By Joe Florance:
It was 2006, I was watching MARCH MADNESS and a 13–4 UPSET was in the making.
BRADLEY had the lead against Kansas, and it looked like they were going to win. I didn't pick Bradley to win, and I prayed no one else in my POOL had them either. Flipping through BRACKETS, there was one person who picked Bradley: my mother.
I called my folks, and my mom answered with her usual sing-songy "hello" and I said, "Why on Earth did you pick Bradley to beat Kansas in the FIRST ROUND?"
"I'm sorry, honey, what?"
"Your brackets! You chose Bradley to win and, uh, yep, they just beat Kansas."
"Oh, is that good?"
"Mom! No one else has Bradley! You are waaaay in the lead!"
"Oh, then that is good."
"Yes, yes, it's good. Why Bradley?" "Oh, our gardener is named Bradley." My mom died in 2016. For 10 years, she was the one who picked Bradley. Since she passed, she is still the one who picked Bradley. RESULT: Immortality. That is why you will participate in March Madness this SEASON. To live forever. Anytime I tell someone they could live forever, all kinds of excuses pop up:
“I don’t like sports.”
“I don’t have time.”
“This is complicated.”
“I don’t know anything.”
“I’m a woman, and this is a guy thing.”
Stopping you there! Excuse me?!? "A guy thing?!?"
My mother is not a guy, and not only did she participate, she picked Bradley!
This is for EVERYONE, and ALL can participate! You are precisely the type of person who needs to be a part of this! People like you are the ones who make an impact! The experts who watch everything, know all the players, pay attention on numerous websites, eat, drink, and breathe sports, they are the ones at a distinct disadvantage! My mom knew nothing about COLLEGE BASKETBALL, yet she picked this upset for a completely non-basketball reason, and it worked. She won, and it is still talked about. The best part is, she didn't win the pool. I don't remember who won the pool in 2006, and I ran the pool!!!! But I remember that she picked Bradley!
POINT: You don't have to win the whole thing to make and have a forever impact. TRUTH: The less you know about March Madness, the better! No one in their right mind would make that Bradley over Kansas pick unless they knew what my mom knew, which was bupkis. None of the ballwashers on ESPN made that pick. The experts are always wrong because . . .
FACT: As such, the number of possible outcomes for a bracket is 2^63, or 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. That's 9.2 quintillion. In case you were wondering, one quintillion is one billion billion. If we treated the odds for each game as a coin flip, that makes the odds of picking all 63 games correctly 1 in 9.2 quintillion. The playing field is level. It is anyone's game. Now that you know all of this, I am here to get you there and will teach you only the basics, which will put you in a position for success.
LISTEN to the one who can gain nothing from you. That is I. So when someone in one of the many circles of your life hands you a bracket next month and invites you into the pool, accept the invitation. Accept all the invitations. Mentally, you already know it is possible. Now I'm going to walk you through the practical.
Here are some basic definitions and info that you should know—it's like understanding the rules to any board game.
MARCH MADNESS is the most well-known nickname of the college basketball tournament that takes place in March every year. TOURNAMENT: This tournament is a single-elimination format, where 68 Division-1 college teams from all over the country are selected to participate. SEASON: The college basketball season starts around November and ends in early April with the final game of the tournament. BRACKETS: The teams are chosen based on a number of factors and placed in position on a bracket. Many times you will hear something about your "Brackets." This is what people are talking about. You are invited by someone to join a POOL—this is a grouping of people who fill out their brackets based on a scoring system created by the pool leader. The bracket that has the most points at the end of the tournament wins the pool. You can get your bracket online after SELECTION SUNDAY—this is the day the teams are put into the bracket. You can easily Google Selection Sunday and get the date and time, but this time I'll give it to you: It is on March 13th around 3:30-ish on ESPN or CBS. You can also go to espn.com or cbs.com. 13–4 The Bracket is split into 4 REGIONS of 16 teams. In each region, the teams are numbered the same; best team is number 1, and the worst team is number 16. Number 1 faces 16, 2 faces 15, 3 faces 14, etc.
FIRST ROUND*: This is when the actual tournament begins: again, 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15, etc., in each of the 4 regions. UPSET: This is when a team with a lower SEED (the numbers are called seeds) beats a higher seed. When 13-seeded Bradley beat 4-seeded Kansas, that was a big upset (13–4). The farther apart the seeds, the bigger the upset. The 16-seeded UMBC beat 1-seeded Virginia a few years ago—the only time that has happened.
