When March rolls around, it might seem like everyone you know is filling out a March Madness bracket. Whether you’re competing in an office pool or aiming for big prizes in the ESPN Tournament Challenge contest, you’re probably contemplating how to go about choosing your teams if you’re reading this How To Fill Out A March Madness Bracket 2024 Guide.
March Madness (aka the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament) plays out as an event unlike any other in American sports. The tournament draws more betting interest than anything else on the U.S. sports calendar, even the Super Bowl.
Even if you don’t place a legal sports bet on this year’s tournament, you can still compete against friends, co-workers and perhaps millions of others in the quest to fill out the perfect bracket.
Let’s discuss what you need to know about NCAA Tournament bracketology in this How to Fill Out a March Madness Bracket guide from Props.com.
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The NCAA Tournament Bracket
The challenge of completing a March Madness bracket starts with looking at something like this:
2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Bracket
The NCAA Division I Men’s College Basketball Tournament begins with 68 participating teams. Those 68 teams are slotted into a single-elimination bracket on a day that’s aptly termed Selection Sunday at the conclusion of conference play in the college basketball regular season.
Most March Madness brackets contests will task you with picking all of the winners from the stage in which there are 64 teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament field, however. Eight teams are selected to face off in the play-in games (or first four game round), which trims the field down from 68 to 64 teams.
The 64 teams on the NCAA bracket are divided into four regionals, with 16 teams in each quadrant. The first round sees those 64 teams play down to 32 teams, the second round sees those remaining 32 teams play down to 16, and so on.
The first game of the opening round tips off on the Thursday after Selection Sunday. The round of 64 plays out on Thursday and Friday, while the round of 32 plays out Saturday and Sunday. After that, the tournament pauses for a few days, with the second weekend of March Madness resuming the following Thursday.
NCAA Tournament Seeding
Each of the 16 teams in each regional is assigned a seed, numbered 1 through 16. The NCAA selection committee determines how teams are seeded and in which regional they end up playing.
The top seed in each bracket is theoretically one of the top four teams in the tournament. The No. 16 seeds, on the other hand, are theoretically the worst four teams in the tournament.
The No. 1 seed in each regional plays the No. 16 seed, the No. 2 seed plays the No. 15 seed, No. 3 plays No. 14, and so on. Each team plays each round of the tournament as a single-elimination round, with the winning team from each game moving on to play the winner of the game next to it in the bracket.
The second round pits the remaining 32 teams against each other, and that round plays down to 16 teams. That round is aptly known as the “Sweet 16,” and making it to that round alone marks a major accomplishment for most college basketball programs.
The Sweet 16 plays down to the “Elite 8,” which plays down to the “Final Four.” The final four teams then face off for the right to go to the National championship Game.
The winner of that game is crowned the National Champion, and March Madness comes to an end.
Second Chance Bracket Contests
If your March Madness bracket gets busted in the early rounds, you can look for various Second Chance bracket contests that offer the opportunity to pick the winners from the Sweet 16 and on.
ESPN, CBS, and Yahoo could be good spots to find a Second Chance bracket pool.
Best Sportsbooks For College Basketball Betting
In addition to bracket contests, the NCAA Tournament is the most popular sports betting event on the U.S. calendar. You can place legal bets on March Madness at the following online sportsbooks:
Note – If online sports betting isn’t legal in your state, the best alternative sports gaming sites available will appear on the list below.
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Picking Your College Basketball Bracket
In a March Madness bracket pool, you try to correctly predict the winner of each game in the tournament. You start filling out your bracket by picking the teams you think will win each first round game.
From there, you then pick the winners from all the games in your theoretical second round lineup. You repeat this process all the way through the final game.
Once the tournament begins, you can’t change any of your picks. Most bracket pools and contests use a system of awarding points for each correct prediction (i.e. points for each team that you pick to advance to a certain round that actually makes it to that round).
The points increase with each round. Picking three of the Final Four teams, for example, yields more points than picking three of the Elite 8 teams.
The player with the most points at the end of the tournament wins the pool.
Seems simple right? Well there’s a reason the tournament is called March Madness, and you can count on more than a few upsets to happen along the way.
You could fill out your bracket picking mostly top seeds to advance in the first round, and have your bracket busted before the first weekend of the tournament is even over.
Even astute fans with high-level basketball knowledge can end up with a hopeless bracket when upset after upset unfolds in round one. Let’s take a look at some things to consider when completing your own brackets:
Avoid Too Much Chalk In The First Round
It can be tempting to just pick the high seeds to defeat the low seeds (aka the “chalk”) throughout the first round of bracket and call it a day. This strategy will likely leave your bracket busted for the second round and Sweet 16, however.
