Filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket for your office pool can seem like a daunting task. Here are some tips to make it just a bit more enjoyable.

With everyone in offices across the country becoming huge college basketball fans during the months of March and April, it can be a struggle to put together that “winning” bracket. Tons of research and time can be poured into analyzing every game and making the best picks. Trash talk becomes the center of discussion at the water cooler, and the bragging rights may seem unattainable.

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So, how does one fill out the best bracket? Here are 10 things to keep in mind as you make your picks.

10) Lock Gonzaga into the Elite Eight

Gonzaga has the longest active Sweet 16 streak, has appeared in three of the last five Elite Eights, and has the best team in college basketball this year. The Bulldogs also have a favorable 8/9 matchup and two vulnerable teams at the 4- and 5-seeds in their region. While not many are calling Gonzaga a lock to make the Final Four, it has by far the best odds to at least make the West Regional final. If you are dead set on having the Zags get upset before the Final Four, that would be the only round that makes any sense to have it happen.

9) Bring at least one 1-seed to the Final Four

Some outlets will tell you to pick at least two 1-seeds in the Final Four, which makes sense from both a historical and 2021 perspective. Historically, there is about a 50/50 split between years with two or more 1-seeds and fewer than two in the Final Four. However, that number jumps to nearly 95 percent when discussing seasons in which at least one 1-seed has made it to the last weekend. If you don’t have at least one 1-seed in your Final Four, expect to lose all of your office pools.

8) Focus on matchups more than metrics

Metrics are a very good way of comparing 358 teams against each other, and a relatively complicated way of comparing two teams against each other. If you understand all the nuances that go into the much more general metrics, then go for it, but the general fan should be much more focused on the matchups. If two teams play similar styles, the better team is at a huge advantage. However, if one team plays a defense that dares the other team to shoot threes, and that team shoots them well, that advantage suddenly disappears. If the “better team” by the metrics has a small frontcourt and the underdog has a big who could potentially dominate, that should be a more appetizing upset pick. When in doubt, read up on those pesky mid-majors to get a better understanding of their style before putting all your eggs into a basket.

7) Take one of the 11-seed First Four teams to the second round

Since the First Four rounds started in 2011, at least one of the eight teams represented has made the second round by beating a 5- or 6-seed in eight of nine tournaments. The 2019 tournament was the first season to have all four winners lose in the first round, but that is likely an exception to the rule.

6) Stars win the close games

If you are stuck on a game, and truly think it will come down to the wire, go with the team that has the one or two players you trust more to make plays when needed. Teams win games, but stars are the ones who step up in the big moments. Don’t expect one player to carry his team to victory in an obvious mismatch, but they can definitely be the difference in tight contests.

5) Go with your gut

No amount of research is going to protect you from the madness. So, read up on the teams if you haven’t had a chance to watch them then stick with your pick. Even analysts can overthink their picks and end up convincing themselves that they should overlook certain mismatches. No bracket is going to be perfect, so just do the best you can with the information available to you.

4) Don’t shy away from upsets early

Everyone knows that one of the beauties of a single elimination tournament is that upsets can happen to just about any team in the first two rounds. While no team is safe, the 5-7 seeds are particularly popular in both theory and practice. With the teams outside the 1- and 2-seeds all showing signs of weakness at various points this season, going purely chalk is definitely not advisable if you want to win a bracket pool. Don’t go overboard and take seven double-digit seeds to the Sweet 16 or anything like that, but a healthy amount of upsets is a good way to go.

3) Don’t expect Cinderellas to last too long

Early upsets happen all the time. Late Cinderellas are very few and far between, though. In fact, since the NCAA began seeding the tournament, only three double-digit seeds outside the traditional high-major conferences have made the Final Four: George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011, and Loyola-Chicago in 2018. This doesn’t necessarily mean that going chalk to the Final Four is advisable either, but there is a reason that the vast majority of Final Four teams come from the top four seed lines.  

2) Don’t be a jerk

No, you do not have the “perfect bracket.” Nobody does. So just be nice about it. A little bit of trash talk or gloating at a correct upset pick is fine. But going after the guy in the next cubicle because he picked Vermont to beat Arkansas doesn’t make you smarter, it just makes you unlikeable. People love talking about brackets, but they all want to avoid the “know-it-alls” who push their picks as the only correct ones. At the end of the day, my mom — who only ever watches women’s basketball before March — has won a bracket pool. Anyone is capable of the glory.

1) Have fun!

This is March. We were robbed of an NCAA Tournament in 2020, had limited capacity in 2021, and have definitely earned the right to enjoy one this year. Once the first game tips later this week, forget all about your bracket and root for some great basketball because that is what the event is all about. The true winners are the ones who can look back at the next three weeks and realize just how lucky we are to have this beautiful sport.