(*There is one area that is confusing here, and it is the fault of the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association]. A few years ago, the NCAA added 4 other games called PLAY-IN GAMES that happened before the tournament officially starts. The 4 winning teams take up the last 4 remaining spots on the bracket. The confusion comes from the NCAA calling these play-in games the "first round" and then calling the actual first round the "second round"—they did not need to do that, but they did. The first round is when the actual tournament starts—that is now officially called the second round. It's lame and confusing, but now you know about it.)
FILLING OUT YOUR BRACKET
WARNING: I am about to give you advice. Take it or leave it, but in everything that is said here, remember: I can gain nothing from you. My advice is purely to aid and guide, not steer. My advice is also based on observing what has happened in this tournament for years and years. My advice can be wrong, because anything is possible but not everything is likely. You do what you want with it. If you've never filled out a bracket before then I encourage you to NOT watch any games for research purposes—it will only make you start thinking. Thinking is the enemy here. That phrase "Knowledge is power" seems to fit a lot of scenarios, but Francis Bacon never experienced the Madness. It does not apply here! Before reading this you should have:
One printed bracket in front of you.
A few different colored pens to fill out your bracket and decorate your bracket with pictures, colors, phrases, etc.
JAZZ your sheet up!
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
EMPTY your mind. CLOSE your eyes. BREATHE in deep. OPEN your closed eyes and continue breathing. KEEP breathing throughout the process. BLINK if you feel like it. TAKE one of your pens in your hand. PREPARE to write with the pen. LOOK at your bracket.
BEGIN. READ the scoring system of the pool you are in. Every scoring system is different, and you need to understand how everything is scored first. For traditional pools, picking teams that are considered to be the winners at the end of the tournament is usually rewarded.
That said . . .
PICK every 1 seed and every 2 seed to beat every 16 and 15. 16 seeds are 1–143 against 1 seeds all time. 15 seeds are 9–135 against 2 seeds all time. UNLESS you have something in you that tells you different.
LEAN IN to any hunch, feeling, and thought but hold these thoughts in reality—
this is THE RUB—can you hold both thoughts at the same time? If you pick every single upset, then a valid argument will surface that you are insane and have no clue what is going on. There will be truth to that. There has to be a method to your individual madness; you need to work within the system in order to topple the system. After the 1s and 2s are picked, follow your heart and enjoy.
You went to one of these colleges? Choose it.
I went to UCI—pick 'em every time they are in. They beat Kansas St in a 13 vs 4 upset in 2019.
You like the mascot? Choose it.
The Demon Deacons of Wake Forest
The Governors of Austin Peay
The Ragin Cajuns of Louisiana Lafayette
You like the name of the college? Choose it.
Last year my line was, "Do you like oral? Because you are going to love Oral Roberts." They went on to upset 2-seed Ohio St and 7-seed Florida.
In 2011, Morehead St was in the tournament; have to pick Morehead St. They also won a huge upset against Louisville.
You hate a college because that dick at work always talks about it? Choose against it.
Like Duke. Everyone hates Duke. It's fun to hate Duke and pick against them just because.
I'm feeling THE FUN. Are you feeling the fun? PAY ATTENTION to the following seeds: 12s, 11s, 10s: There will be at least one (and most likely more than one) upset from these seeds in this and every tournament. 14s, 13s: These upsets are more rare, but they can and have happened. 8s and 9s: They play each other in the first round. The winner has upset a 1 seed in the second round.
CONTINUE until you are down to the end of the tournament; you are choosing the entire bracket, including the winner of each region. The 4 teams that end up being the REGIONAL CHAMPIONS are known as THE FINAL FOUR.
They are going to play in the NATIONAL SEMIFINALS and then the NATIONAL FINAL.
[NOTE: These teams in the final three games are normally the higher seeds: 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s (sometimes a Final Four will have an outlier, like last year—UCLA was an 11 seed, but that is rare—the other seeds were two 1 seeds and a 2 seed). If your Final Four looks similar (two 1s a 2 and an 11 or an 8 or a 5) then that is great, you are ending with favorites, but you do have a bracket-busting pick in there as well.]