While the top seeds tend to dominate the bracket in later rounds (more on this below), the opening round is often rife with upsets. Here’s a look at some first round statistics from 1985 through 2021, courtesy of the NCAA website:
NCAA Tournament First Round Statistics
- The first round yields an average of 6.2 upsets per year (upset defined as a game in which the winning team is two or more seeds below the losing team)
- The lowest number of first-round upsets happened in 2007 (2), while the highest number of upsets happened in 2016 (10)
- The No. 10 seed beats the No. 7 seed 39.5% of the time
- The No. 11 seed beats the No. 6 seed 37.5% of the time
- The No. 12 seed beats the No. 5 seed 35.4% of the time
- The No. 13 seed beats the No. 4 seed 21.5% of the time
- The No. 14 seed beats the No. 3 seed 15.3% of the time
- The No. 15 seed beats the No. 2 seed 6.3% of the time
- The No. 16 seed beats the No. 1 seed 0.7% of the time
About that last statistic – only one team seeded No. 16 has ever won against the No. 1 seed in the first round. The No. 2 seed is also a near lock to advance, as few teams seeded No. 15 pull off the upset.
As we can see from the NCAA stats, however, upsets are common in the first round.
Curb The Upset Picks In The Second Round
The Cinderella stories from the first round often give way to more predictable results in the second round and beyond in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
When looking at the second round, you do want to throw at least one upset in your bracket, based on the following stats:
NCAA Tournament Second Round Statistics
- A No. 7 or No. 12 seed upsets the No. 2 seed in the second round roughly 1.2 times per year on average
- A No. 6 or No. 11 seed upsets the No. 3 seed in the second round roughly 1.3 times per year on average
- A No. 8 or No. 9 seed upsets the No. 1 seed in the second round roughly 0.5 times per year (or once every two years) on average
Stick With The Best Teams In The Sweet 16 And Beyond
As the tournament progresses, you really can’t go wrong with sticking to the high-seeded teams in your bracket. Whether they’re power conferences mainstays like Duke and North Carolina, or a dominant mid-majors program like Gonzaga, you can rest assured that a team has a real chance at winning it all if they’re seeded No. 1 or No. 2.
If you’re filling out multiple brackets for multiple pools, you can experiment more with going against the chalk in the later rounds. If you’re only filling out one bracket, and you’re in a small pool, you can gravitate more towards a straight-up strategy that mostly sticks with the high seeds.
Avoid picking all four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four, however. That has only occurred once, in 2008.
The Final Four virtually always includes at least one other seed. You do (probably) want to put a couple of No. 1 seeds into the Final Four.
Let’s take a look at more statistics from the NCAA website:
Final Four Facts
- All four No. 1 seeds make the Final Four about 3% of the time (has only happened once in tournament history)
- Exactly three No. 1 seeds make the Final Four about 11% of the time
- Exactly two No. 1 seeds make the Final Four about 39% of the time
- Exactly one No. 1 seed makes the Final Four about 43% of the time
- Zero No. 1 seeds make the Final Four about 5.5% of the time (has only happened twice in tournament history)
Remember, even if your bracket seems busted after the first round, you get more points for correctly picking teams that make it to the later rounds. If you pick a single team that makes it to the Final Four, you could win the pool if that team wins the National Championship.
Also keep in mind that filling out March Madness bracket sheets is a different activity than placing basketball bets at the sportsbooks. It doesn’t matter if the team you picked wins the game by one point or by 20, you get credit for the win if your team advances in the tournament.
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How To Score A March Madness Bracket
NCAA Tournament bracket contests can vary as far as scoring rules. Here’s a look at the rules used by the ESPN Men’s Tournament Challenge, which will likely be somewhat similar to an office pool or other bracket challenge you might encounter:
ESPN Men’s Tournament Challenge Scoring
- Round of 64: 10 points per correct pick
- Round of 32: 20 points per correct pick
- Round of 16: 40 points per correct pick
- Round of 8: 80 points per correct pick
- Round of 4: 160 points per correct pick
- Round of 2: 320 points per correct pick
The big takeaway here is that getting a few teams right in the late rounds is far more valuable than scoring a bunch of points in the early rounds. You don’t want to arrive at the Elite 8 with no teams left in the field.
Conversely, if the Final Four comes around and you still have two teams alive, you’re going to have a shot at winning the pool, no matter how your bracket looked after the first couple of rounds.
If the pool ends in a tie, the final score of the championship game is often used as the tiebreaker. You’ll be asked to guess the final score for the National Championship when you turn in your bracket.
How To Make A March Madness Pool
If you’re looking to create a bracket pool for 2024 March Madness season, you have a few ways to go about that task.
Make A Bracket
You can always print a blank bracket and fill in the seeds and teams yourself. Make enough copies of the sheet for everyone in your pool.
Be sure to collect all entries before the first game begins on March 16 (or March 14 if you’re counting the First Four games as part of your contest).
The downside to this method is having to score all of the entries yourself, and carefully check for accuracy.
You can find plenty of blank bracket templates online. Finding a bracket that already has the teams filled in is an even better option.
Create A Bracket Contest Online
If you want to skip the paper trail and manual scoring duties, you can turn to one of several different websites that allow you to create a bracket contest for free.
