Final Four.

The same goes for Kansas, Ohio State and eventual national champion Kentucky in 2012.

Following the Wildcats' loss, Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples wrote that head coach John Calipari and star Anthony Davis planned to use the defeat in the SEC tournament as a learning experience:

"For me, I definitely hate the feeling of losing," Wildcats forward Anthony Davis said Sunday. "To lose here, especially in a championship when we were this close to winning it all, it just hurts. So I hope we can take this loss, learn from it, and have this as motivation going into the tournament."

Calipari worried that his players were getting arrogant during their 24-game winning streak. He hopes the Vandy loss brought them back to earth. "My comment to them after is, 'Maybe I'll have your attention now,'" Calipari said.

By all means, shy away from the inconsistent teams that were disappointments in their conference tournaments—Kansas, North Carolina and Syracuse. If it's a strong team that had one hiccup, though, don't worry too much.