Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

How To Build Your First March Madness Bracket

Illustration for article titled How To Build Your First March Madness Bracket

Somehow, as a lifelong basketball fan, I woke up today having never in my life built a March Madness bracket. How is this possible? How have I conned my way into employment at a sports website, and how long until the jig is up? I’ve put money on an early-season Minnesota Timberwolves game (and won), but never wagered on this premier sports gambling event, which lasts weeks, gets Warren Buffett dangling riches in front of his employees, and attracts millions of hopeful entries from office drones who’ve never watched a minute of college ball in their lives. Today, I hope to correct this error with minimal effort or knowledge about this NCAA season; instead, I will rely on a lot of “intuition.” Here is a guide to fitting in with your peers, or brazenly refusing to fit in with your peers at all.


First Pass: Act With Your Brain

I’ve got to advance the 1 seeds, because I value $25 just enough not to, and predicting heavy upsets seems to be dumb as hell, points-wise. I’ll follow suit with the 2's and 3's.

My eyes are drawn to the 5-12 matchups, which’ve historically been ripe for upsets, though that may have more to do with the psychology of an “upset” and the fallibility of seeding. So pick one of those if you want, but be advised that plenty of others will, too.

Also, as my colleague Samer advises, don’t believe in Gonzaga, ever.

Our pals at Lifehacker just dished up a list of statistical factors that may inform your picks: recent hot streaks, road records, strength of schedule, traveling logistics. Stir in as many of these as you like, but not too many, because ...

Second Pass: Act With Your Heart

A bracket too rationally constructed is a sterile thing; it yields no joy, no messiness. I am not one to eat buffalo wings with a fork and knife.


Also, if you need to follow my advice, your friends are surely wiser than you and are in fact probably hustling you, so you might as well have some fun, inject some chaos into your pool, and arrange your bracket for maximum emotional upside.

So examine your gut: Do you have any vague, churning feelings towards any of these teams or cities? Feel free to act on that basis. I’ll pick Yale in the first round, because they shattered my adolescent hopes, and I always come limping back to those who hurt me most. For a denizen of the Least Coast, California vs. Hawaii sounds like a first-round matchup of fantasy escapes—go with whichever calls out to you most, avocados or pineapples. Iona reads like a bootleg of its higher-seeded competitor, Iowa, and I distrust all hastily spelled imposters.


Maybe you, hypothetically, during a road trip to nowhere in early January, spent a haunting evening in an empty Morgantown, where you shambled through the gravel parking lot of a fraternity and questioned the trajectory of your life. If that’s the case (hypothetically), dump WVU in the second round. Enjoying the cheese on your lunch? Wisconsin. Lactose-intolerant? Fuck Wisconsin. Intolerant, generally? Take any state that’s cast its lot with Trump. Allergic to acronyms? Eliminate any school that appears on your bracket as a mere pile of letters.

Maybe you are my unnamed, elitist acquaintance? Then you’ll just always pick the “dumber school,” unless it’s Duke. And you’ll forever live in fear that one day I will doxx you and your nasty habits on this website.


Whatever you do, identify a few arbitrary principles that you can cite after the fact as the reason for your improbable success, and don’t hew to any of them too closely if it stresses you out.

Third Pass: Let It Go

Relax. You have survived under these pressing social norms. You don’t even have to watch the games unless you have social reason to do so (or you’re trying to avoid doing actual work). Be sure to gloat, though, if you do successfully pick an upset. You just had a feeling Iona would come through.


Photo by Getty.