You can search for a term like “How To A March Madness Bracket” in Google and find several high-quality sites that will completely automate the bracket contest process.
CBS Sports, for example, offers a 2024 NCAA Men’s Bracket Games page that allows you to add as many players as you wish to your bracket pool. All players fill out the brackets online, and the site automatically scores each bracket.
There might not be a more convenient way to enjoy the basketball madness of March and early April.
NCAA March Madness 2024 Dates
|March 19-20||First Four||Dayton, OH||UD Arena|
|March 21 & 23||First/Second Rounds||Charlotte, NC||Spectrum Center|
|March 21 & 23||First/Second Rounds||Omaha, NE||CHI Health Center|
|March 21 & 23||First/Second Rounds||Pittsburgh, PA||PPG Paints Arena|
|March 21 & 23||First/Second Rounds||Salt Lake City, UT||Vivint Smart Home Arena|
|March 22 & 24||First/Second Rounds||Brooklyn, NY||Barclays Center|
|March 22 & 24||First/Second Rounds||Indianapolis, IN||Gainbridge Fieldhouse|
|March 22 & 24||First/Second Rounds||Spokane, WA||Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena|
|March 22 & 24||First/Second Rounds||Memphis, TN||FedEx Forum|
|March 28 & 30||West Regional||Los Angeles, CA||Crypto.com Arena|
|March 28 & 30||East Regional||Boston, MA||TD Garden|
|March 29 & 31||Midwest Regional||Detroit, MI||Little Caesars Arena|
|March 29 & 31||South Regional||Dallas, TX||American Airlines Center|
|April 6 & 8||Final Four||Phoenix, AZ||State Farm Stadium|
Leading Up To The 2024 NCAA Bracket
Let’s take a look at some of the major events from last season’s NCAA Tournament and this year’s men’s college basketball season:
March 21, 2023 – The round of 64 begins in the 2024 NCAA Championship. You’ll need to have your 2024 March Madness bracket filled out before the start of the first tournament game on this date.
November 6, 2023 – The 2023-24 NCAA Men’s Basketball Division I regular season begins.
August 11, 2023 – Legendary ESPN analyst Dick Vitale pegs Kansas, Dukem Purdue, Michigan State, and defending National Champion UCONN as his preseason top five.
April 3, 2023 – UConn defeats San Diego St. 76-59 in the NCAA Tournament Championship, clinching the 2022-23 championship.
March 12, 2023 – The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament 2023 Bracket is revealed. Alabama, Purdue, Houston, and Kansas take the four No. 1 seeds.
Basketball Madness – Final Thoughts
March Madness bracket contests are an American staple, and you might find yourself filling out a bracket this March no matter what your level of knowledge of college basketball.
Even if you haven’t watched a single game this season, you can still compete with the most knowledgeable of opponents if you use the right approach to your bracket pool.
While you want to avoid going chalk all the way through, you really can’t go wrong picking high seeds to make the Final Four. Consider the historical breakdown of what seed wins the National Championship:
- No. 1 seed – 24 National Championships
- No. 2 seed – 5 National Championships
- No. 3 seed – 4 National Championships
- No. 4 seed – 2 National Championships
- No. 6 seed – 1 National Championship
- No. 7 seed – 1 National Championship
- No. 8 seed – 1 National Championship
Picking at least a couple of No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four is an almost foolproof way to make your bracket a contender to win a contest. In a smaller bracket pool, picking the correct National Champion could be enough to take down the win.
In bigger pools, or massive contests like the ESPN Men’s Tournament Challenge, you’ll have to go further away from the chalk to have any chance of winning.
If you want to study up before you fill out your bracket, check out the following resources:
March Madness Winners By Year*
|2023||UConn||76-59||San Diego St.|
|2020||None (canceled due to COVID-19)||—||—|
|2019||Virginia||85-77 (OT)||Texas Tech|
|2009||North Carolina||89-72||Michigan State|
|1989||Michigan||80-79 (OT)||Seton Hall|
*Results since 1985, the year the NCAA Men’s bracket was expanded to 64 teams.
How To Bet On March Madness
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship is the most popular betting event on the U.S. sports calendar. You can sign up for the best legal online sportsbooks in the U.S. by clicking on the “CLAIM OFFER” or “BET NOW” links throughout this article.
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March Madness Bracket FAQ
When are March Madness brackets due?
When do brackets lock?
How does March Madness work?
When does the March Madness bracket come out?
What time is Selection Sunday 2024?
How does March Madness scoring work for bracket contests?
For example, the ESPN Tournament Challenge awards 10 points for every team you correctly pick to win in the round of 64. The points go up to 20 per pick for the round of 32, 40 for the Sweet 16, 80 for the Elite 8, 160 for the Final Four, and 320 for the Championship Game.
Keep in mind that correctly picking the National Champion is your ticket to high scores in a bracket contest. By ESPN’s scoring system, you would get 630 points for just that team alone.