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Some tips to keep in mind when filling out your NCAA tournament bracket

There's no one way to fill out a tournament bracket, but if you prefer to have a rooting interest in all of the games, here are some things to keep in mind.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's that time of year when everyone loves to complain about how their bracket is busted.

Yep, the NCAA tournament bracket has been released, and it's time to start filling out your picks with your friends, your family, people at work, and with complete strangers you'll never meet.

Filling out brackets for fun never gets old. But if you're entering a contest with the chance to win prize money, there are some things you'll want to keep in mind to build a better bracket. You'll have to take some chances, but that's necessary when wanting to reap the rewards.

Here are some teams to avoid and to consider.

Avoid national champions trying to repeat.

This Jayhawk picked Kansas to win it all last year, not because I'm a homer, but because that's what the trends and data showed a year ago.

This year, avoid picking Kansas to win it all, or even past the Sweet 16. Why? Since 2007, teams that won the national championship have failed to reach the Elite Eight the next year. The last team to make it that far was Florida, when it repeated with essentially the same team.

In fact, none of the previous five champions survived the first weekend: 1 seed Baylor last year in the second round, 4 seed Virginia in 2021 in the first round, plus second-round exits by 6 seed Villanova in 2019, 2 seed North Carolina in 2018, and 1 seed Villanova in 2017.

Avoid 1 and 2 seeds not ranked in the preseason top 25.

These teams continually failed to make the Final Four. Miami and Georgetown in 2013. Villanova in 2014. And I'm sure you remember Virginia, the top overall seed in 2018, losing to 16 seed UMBC. Last year, Arizona continued that trend with a Sweet 16 exit.

This year, avoid Purdue and Marquette, the top two seeds in the East.

Keep in mind conference tournaments.

No national champion since 1993 has failed to reach the semifinals in its own conference tournament, excluding UCLA in 1995 and Arizona in 1997, when the Pac-10 didn't have its own tournament.

Last year, we told you to avoid Baylor, Auburn, Wisconsin, Texas, and Illinois, and sure enough, none of them made it so far as the Sweet 16.

This year, avoid Baylor, Kansas State, and Tennessee. The latter two are the 3 and 4 seeds in the East Region, where we're already avoiding Purdue and Marquette, so yeah, consider this region wide open. 

Pay attention to conferences.

Teams from the Mountain West tend to underachieve on an annual basis. The opposite can be said of ACC underdogs; since 1985, 10 of 14 ACC teams seeded 10 or worse have pulled off upsets.

Last year, we told you to consider 10 seed Miami, which advanced to the Elite Eight, and 11 seed Notre Dame, which won a game. Meanwhile, Mountain West teams went 0-4 and dropped to 0-8 in their past three tournaments.

This year, avoid San Diego State, Utah State, Boise State, and Nevada from the Mountain West. Consider picking Pittsburgh and North Carolina State as ACC teams who might be overlooked as 11 seeds.

Avoid top-4 seeds with low scoring margins.

Winning close games in the regular season is one thing, but trying to string together six games in March is tough. That's why you want to avoid top-4 seeds who win games by an average of less than double digits.

Last year, we told you to avoid five teams, and two of them — Villanova (Final Four) and Arkansas (Elite Eight) — bucked the tend and found success.

This year, avoid Kansas, Marquette, Kansas State, Baylor, Xavier, Virginia, and Indiana.

Pick 1 dark horse to the Elite Eight.

A couple teams seeded 6 or worse usually reach the Elite Eight. Last year, 5 seed Houston, 8 seed North Carolina, 10 seed Miami, and 15 seed Saint Peter's (seriously, who saw that coming?) created some incredible moments during Elite Eight runs; the Tar Heels lost to Kansas in the championship game. It's safe to say that one dark horse makes an unexpected run, but the last two years, we've seen seven such teams.

This year, I'm considering 8 seed Memphis in a wide-open East Region.

Pick 4 double-digit seeds to the Sweet 16.

Last year, four double-digit seeds made the second weekend: 10 seed Miami, 11 seed Iowa State, 11 seed Michigan, and 15 seed Saint Peter's. That matched the number of double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16 back in 2021. Yeah, four seems to be a good number to keep in mind.

This year, I'm considering 11 seeds Pittsburgh, N.C. State, and Providence, plus 12 seeds Charleston, Oral Roberts, and Drake.

Don't go overboard on first-round upsets.

The last thing you want is for your bracket to be toast before you get to the first weekend. We all love Cinderella stories. Sometimes the best ones are the ones we never saw coming, or dared to pick.

Pick 1 First Four team to the second round.

Since the First Four was introduced in 2011, in all but one year, there's been a First Four team that's won a couple games. When you look at Pittsburgh, Mississippi State, Arizona State, and Nevada in Dayton, plan on one of them actually winning two games. It obviously won't be a 16 seed.

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