There’s a slim margin for error when it comes to winning your NCAA Tournament bracket pool. College basketball fans devote their attention to making the right call on upsets and the Final Four.
But one way to win your bracket is to avoid obvious errors that could prove costly.
Five mistakes not to make when making your March Madness picks:
1. Don’t pick a team that hasn’t been better than .500 in its past 10 games. Ahem, Wisconsin (3-7 in last 10 games). A winning bracket takes a little research. The best way to avoid mishaps is to assess a team’s play in late February and early March because as much as the tournament is about matchups, a team that’s playing poorly shouldn’t be ignored.
2. Don’t be fooled by the recency effect. Don’t be the person who says, “Oh, they won their conference tournament, they’re a good Elite Eight dark horse.” That’s lazy. Oregon State is a good example. A team’s streak should be a factor, but don’t let that motivate you to completely ignore a bad matchup. The Beavers are mis-matched in a variety of ways against No. 5 seed Tennessee.
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3. Don’t assume that a team that did well last year, or even historically, will dominate this year. There’s a ton of turnover in college basketball with one-and-done players. Yes, blue-bloods and historically good teams are a good starting point, but make sure to do a little investigating first. Villanova, winner of the national title in 2016 and 2018, lost its best player, Collin Gillespie, to injury right before the NCAAs, as an example. Especially this year when both Duke and Kentucky missed the NCAA Tournament cut. Kansas is a No. 3 seed, North Carolina is a No. 8 seed and Michigan State is a No. 11 seed. But Bill Self, Roy Williams and Tom Izzo can’t coach mediocre teams to the Final Four. Well, maybe Izzo can. But not this year.
4. Don’t pick a team because it’s your favorite. Don’t let your enjoyment of a team drive your bracket into the ground. Don’t overlook UConn’s advantage over Maryland just because you want to see the Terrapins in the Sweet 16.
5. Don’t pick a No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1. It won’t happen again, so don’t get your hopes up. While UMBC’s upset of top overall seed Virginia busted brackets everywhere in 2018, it took 136 tries for it to happen, and it’s unlikely the same fate would occur to one of the four No. 1s this year. Plus, if you do make that pick, what’s the payoff? You get one first-round pick right on the good end (because don’t expect a No. 16 seed to win again). Is it for bragging rights? Pick wrong and you’d lose a potential Sweet 16, Elite Eight or Final Four finisher.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.