March Madness lived up to its billing a year ago. Dramatic upsets and plucky underdogs allowed the madness to truly reign during the 2021 edition of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. At least one team from the No. 9, No. 10, No. 11, No. 12, No. 13, No. 14, and No. 15 seed lines won a first-round game for the first time since 2016. With fans and regional sites back in the mix in this year's tournament, the feeling that anything wild and unexpected can happen has grown only stronger.
Bracket chaos helps make March Madness popular year after year. People love seeing underdogs destroy millions of brackets to make an unexpected Sweet 16 or Final Four run. This sheer unpredictability also makes correctly forecasting the winners a mostly futile exercise. If you harbor dreams of filling out a perfect bracket this year, prepare to be disappointed. You face much better odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field while evading a few TIE fighters.
Still, you can craft a winning strategy to help you conquer family, friends, or colleagues in your bracket challenge of choice. Filling out a bracket is never an exact science. Luck plays a crucial part when it comes to correctly predict which teams will advance and which ones will head home.
To improve your odds of winning, you can apply a few useful guidelines to give your 2022 NCAA Tournament bracket a longer life.
Never pick a No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed
UMBC pulled off a seemingly impossible feat in 2018. The Retrievers dismantled Virginia to claim a spot in the history books, becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed. Such historic games are what make March Madness so fun to watch.
Don't bother searching for the next UMBC among this year's 68-team field. No. 16 seeds were 0-135 all-time against No. 1 seeds before Virginia lost. Their current record is 1-143 since 1985.
Close calls do occur from time to time. A pair of No. 16 seeds took No. 1s down to the wire in 1989. Georgetown held off Princeton 50-49 on two late blocks from Alonzo Mourning while Oklahoma edged East Tennessee State 72-71 after rallying from a 17-point deficit. Murray State pushed Michigan State to the limit in 1990, before falling 75-71 to the Spartans in overtime. Purdue survived a 73-71 thriller against Western Carolina in 1996 only after the Catamounts missed a potential game-winning basket in the final seconds.
Still, only 15 games pitting a No. 16 seed against a No. 1 seed have been decided by single digits. Will a No. 16 beat a No. 1 again? It will happen again at some point. Do you want to sabotage your bracket based on a minuscule chance you'll correctly guess such a monumental upset?
Pick at least one No. 1 or a No. 2 seed to lose before the Sweet 16
Playing it safe with top-two seeds is never a wise strategy. No. 1 and No. 2 seeds lose games before the field is whittled down to 16 teams more frequently than you think.
In the 2021 NCAA Tournament, two No. 2 seeds and a No. 1 seed failed to reach the Sweet 16. It marked the 10th time in the last 11 tournaments where two or more teams among the top eight seeds were upset in the first or second round.
Strangely enough, teams who pull off these upsets often carry that momentum all the way to the Final Four. At least one No. 7, No. 8, or No. 9 seed that dispatched a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the second round has made it to the tournament's final weekend in five of the last nine tournaments.
Striking a balance is crucial when advancing top teams. Since the NCAA began seeding teams in 1979, all four No. 1 seeds reached a Final Four only one time — in 2008. On the other hand, you should always include at least one No. 1 seed among your Final Four picks. Only two tournaments since 1985 have featured a Final Four without a top seed — 2006 and 2011.
Don't go overboard advancing underdogs in your bracket
Everyone loves a good underdog story. Smaller schools claim a spot on the basketball map and win legions of new fans after emerging from nowhere to make deep tournament runs as double-digit seeds.
March Madness produced multiple underdog runs in 2021. UCLA went from First Four to Final Four as a No. 11 seed. The Bruins were the fifth 11-seed to reach the Final Four, joining LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011, and Loyola Chicago in 2018. Oral Roberts became the second No. 15 team to obliterate brackets and reach the Sweet 16, following Florida Gulf Coast in 2013. Oregon State was just the second 12-seed to advance to the Elite Eight, following Missouri in 2002.
One factor that makes these runs so memorable is their rarity. Exercise caution in trying to identify a new bracket-busting plucky underdog. Only five 11-seeds have reached the Final Four since 1985. Four others tapped out at the Elite Eight. Eight No. 10 seeds survived to the Elite Eight. Only one, Syracuse in 2016, reached the Final Four. And only two No. 12s have lasted until the Elite Eight.]
Advance at least one First Four team past the Round of 64
First Four teams have a knack for winning after their opening-round game. Since 2011, the First Four has matched the last four at-large teams in the field and four automatic qualifiers in four games over two days. It has injected additional drama and excitement into March Madness.