The reveal of the 2022 March Madness field of 68 means that at some point between now and early Thursday afternoon, you’re probably going to be asked to fill out a bracket. If you haven’t been paying attention to college basketball this season but don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of co-workers/family/friends, this can be a daunting task. Thankfully, we’re here to help with 15 bracket tips you can ride to an admirable finish in your bracket challenge.
1. Believe in at least one power conference underachiever.
One of the longest active March Madness streaks that isn’t discussed enough is that a power conference team seeded 9th or worse has reached the Sweet 16 in every NCAA tournament since 2008. A year ago, three of them reached the Sweet 16, two played in regional finals, and UCLA advanced all the way to the Final Four.
Teams that fit that description this year:
Virginia Tech (11)
Iowa State (11)
Notre Dame (11)
So choose your favorite sort of underwhelming big brand program and take the farther in your bracket than they probably have any business going.
2. Avoid the trendy 8/9 team.
Every year on Selection Sunday, there is an underachieving major conference team that gets thrown into the 8/9 “death game” and leaves everyone predicting that they will upset the No. 1 seed in Round 2. That team, especially when they’re paired against a seemingly blah non-power conference team, almost always gets caught looking ahead (or just isn’t as good as people want them to be) and doesn’t make it out of the first round.
Think twice before you make that bold prediction of Memphis taking out Gonzaga or North Carolina ending Baylor’s reign as national champion; They might not even make it that far.
3. Believe in at least one “First Four” team.
Even though the “First Four” — those four games typically played in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday featuring the lowest-seeded four teams in the field and the last four at-large teams to get in — has been fairly controversial and often mocked since its inception in 2011, a team coming out of Dayton has won at least one game in the tournament’s “main draw” in every year but one since the First Four became a thing. The only time it hasn’t happened was in 2019.
Overall, the First Four has produced a total of 19 victories in the “main draw” of the tournament, five Sweet 16 squads, and two Final Four teams, the most recent being UCLA last season.
Indiana comes into the tournament hot, and Notre Dame and Rutgers have already displayed a propensity for taking down some big dogs. Pick the one you like the most (you’re in here too, Wyoming) and roll with them until at least the round of 32.
4. Don’t pick a No. 5 seed to win it all.
There’s always a lot of chatter this time of year about how “anything can happen in March.” A lot of things can happen in March, but a 5-seed winning the national title doesn’t seem to be one of them. Every seed line from 1-8 has produced at least one national champion besides the 5-seed line.
No. 5 seeds have made it to the title game three times (nearly four after Auburn’s narrow loss to Virginia in the 2019 Final Four), but have never been able to be the last team standing.
Our most sincere apologies to UConn, Houston, Iowa and Saint Mary’s.
5. Get a little wild with one Final Four pick
Sure it’s scary to take one team that could easily lose in the first round and advance it all the way to the Final Four, but it also might be the key to winning your bracket pool. Every single Final Four but one since 2012 has featured at least one team seeded No. 7 or worse. Since 2011, a total of 10 teams seeded seventh or worse have crashed the season’s final weekend.
The only recent season in which a 7-seed or worse hasn’t made a Final Four was 2019, and even then, you had a 5-seed crashing the party. So take the three teams you like the most to the Final Four, and then maybe throw a dart in the region where you feel like the top seeds are the most vulnerable.
6. Pick at least one 12 seed to win in the first round. The 12/5 upset has a reputation for a reason.
The 12/5 upset is a March Madness tradition unlike any other. In 31 of the last 36 years, at least one 12 seed has advanced out of the first round of the tournament. Over the last 13 years, 12 seeds actually own a highly respectable overall record of 23-29 against five seeds. A year ago, 12 seeds went just 1-3 in the first round, but the one No. 12 seed that did advance — Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon State — ended up winning two more games and playing in the Midwest Regional final.
7. Take a close look at the 13/4 matchups as well.
We just talked about the frequency of the 12/5 upset in the NCAA Tournament, but how about some love for the work the No. 13 seeds have been putting in recently? At least one 13 seed has won a game in the tournament in 10 of the last 13 years.
