Follow the rules in this article and you will become legen…wait for it…dary in your workplace every March.

 You know the type.  The person at your job who has little to no knowledge of college basketball other than occasionally keeping up with the Cats.  Let’s just call them Susie.  Then March rolls around, and you see Susie sign up for your office bracket pool, and you think to yourself, “why are they even bothering? They have no chance of winning!”  That’s because you know everything there is to know about college basketball.  You watch every game, scouting for strengths and weaknesses of Final Four contenders, yet year after year, Susie (or someone like her) kicks your tail in an NCAA Tournament pool, and you are just left to wonder how this happened. 

Whether you are like the college basketball know-it-all in this scenario, or maybe you find yourself to be more like Susie, we are here to provide you with some valuable insight that is guaranteed* to help you win your office NCAA Tournament Pool (*unless Susie is in your office too, then good luck).

There are certain mistakes that every contestant in a bracket pool makes. Casual players may make decisions based upon the school’s mascot, color uniform, or by name recognition.  “Experts” often make the mistake of outsmarting themselves and picking too many upsets.  The fact of the matter is, filling out a winning bracket is all about following certain “rules”.  Just as Jamie Kennedy explained the rules for surviving a scary movie in Scream, we will now go over the rules you need to follow to survive your March Madness pool.

Rule #1:  Never, ever, ever under any circumstances say “I’ll be right back”, because you won’t be back.  Know your league and competition

Just like John Calipari would never just roll out a ball in the practice before a big game, you should never enter a bracket pool without knowing: 1.) how the scoring system will work; 2.) roughly how many people will be expected to enter; 3.) How knowledgeable are the other contestants about college basketball?

The overwhelming majority of pools have a weighted scoring system where the point levels increase as you progress through each round.  This puts much more importance on getting the correct teams in the Final Four than being right on the games in the first round.  You’ll also want to make sure you know what the tiebreaker is – usually this is to predict the final score or total points in the championship game (EXPERT HINT:  Predict a low score since teams traditionally struggle with shooting in large stadiums in the Final Four).

How big is your office?  This will determine which type of strategy will be most successful to employ.  If the pool will be small, say 25 or less people, then it’s probably in your best interest to go chalk and pick most of the favorites.  If you’re in a very large pool, or in any of the online bracket contests sponsored by a company, you will have to shake it up a little bit and pick some upsets.  Since there could be hundreds of other people picking the same national champion as you, you will have to take some risks in order to set yourself apart from the pack.

And how about your competition?  Odds are you will have a pretty big mixture of casual fans, diehard fans, and those that only do a bracket for fun.  Think about who these people are likely to pick.  If you live in Kentucky, almost every person will pick them to go to at least the Elite 8 (if not the Final Four or national championship).  Therefore, if you’re in a small office, it might benefit you to also advance Kentucky a round farther than you think they will go, just to be safe.  I got burned by not doing this in 2014 when UK shocked the world by making the national championship game and I picked them to lose in the Sweet 16.  Our pool winner of course had the Cats winning it all.  If you’re in a larger pool, pick the Cats to lose a game earlier than you think.  If you have a big office and picked anyone but Kentucky to win in 2015, odds are you got a nice payout.

 Rule #2:  Pick the correct champion

When filling out a bracket you will predict a total of 63 games.  None of which are more important than the last one.  Because of the weighted scoring systems, it is virtually impossible to win your office pool without picking the correct champion.  Your only hope then is that NOBODY picks the team cutting down the nets.  So needless to say, this pick is important.  You are committing all of your hopes of office glory on this team, so do a little research here.  Don’t commit to a team you know nothing about, otherwise you might get burned like Sidney Prescott who committed to her boyfriend Billy Loomis, only to find he was a serial killer. 


So how do you pick 1 winner out of 68 teams?  There’s of course no guarantee, but there are only a handful of teams you should pick from.  17 of the last 19 NCAA Tournament champions have been in Ken Pomeroy’s top 20 in both offensive and defensive rankings (you can go to kenpom.com for the most up to date rankings).  As of now, those teams are: 

  • Gonzaga (3rd in offense, 7th in defense)
  • Arizona (5th in offense, 20th in defense)
  • Baylor (9th in offense, 14th in defense)
  • Houston (11th in offense, 12th in defense)
  • UCLA (14th in offense, 11th in defense)

History says that the champion will come from someone in this group.  But history doesn’t always repeat itself.

Last year was one of the exceptions when Baylor won it all with a defensive ranking just outside the top 20.  So here are a few more title contenders who are very close to meeting the 20/20 criteria: 

  • Kentucky (4th in offense, 27th in defense)
  • Auburn (24th in offense, 8th in defense)
  • Kansas (6th in offense, 29th in defense)
  • Villanova (8th in offense, 28th in defense)

Your championship pick should probably come from Gonzaga, Arizona, Baylor, Houston, or Arizona.  It’s not crazy to consider Kentucky, Auburn, Kansas, or Villanova.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try and outsmart the room by picking someone else outside these groups.  (EXPERT HINT:  Fill your bracket out backwards. Start with the champion and Final Four before going into each of the 4 regions.  These are the most important picks, and this may keep you from picking a contender from losing too early).

Rule #3:  For 1st round games, look at the betting lines

Just as 3 was the magic number in Schoolhouse Rock, there is a magic number that you can use that will help you get out to an early lead in your bracket pool.  That magic number is FIVE.  Five is the number of points that a team can be favored by, that makes it exponentially more likely they will win their first game in the tournament.  Since 1996, teams favored by 5 points or more won 85% of the opening round games.  Teams favored by less than 5 points won just 55% of games (basically a coin flip).  If you are going to pick upsets, look for teams that are underdogs, but only by 4.5 points or less.  If it’s over 5, go with the favorite.  You might miss a few games going this route, but the statistics say you’ll get 85% right, and that’s more than most people in your pool will get.

Rule #4:  Have fun!

Filling out a bracket and joining an office pool should be fun.  If you find it more fun to pick Duke to lose in the 1st round so you can cheer even harder for them to lose, then go for it!  If you are a diehard Big Blue fan who will pick Kentucky to win the championship every year no matter what, that’s OK too!  But if you’re looking for help and a competitive edge, following these 3 rules will help you do that.  There are also other tools out there you can use.  One of my personal favorites is the website https://fivethirtyeight.com which gives you the percentage chance that each team will win in all 6 rounds.  This is a great tool for picking winners starting in the 2nd round when you don’t yet have the odds from Vegas to see how much a team would be favored. 

If you follow all of these rules, you should survive much longer in your office pool than Drew Barrymore did in Scream.