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Your Guide to a Winning College Basketball Bracket

March is the best month of the year for college basketball fans. The teams have been selected for the most anticipated tournament of the year, and fans have a chance to fill out their own bracket and try to predict who is going to win it all. What should you know to increase your odds of cashing in on your bracket?

College Basketball Bracket Terminology

Filling out your bracket is going to be difficult if you don't understand the tournament lingo. Let's take a minute to go over some of the more common terms that you are going to see come tournament time.

Automatic Qualifier

Each team that wins their conference automatically qualifies for the tournament. While teams from higher-tier conferences tend to get in without having to win their conference tournament, the vast majority of schools are invited because they won their conference tournament. Many schools that are seeded lower than 13 in their region are schools that have qualified by winning their conference tournament. 

Play-In Game

A total of 68 teams are invited to the tournament. The top 60 teams make it to tournament without having to play any additional games to qualify. However, teams seeded 65-68 have to play an additional game to advance to the main field as a 16th seed. Another set of play-in games are scheduled between upper-tier schools to determine who will be the 11th or 12th seed in a particular region. The games to determine the 11th or 12th seed are usually between teams that may have been on the bubble before the tournament field was selected.


Each team receives a seed from 1 to 16 in each of the four regions. The top seed is the best team in the region while the 16th seed is typically an automatic qualifier from a lower conference. In the first round, the top seed plays the 16th seed, the 2nd seed plays the 15th seed all the way down until the 8th and 9th seeded teams play each other.


Analysts may refer to a certain team or teams as sleeper picks. A sleeper team is a team that may have received a favorable seed, plays a style that matches up well against their first couple of opponents or may have been a team from a mid-major conference that played well during the season and has a chance to make some noise. 


A Cinderella team is a team that comes from nowhere to make a run during the tournament. For example, a 15th seed may win its first two games of the tournament when it has never happened before. Another example would be a school from a lower conference going deep into the tournament or upsetting a higher seed when it wasn't expected. If you happen to pick one of these teams, you could be the Cinderella of your own pool. 

General Tips For Filling Out Your Bracket

While the tournament is generally difficult to predict in the first couple of weeks, there are some trends that you can capitalize on to help you fill in your bracket. Let's look at some ways that can help you get more of your picks correct and help you win more money come tournament time. 

The Top Seed Has Never Lost in the First Round

The top seed in a region has never lost to a 16th seed. Although some teams have been pushed to the brink, the top seeds are undefeated since the tournament started seeding teams. This means that you are doing yourself a huge favor by putting the top seed into the second round regardless of how appealing it may be to pick an upset here. 

The 5-12 or 4-13 Matchup Does Yield Many Upsets

These are the games where you want to pick the upset for a variety of reasons. First, there isn't as much disparity between the teams as you would think by looking at the seeds that the two teams have received. In many cases, a team that has been given the 4th or 5th seed is either a team that is struggling or is given that rank based on reputation as opposed to ability.

Another reason why a 12th or 13th seed is ripe to pull the upset is because they may be overlooked by their opponents. If the higher seed is looking ahead to a matchup against a top team in the next couple of rounds, that team may not keep their focus.

The last reason why the lower seed can win these games is because the crowd is going to get behind them quickly. It doesn't matter what school the team is representing, the people watching the game want an upset. If the lower seed can feed off of the crowd support, it could give them the momentum needed to win the game.

Look at Where the Game Is Being Played

No team is allowed to play a game on their home floor. However, this doesn't mean that teams don't play close to home or gain a home-court advantage based on where they are playing. For example an east coast team that plays a west coast team in a western venue could be playing in front of a hostile crowd that could level the playing field a bit even if the east coast team is the higher seed. 

Teams that are forced to travel could be put at a disadvantage as well. It isn't uncommon to see a team play their first two games in Buffalo and then have to fly to Spokane to play their next game. Having to fly 3,000 miles and adjust to the time change within a matter of days can be difficult for a team and give the underdog a chance to win if they start strong.

In addition to thinking about the location, think about which arena the game is being played at. If the game is being played in an arena that doesn't usually host basketball games, the lighting or the fact that the sidelines may be below the rest of the court can throw a player off his game.

Different Types of Bets

The best part of the tournament is the variety of bets you can make. While the most common type is based on how many games you can guess correctly, that is not your only option. Let's take a look at the variety of bets available to you whether you are betting with friends or trying to win big at the casino.

Earn Points for Each Game You Pick Correctly

The most common type of bracket bet sees the bettor get points for each game correctly picked. Correct picks in the first round typically earn 1 point, games in the second round are generally worth 2 points, and games in the third and fourth rounds are worth 5 or 10 points.

Games in the semifinal and final rounds are typically worth 25 and 50 points each. The tiebreaker is often given to the person who either predicts the number of points in the championship game or comes closest to predicting the score.

A variation of this concept is to give points based on the seed of the team that wins. For example, if the 13th seed wins, you get 13 points if you picked that team to win. It encourages more people to pick upsets and avoid going for cliché or safe picks.

Pick Winners Based on the Spread

Merely picking the winner of each game can be too easy for those who understand and follow college basketball. While you may know that the top seed is going to win their first game of the tournament, could you predict by how much? Instead of choosing who will win the game, you choose whether or not the team can win against the spread. Therefore, it may be more attractive to pick the lower seed if the higher seed is favored by 30 points or some other ridiculous number.

Bid for a Team

The concept involves each team being auctioned to the highest bidder. All of the money raised in the auction is thrown into a pot. The person who owns the team that wins the championship wins all of the money. If you don't want to do an auction for the right to choose a team, you could always opt to do a lottery system instead. The concept of the lottery is that each person draws a number. The person who draws the highest number gets to pick their team first. However, this is usually reserved for the second week of the tournament or as a second chance type bet. 

Although your boss may not appreciate your interest in college basketball during the month of March, you may be able to supplement your salary by picking the winning teams during the tournament. Whether you bid for a team, simply pick the winners of each game or use the spread to add some intrigue to your picks, doing your research before the tournament starts is imperative. When you know what to look for on a bracket, you give yourself a fighting chance when the brackets are released.

Place Your Bets In Las Vegas

Can't attend the actual games this March? Experience the excitement in Las Vegas at the annual Hoops On The Strip events when college basketball fans from around the nation come down to bet on and root for their team.

Learn more about special Hoops On The Strip packages and events.