It’s the best time of the year for college basketball fans. Conference tournaments start this week and the NCAA tournament starts March 14.
But then there’s the annual source of stress involved with the NCAA tournament: filling out your bracket.
There are 9.2 quintillion ways to fill out a bracket. Just to put some perspective in there, that’s a nine with with 18 zeros after it: 9,200,000,000,000,000,000.
You are more likely to hit four holes-in-one in one round of golf than fill out a perfect bracket, according to USA Today.
With so many possibilities for your bracket, there are a lot of methods to creating the perfect one. And when there are 9.2 quintillion ways, there’s hardly one right answer.
The first method is putting in the work. You could pay attention to the entire college basketball season, diligently check the AP and coaches’ poll every Monday, read article after article of analysis and news, and even after all that research, your bracket can get busted by some Cinderella team.
But, if you do enough research and understand every matchup for every game in every round, you’re probably more likely to pick the correct team. But basketball can be a random game and even if you think you know every matchup, something crazy could happen and your bracket will be busted.
The next two methods completely take choice out of creating the bracket.
You could pick the higher seed in every game. These teams are higher seeded for a reason; they are supposed to be better. Picking the higher seed in every game will give you a start but it forgets about one of the most important parts of March Madness: the actual madness.
At some point there will be a major upset. It’s not an if, but a when. So picking every higher seed is ignoring that. It also isn’t as guaranteed when you’re picking the games between the eight and nine seeds or seven and 10 seeds.
The flip side of picking the higher seeded team in every game is picking the lower seeded team in every game, or embracing the madness. Even though 16 seeds are 0-128 all time against one seeds since the field expanded to 64 in 1985, this might be the year they finally break through and all four 16 seeds move on to the second round.
The final method is one of my personal favorites. It’s entirely subjective and requires no real basketball knowledge, so anyone can do it. Pick whichever team’s mascot is cooler. I break the coolness into two categories: originality and which mascot would win in a fight.
I consider a few things when determining originality. Does this name mean anything to the area this school is from, and how common is this team name? This means teams with boring names like Tigers, Eagles and Bears aren’t going to make it out of the first round. But teams like the Wichita State Shockers, North Carolina Tar Heels and Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are probably making it pretty far.
Once I get further into the tournament, and it becomes less clear which mascot is cooler on the surface, I have to consider what would happen if these two mascots fought. This is also entirely subjective, but sometimes you’ll get matchups like the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors against the Maryland Terrapins. Obviously a warrior is going to easily beat a turtle.
I’ll be filling out multiple brackets this spring, one serious bracket using the research method and one joke bracket using the mascot method.
Whichever method you pick to fill out your bracket, just remember it’s going to be wrong and you’re going to lose all that money you put on it.