How To Win Your March Madness Pool

Crunching the numbers on past March Madness tournaments reveals your best bets

We have the keys to supreme victory — (Getty Images)
Mar 14, 2016 at 1:31 PM ET

When filling out an NCAA March Madness bracket, there are a few tried-and-true tips:

  • Don’t bet against a No. 1 seed in the first round. They are 124-0. A No. 16 seed may eventually beat a No. 1, but it’s not worth trying to predict when that blind pig will find its acorn.
  • A No. 5 seed will upset a 12—that’s happened in 13 of the last 15 years, failing only in 2007 and 2015.
  • The Final Four won’t be all No. 1 seeds—that’s happened only once in tournament history, back in 2008.
  • Uniform colors matter—OK, not really, but everyone has a story of the sports-averse co-worker winning a pool by choosing based on hue. And, as it happens, more than half of all Final Four teams since 1985 (69 of 120) have worn blue.
  • While there will no leaked bracket or Grays Sports Almanac to help you, turn to history. The 5/12 upset may be more popular, but the rate of an 11-seed beating a 6 is actually 1 percent better. The average 6/11 game ends with the 6-seed winning by an average of 3.6 points, so it’s likely to be close.

Another trend to remember: through 2010, No. 9 seeds actually had a better record against 8 seeds, but in the last five years, that’s changed. No. 8 seeds are 15-5 since 2011. Still, the average final margin is just 0.5 points, so keep that in mind if betting against the spread.

Similarly, No. 7 seeds historically have won roughly three of every five games, which means there’s usually one such upset every year, and the average margin is a tiny 3.1 points.

With 4 seeds and better all winning at least 80 percent of the time, don’t spend too much time trying to forecast that upset. All told, 1 through 4 seeds win 89.5 percent of their first-round games, so with 16 such games each year, there ought to be only one or two such upsets annually.

Alternatively, you could ignore our very important data and be that person who wins the pool by picking based on mascots. In that case, we will find you.