Expert Tips for Filling Out an NCAA Bracket

Step-by-step instructions on filling out a March Madness bracket as well as tips and strategies from the professional bettors at Covers Experts!

Posted: Mar 9, 2021 5:56 PM ET Updated: Mar 9, 2021 5:56 PM ET
A giant NCAA tournament bracket adorns the J.W. Marriott on Monday, March 1, 2021, in downtown Indianapolis. The city is hosting the upcoming tournament.
Photo By - - VIA USA Today

If you're at all interested in sports, chances are you'll be invited to take part in a pool where you need to fill out a March Madness bracket. And with 68 teams set to take part in the NCAA Tournament, we understand that filling out a bracket can be a bit daunting. But we're here to help.

Whether you're new to filling out a March Madness bracket or you're simply looking for some tips to help your submission win your pool, we've got you covered.

How to fill out a March Madness bracket

Follow these simple steps to fill out your March Madness bracket:

1

Download a fillable or printable March Madness bracket (our version is both).

2

Start filling out which teams you think will advance. Start with the no-brainers (the No. 1 and 2 seeds almost always win in the first round) and come back to the difficult decisions later.

3

Now onto those difficult decisions. How do you decide if an 8 or a 9 seed advance out of the first round? It all comes down to how much research you're willing to put in! Check out our bracket resources and get tips from professional bettors below. 

4

Go through each round, picking a winner in every matchup until you've chosen the national champion. Don't forget to enter the tiebreaker (if your pool asks for it), which is usually the total combined score of the national championship game. 

5

Submit your bracket (and the stated entry fee) to the organizer of your pool! And while you're at it, take advantage of the best free bracket contests for more chances at big prizes. The deadline to enter bracket pools is the tip-off of the first game of Round 1. 

Bracket resources

Here are a few things you'll want to consider when filling out your bracket:

Trends

There are hundreds of trends that get surfaced as March Madness brackets are being built. The truth is, some of these trends matter, and some simply don't. Jason Logan takes a look at some of these March Madness trends and gives you three you can trust and three to avoid.

Upsets

You definitely need to include a few upsets in your bracket. We've taken a look back at some of the biggest March Madness upsets this century in an effort to help us identify which higher-seeded teams could be looking at an early exit this year. 

Bracket prediction

Another way to help you fill out your bracket is by looking at what the experts are doing. Covers' official bracket prediction will be posted on March 15, 2021.

Expert tips for filling out your bracket

Let's face it: there are a lot of tips and strategies out there on how to fill in a March Madness bracket. That's why we took a unique approach by sourcing professional bettors from Covers Experts to give their advice. 

Top seeds go far Top seeds go far

"Many office pool players work too much on picking the early round upsets and not enough on their Final Four teams. The vast majority of Final Four teams are top-seeded teams; No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 seeds. I generally pick at least two No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. They earned those top seeds because they've been the best teams in college basketball all season, which is why I rarely call for a No. 1 seed to get upset before the Sweet 16 round at the earliest in my own brackets.
 
"Additionally, remember the bigger pool that you are in, the more chances you’ll need to take and the more upsets you should pick, particularly upsets that build big points on the second weekend of the tournament, as we go from the Sweet 16 to the Elite Eight, then the Final Four. For smaller pools, a more conservative strategy is the superior choice.  You don’t have as much competition to worry about, and there’s much less of a need to pick a bunch of upsets to surpass your opposition." - Teddy Covers

"My one tip would be to remember this before filling out your bracket: Beyond the top three seeds, teams, for the most part, do not have a shot at the National Title. Whatsoever. In fact, only one title has been won by a No. 4, 6, and 8 respectively. No other seed in the history of the event has won the tournament." - AAA Sports

Tournament Bracket Mind the early upsets

"Avoid picking a ton of upsets in the First Round. It's tempting, but there simply have been fewer and fewer in the last few years because the mid-majors have gotten progressively weaker. When going for an upset, try and focus on teams from better conferences." - Power Sports

"My advice would be to focus on upsets in the 2nd Round or Sweet 16 as opposed to the 1st Round. I find that is often the difference between a winning and losing bracket!" - Will Rogers

"I believe the secret to filling out a bracket (or even handicapping games during the tournament), is to be realistic about upsets. We all know that there will be some big surprises, but you don't want to overdo it. When a smaller school upsets one of the top-ranked teams, everyone talks about it. That tends to overshadow the fact that for every big favorite that loses, several others go on to win. I think you need to be careful not to fall in love with the dogs. " - Jesse Schule

Whiteboard Experience matters

"One of the things I look to do is seek out deeply experienced teams with five returning starters back from last year’s squad. These teams play with the calmness of a ‘been there, don’t that’ mentality." - Marc Lawrence

"Look for experienced teams to advance. Teams heavy with senior leadership flourish in these types of tournaments. That is also true of experienced coaches." - Larry Ness

Matchups Focus on the matchups

"Ignore the seeding. I believe a lot of bettors get hung up about what seed a team is. For example, some start worrying about how No. 4 teams have done against No. 13 seeds historically. Every matchup is unique though, so the fact that some No. 13 seed upset a No. 4 seed previously has no relevance to me. If you like the favorite, lay the points. If you like the underdog, take them. Likewise, when filling out your bracket. If you feel that underdog is going to win, don't let its seeding prevent you from taking it to advance." - Ben Burns

Avoid Contradictions Consider being contrarian

"For pools that are local, rather than national, my No. 1 Bracket Tip is to consider the team or teams that other entrants might pick for their Final Four (and eventual champion), and then avoid picking such teams. That is because it's difficult to win a Tournament pool if your entry is vastly similar to other entries. You have to separate yourself from the herd. So, if you live in ACC Country, avoid picking teams like North Carolina and Louisville. If you're in the heartland, steer clear of Kansas and if you're on the West Coast, select teams other than Gonzaga and UCLA." - Al McMordie

How to fill out a March Madness bracket FAQs

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