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How to Win Your March Madness Pool

Louisville Cardinals players celebrate on the bench against the Syracuse Orange during the final of the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 16
Louisville Cardinals players celebrate on the bench against the Syracuse Orange during the final of the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 16Photograph by Elsa/Getty Images

About 50 million Americans every year fill out a bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, aka March Madness. A few of them have definite opinions about how the Pac-12 is overrated or how Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan’s boys are not afraid of anybody. Most don’t. For those who are just guessing, here are a few simple rules to maximize your chances of winning the office pool.

1. Remember the Final Four’s all about 1, 2, 3.
Most pools award the biggest points for the later rounds of the tournament. Picking early-round upsets is fun, but the key is having teams still alive come the Final Four. To do this, you want to choose teams seeded in the top four, but not all No. 1 seeds. (Teams are seeded 1 through 16 according to the selection committee’s estimation of their strength. A 1 seed is a favorite. A 16 seed is an underdog.) Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, studies the patterns in which seeds advance every year. He doesn’t care which teams are attached to those seeds. And neither should you. “Risky brackets have too many upsets or not enough upsets,” says Jacobson, “You want to have one or two No. 1 seeds in your Final Four.” At his BracketOdds site, you can see the chances for every possible set of seeds. If that’s too much bother, just pick two No. 1s, a 2, and a 3 in your Final Four. That’s the most likely combo.