Last season, two No. 13 seeds pulled first round stunners, with Ohio taking out reigning national champion Virginia, and North Texas getting the better of Purdue.
8. Don’t pick a team that went one-and-done in its conference to win it all.
No team has ever lost the first game of its conference tournament and gone on to win the NCAA tournament. If you’re backing a squad that went one-and-done in its league tourney to win the Big Dance, you may want to reconsider. Some top-seeded teams that fall under that umbrella this year: Auburn, Baylor, Illinois and Wisconsin.
It should be noted that Texas Tech very nearly broke this trend in 2019, but Virginia’s charmed run to the title simply wouldn’t allow it.
9. Don’t automatically move all four No. 2 seeds to the second weekend.
In 22 of the last 24 years, at least one No. 2 seed has been knocked out of the tournament before the Sweet 16. Straying from the chalk is always scary, especially before the second weekend, but you need to conquer that fear in at least one region.
Last season, second-seeded Ohio State was stunned by Oral Roberts in the first round, while fellow 2-seed Iowa was hammered by Oregon in the second round.
10 Be wary of the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.
The NCAA tournament selection committee began designating a No. 1 overall seed in 2004. Since then, that team has gone on to win the national championship just three times — Florida in 2007, Kentucky in 2012, and Louisville in 2013.
It’s not exactly news that the best team doesn’t always win this thing, but it is a bit jarring to see just how rarely the team most people believe to be the best going into the tournament actually winds up cutting down the nets.
A season ago, the tournament’s top overall seed Gonzaga advanced all the way to the national title game before being defeated by Baylor.
11. You need at least one “surprise” Elite Eight team.
Maybe you’re not comfortable getting too crazy with your Final Four, but at least make sure your Elite Eight has some flavor. In each of the last 10 seasons, at least one team seeded fifth or worse has played in a regional final, and in nine of the last 10 seasons at least one team seeded 7th or worse has advanced to a regional final. We’ve also seen at least one double-digit seed in the Elite Eight in four of the last five years.
Last year’s regional finals featured 12-seed Oregon State, 11-seed UCLA, and 6-seed USC.
12. Conference championships typically matter.
In the history of the NCAA tournament, there have only been four national champions (who participated in a conference tournament) that didn’t first win either their league’s regular season or postseason title. Villanova in 1985, Kansas in 1988, Connecticut in 2014, and Duke in 2015 are the only exceptions.
13. Be mindful of the Big Ten/West Coast drought.
One of the longest-running debates in college basketball is when a team from the West Coast or the Big Ten will win its next national title. It has reached a fever pitch the last couple of seasons with the Big Ten appearing to be the best conference in the sport and a resurgent West Coast producing multiple national title contenders.
A team from the Big Ten team hasn’t won it all since Michigan State in 2000, and a West Coast squad hasn’t cut down the nets since Arizona stunned Kentucky in 1997. It’s not hard to envision one of those runs of futility coming to an end in a few weeks.
14. Gonzaga and Kansas are early locks
Since 2008, there are only two teams that have appeared in every single NCAA tournament without losing a single first round game: Gonzaga and Kansas. The Bulldogs also have the longest consecutive run of Sweet 16 appearances, making it to the tournament’s second weekend in every year since 2014.
If for some reason you were predicting an early exit for either of these top seeds, well, re-think that.
15. Don’t feel bad about picking a No. 1 seed to win it all.
Even if you’re not going with the overall No. 1 seed (see rule No. 10), don’t let anybody shame you for picking a top seed to cut down the nets. Since seeding the field began, No. 1 seeds have won more national titles (24) than all other seeds combined (17).
A No. 1 seed has won each of the last four national titles, five of the last six, and seven of the last nine. Also, if we assume Baylor would have been a No. 1 seed in the canceled 2020 NCAA tournament, each of the last five national champions was a No. 1 seed the year before. The 2021 No. 1 seeds: Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan and Illinois.