The 2021 men's NCAA tournament bracket has officially been released. Now it's time to get it printed out and start breaking down how you're going to win your bracket pool.
March Madness is an unparalleled event every year. Much of that has to do with the unforgettable performances, the buzzer-beaters and major upsets. But the pursuit of bragging rights and cash prizes by filling out the best bracket is certainly part of the draw.
Earning those bragging rights takes a good mix of research, analysis, trusting your gut and a good bit of luck. They don't call it "madness" for its predictability.
Still, there are a few things you can keep in mind that will make your bracket a little less prone to busting. Based on historical trends, you can identify some teams that might be able to pull an early upset or make a surprise run to the Sweet 16.
First, here's a look at the complete bracket. A downloadable version can be found here.
Everyone loves nailing their upset picks: There's just something rewarding about calling that traditional 12-5 upset in the first round, but the real key to success is picking the correct winners in the later stages of the tournament.
Wayne Staats of NCAA.com broke down the last five years of their bracket challenge game-winners and found that success in picking the first- and even second-round games doesn't mean nearly as much as nailing the Final Four.
Staats noted that every winner in the contest since 2015 had at least six of the Elite Eight teams correct and 19 of the last 20 Final Four teams. Loyola-Chicago's unexpected run in 2018 was the only one the eventual winner missed.
So when breaking down your bracket, it isn't worth sweating out that No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup you've been fretting over. Instead, it's more important to figure out who is going to advance and come up big in those final rounds.
When it comes to narrowing down your national champion pick, there are a few key factors that can help cut through the clutter of information. Joe Boozell broke down the last 12 national champions for NCAA.com and found a few commonalities.
Among those similarities are a top-seven offense and a top-20 defense as rated by KenPom.com's efficiency metrics.
Just using those two thresholds alone this year, you could whittle your championship contenders down to Gonzaga, Michigan and Illinois. Houston barely misses the cut at eighth in offensive efficiency while their defense comes in at 16.
Other common threads Boozell mentions are senior leadership, excellent point guard play and at least one crunch-time scorer.
But even if you pick the winner, upsets are still a big part of nailing the bracket. While there's some element of simply trusting your gut, there's some data to consider here, too.
Using a two-seed difference between the winner and loser as a definition, Andy Wittry of NCAA.com came up with an average of 12.2 upsets throughout the tournament. He also noted there have only been three tournaments in the last 35 years in which there were fewer than nine upsets.
That leaves plenty of wiggle room to shy away from the chalk result but sets up some guardrails for going overboard before you start penciling UC-Santa Barbara into the championship game.
When it comes to where those upsets will happen, the No. 12 seed over a No. 5 seed is always a popular pick, but 11th-seeded and 10th-seeded teams pull off upsets more often, per Wittry.
So while 12-seed Winthrop is worth a long look when forecasting some unpredictability in the tournament, No. 11 Syracuse upsetting No. 6 San Diego State is more likely.
It's important to spread out those upset picks beyond the first round, too. A seventh or 10th seed beats a second seed on average 1.2 times per year, according to Wittry.
This year, that means at least one of Alabama, Ohio State, Iowa and Houston could be facing an early exit if those trends hold true.
Don't get too giddy about any of those eighth or ninth seeds, though. They have only beaten a No. 1 seed 19 times in the past 35 seasons, so they are far from guaranteed to happen.
Then again, No. 1 seed Baylor is coming off a convincing loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game. They will have to face the winner of North Carolina and Wisconsin in Round 2, and both have a history of doing well in this tournament.
Ultimately, predicting the madness is an inexact science. Even the data lies sometimes, and it all comes down to calling your shot and watching it all unfold.