Making sense of March Madness

It is that time of year again. March Madness is here.

The regular season and conference tournaments are over, the field of 68 teams has been selected, the bracket is set and now it is time for you to make your picks. Here are a few helpful hints to keep in mind while filling out your bracket.

Pick the Final Four first

Correctly predicting late-round games is worth more points in most bracket pools than early games, so pick the best team in each region first and set your Final Four. Next, make your national championship game prediction to get all of your high-value games out of the way early. From there, you can build the rest of your bracket around your Final Four teams however you like.

Do your research

It sounds simple, but just a little extra work goes a long way. Even if you only check a team’s BPI and RPI for a computational analysis, you will still improve your bracket.

It’s also a good idea to pay more attention to how a team fared later in the season, rather than at the beginning of the year. Arizona (a No. 6 seed), for example, earned victories over two ranked opponents in December but finished the year losing five of its final 10 games. The Wildcats’ recent slip-ups are likely a clearer indicator of their ability than those early triumphs.

Another stat to keep an eye on is performance in away games. For instance, despite earning a No. 3 seed in the tournament, Marquette was a measly 5-6 while playing away from the Bradley Center this season. Since all NCAA Tournament games are played at a neutral site, a team’s performance away from home is often a good predictor of its postseason success, which brings me to my next tip.

Keep your fandom in check

It may be tempting to pick Marquette – or any other team you cheer for – to win it all, but you should be aware of your biases and judge your favorite team as objectively as possible.

If you really think the Golden Eagles can emerge from a region featuring Indiana, Syracuse, Miami and Butler (remember Rotnei Clarke and his miracle buzzer-beating heave at the Maui Invitational?), go ahead and lock them in for a Final Four appearance. Just make sure you come to that decision using your brain, not your heart.

Pick a few upsets

Simply picking the higher seed to win every game won’t translate to winning a bracket pool. Last year alone, two No. 2 seeds went down in the first round.

If you are not feeling quite so ambitious, pick a No. 12 upset over a No. 5 seed, like Mississippi over Wisconsin, or even a No. 13 over a No. 4, like South Dakota State over Michigan.

Don’t overdo it with the upsets, though. The NCAA Tournament has never seen a No. 16 team beat a No. 1 seed, so it is wise to pick Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas and Indiana to make it out of the first round.

Use your gut

When all else fails, trust your intuition. Research, logic and objectivity are valuable, but nothing should outweigh a strong instinct.

These tips don’t guarantee success, but they should help provide a little method to the Madness that is March.