NCAA Bracket 2018: The Secret Formula for Picking a Winner

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2018

NCAA Bracket 2018: The Secret Formula for Picking a Winner

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    It's that time of year again, folks.

    Whether you're a die-hard college basketball fan or simply like drinking beer and eating wings while the squeaking of sneakers and swishing of nets provide background noise, it's always fun to fill out a March Madness bracket.

    Doing so perfectly is borderline impossible, but for most people, it's simply a matter of having a better bracket than the friends or co-workers you happen to compete against.

    Ahead, we've whipped up some advice for filling out your bracket, from the most basic of rules to some more noteworthy trends worth taking into account for the veteran bracketologist.

    Every little bit helps, right?

    So before you lock in your picks, here are seven pieces of advice for filling out this year's bracket.

Don't Overthink It with the No. 1 Seeds

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    Virginia isn't going to lose in the First Round. They're just not. Sorry, UMBC.
    Virginia isn't going to lose in the First Round. They're just not. Sorry, UMBC.Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    If you're new to filling out a bracket, let's start with the most basic of information: A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed in the first round.

    Never.

    Ever.

    This year's crop of top-seeded teams includes Virginia, Villanova, Kansas and Xavier.

    If you can't decide where to start filling out your bracket, go ahead and pencil those four teams on into the second round.

    As the gap continues to close between college basketball's blue bloods and the smaller schools, it's only a matter of time before a No. 16 seed finally pulls off the unthinkable.

    But until that happens, and probably even once it does, it's a safe approach to assume that all four No. 1 seeds will be advancing to the weekend.

The Same Is Not True for No. 2 Seeds, Although It's Pretty Rare

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    Cincinnati is considered to be the weakest No. 2 seed this year, but can Georgia State pull off the upset?
    Cincinnati is considered to be the weakest No. 2 seed this year, but can Georgia State pull off the upset?Mark Brown/Getty Images

    While we've never seen a No. 16 seed win a game in the NCAA tournament, a handful of No. 15 seeds have pulled off the upset.

    Eight teams to be exact:

    • 1991 Richmond
    • 1993 Santa Clara
    • 1997 Coppin State
    • 2001 Hampton
    • 2012 Norfolk State
    • 2012 Lehigh
    • 2013 Florida Gulf Coast
    • 2016 Middle Tennessee

    Ah, the 2012 bracket. What a beautiful disaster.

    The odds are still greatly stacked against the No. 15 seeds, so proceed with extreme caution if you're even considering advancing one beyond the first round.

    Just be aware, it has happened.

Plan on Having Multiple No. 11 and 12 Seeds Advancing out of the First Round

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    South Dakota State star Mike Daum (23.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 42.1 3PT%) might be the best mid-major player in the country.
    South Dakota State star Mike Daum (23.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 42.1 3PT%) might be the best mid-major player in the country.Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    For all intents and purposes, the 5-12 and 6-11 matchups might as well be coin tosses. Recent history actually favors the lower-seeded teams in those games.

    Here's a look at how the 11 and 12 seeds have fared in the first round over the past five years:

    • 2013: 4-4
    • 2014: 5-3
    • 2015: 2-6
    • 2016: 5-3
    • 2017: 4-4

    Last season, 11-seeded Xavier actually advanced all the way to the Elite Eight before eventually falling to Gonzaga.

    Who might be this year's Xavier?

    Missouri Valley Conference champ Loyola-Chicago as an 11-seed in the South Region and Mike Daum-led South Dakota State as a 12-seed in the West Region will be two popular upset picks to consider.

    One way or another, plan on having at least a couple No. 11 and No. 12 seeds advancing beyond the first round.

Having All Four No. 1 Seeds in the Final Four Is Not a Good Approach

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    Will the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks survive the Midwest Region?
    Will the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks survive the Midwest Region?Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    It might come as a surprise to learn that just once in NCAA tournament history (in 2008) have all four No. 1 seed reached the Final Four.

    And it might come as an even bigger surprise to learn that three No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four just five times, according to NCAA.com.

    That means in all but six NCAA tournaments, half the top-seeded teams have failed to win their respective regional titles.

    So while picking the No. 1 seeds to fall during the opening weekend of the tournament is a risky proposition, don't hesitate for a second to bet on a lower-seeded team to reach the Final Four.

Teams Seeded Below No. 4 Rarely Reach the Final Four

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    History is stacked against the No. 5 seed Kentucky Wildcats.
    History is stacked against the No. 5 seed Kentucky Wildcats.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    In the history of the NCAA tournament, no team seeded lower than No. 11 has ever reached the Final Four and none seeded lower than No. 8 has ever reached the championship game.

    Here's the full tally of teams seeded outside the top four advancing to the Final Four (via NCAA.com):

    • No. 5 Seeds: 6 Final Fours
    • No. 6 Seeds: 3 Final Fours (1 National Title)
    • No. 7 Seeds: 3 Final Fours (1 National Title)
    • No. 8 Seeds: 5 Final Fours (1 National Title)
    • No. 9 Seeds: 1 Final Four
    • No. 10 Seeds: 1 Final Four
    • No. 11 Seeds: 3 Final Fours

    It may be unwise to have all four No. 1 seeds in your Final Four, but dipping down below a No. 4 seed is equally risky.

Momentum Matters

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    Can the Michigan Wolverines turn a Big 10 tournament win into March Madness success once again in 2018?
    Can the Michigan Wolverines turn a Big 10 tournament win into March Madness success once again in 2018?Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    Last season, Michigan was one of the hottest teams in all of college basketball when March Madness rolled around.

    A bubble team heading into championship week and the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines upended Illinois and the tournament-bound trio of Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin to claim the tournament title.

    That landed them a No. 7 seed on Selection Sunday and they were just getting started.

    They beat No. 10 seed Oklahoma State and No. 2 seed Louisville to advance to the Sweet 16 before finally losing by one point to No. 3 Oregon.

    So which squad could be this year's version of the Wolverines?

    Bleacher Report's David Kenyon provided a full list of the nation's hottest teams heading into Selection Sunday. It's worth a quick read before filling out your bracket.

    That list includes upset-minded teams like Bucknell, Murray State, South Dakota State and St. Bonaventure, as well as No. 1 seeds Virginia and Xavier.

    Oh, and let's not forget that same Michigan team that authored another surprise run to the Big Ten tournament title.

Trust Your Gut

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    I have Caleb Martin and the Nevada Wolfpack reaching the Elite Eight. Why? I've just got a hunch.
    I have Caleb Martin and the Nevada Wolfpack reaching the Elite Eight. Why? I've just got a hunch.L.E. Baskow/Associated Press

    At the end of the day, sometimes you just need to trust your instincts.

    There's no worse feeling than seeing that No. 12 seed you flip-flopped on at the last minute pull off the upset, and telling the people around you that you "almost picked them" provides little solace while you slip down the rankings in your bracket pool.

    By all means, use the bevy of tools at your disposal to research to your heart's content before filling out your bracket.

    But sooner or later, you have to set the endless stream of stats aside and make a decision.

    Make it confidently and go with your gut. What do you have to lose?

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