The NCAA tournament is back as college basketball dominates the American cultural landscape for the next month.
Filling out a bracket has become one of the greatest traditions in sports as it unites offices, classrooms and groups of friends and family all over the country.
But before you fill out your 2019 NCAA tournament bracket, check out these 16 helpful tips to help you navigate the treacherous March waters.
The goal of every March should be to help newcomers get swept up in the madness so they see the light.
This basic guide should help both rookie and veteran NCAA tournament fans as they try to earn bragging rights for the next year.
1. Fill out one bracket and one bracket only. Multiple bracket people are cowards and should never be trusted. There’s only honor and glory in filling out one set of picks and riding and dying with those picks until the very end.
2. Avoid taking a No. 16 over a No. 1. Yes, No. 16 seed UMBC beat No. 1 seed Virginia last season. There’s a reason that’s only happened one. Every No. 1 seed is going to be on-guard after the Cavaliers became a national punchline.
3. Follow the news and be ready to make late changes to your bracket as needed. It’s a long time between Selection Sunday and the opening tips on Thursday. A lot of things can change before the tournament actually begins. Injuries and suspensions are something to monitor throughout the week.
4. Be sure to take a No. 12 seed over a No. 5 seed. It always happens at least once. If you’re a bracket newcomer, and need a talking point in Slack (do people even talk around water coolers anymore?), having a No. 12 seed to ride with is an easy way to stay in the casual tournament conversation.
5. Avoid No. 6 seeds going deep into the tournament at all costs. A No. 6 seed hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1992. Last season, two No. 6 seeds were upset in the first round. The other two were dispatched in the Round of 32.
6. Make sure your champion has a McDonald’s All-American on the roster. It’s really fun to pull for the underdog and root for another Loyola story. We’ve also only had two national champions since 1978 that didn’t feature a Burger Boy — UConn in 2014 and Maryland in 2002. Over 40 years of evidence tells us that elite talent is still a huge part of winning the whole thing.
7. Speaking of Loyola, I wouldn’t advise taking a double-digit seed all the way to the Final Four. Double-digit seeds have only made the Final Four five times in tournament history. None of them were a No. 12 seed or higher. And no team in the 2019 field has the direct backing of Sister Jean.
8. While we’re on the subject of double-digit seeds, find at least one to get behind early. Ride them until the Sweet 16. Maybe even the Elite Eight if you’re truly brave. This happens every year, and if you correctly the right pick, it makes for a memorable March experience.
9. It’s important to take upsets but don’t take too many upsets. Rooting for underdogs and small schools is a ton of fun in the Round of 64 until you realize that your upset-filled bracket has no chance of succeeding.
10. Try not to get hung up on No. 1 seeds. Definitely drop at least one of them before the Final Four. The only year all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four was 2008.
11. Offense wins championships. You’ll probably hear some old-school uncle or colleague decree that “defense wins championships.” Modern basketball data says otherwise. Tell those pro-defense people to go pop in a VHS of the four corners offense if they’re pining for the old days. Have they not seen Steph Curry and the sport’s three-point revolution? Modern basketball is all about high skill level.
12. Don’t trust the Pac-12 or the Big East. While the other four main college hoops conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC) all have enticing potential title teams, the Pac-12 and Big East spent the year beating up on each other. This includes defending champion Villanova — a completely different team from last season’s title run.
13. Check where all of the games are being played while deciding picks. The NCAA tournament is technically played on a neutral floor. But there will be significant homecourt advantages for certain teams — particularly top seeds with traveling fanbases who get to play closer to home.
14. Monitor how a team has been playing the past few weeks. The committee has skewed away from the whole “last 10 games” metric. But sometimes it’s easy to tell which teams are hot and which teams are in a freefall entering the Big Dance. Just be careful doing this with juggernaut mid-majors who feasted on easy competition during conference play.
15. Pick teams that you like and root against teams that you hate. It’s a terrible feeling if you picked against your beloved alma mater or favorite team just because you put 10 bucks on a bracket challenge. It’s even worse when you pick your hated rival to go deep for those same reasons.
16. Don’t take any of this too seriously.
March Madness is special because all you have to do is fill out a bracket and have some hot takes to be just like everyone else in America. People love to believe they have the whole bracket figured out. There’s also a reason Warren Buffett once offered $1 billion to anyone who picked a perfect bracket. Because perfection is just not possible in this scenario.
The chaos and the highs and the lows of every March bring us all together. Pick some upsets, talk some trash and get lost in the spirit of March — the most magical time of the year. Best of luck to everyone filling out a bracket. We’re all going to need it.