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NCAA Tournament Bracket Predictions: Learning How to Pick Regional Winners in March Madness

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As most FanDuel readers are aware, the 2020 NCAA tourney has been cancelled due to fears of the spreading Coronavirus. But if the sadly-shortened college hoops season has you pining for the hardwood, it’s not too early to get a jump on 2021.

Scroll ahead for a crash-course in making bracket predictions on America’s premier college basketball tournament.

There are 2 relics left over from the 20th century that are sure to get a group of American college kids excited – Led Zeppelin records and the NCAA Tournament bracket. 

At times, it can be weird seeing how joyous casual fans get for the big dance in March. After all, there isn’t a ton of worldwide interest in college basketball in the fall and early winter. Somehow the NCAA has been able to produce a titan of a sports TV event in a sports division ranked well in the pack. 

Maybe it’s because of how perfect the NCAA Tournament format really is. People can debate about who should have gotten a #12 seed instead of a #14 seed, or which schools should be included in the First Four, a play-in round prior to the Round of 64. But there’s no question that the very best Division 1 programs, the teams with the truly solid chances to win, all play in the tourney. Since there are 300+ teams hoping for a spot in the NCAA Tournament when the season begins, everyone who plays in late March is respected as a national contender. When a champion goes 6-0 and prevails in the NCAA title game, nobody can say they don’t deserve the accolades to come. 

The NCAA tournament is also predictably full of surprises. If the single-digits seeds of the tourney whipped double-digit seeds with any kind of consistency, then it might be easier for gamblers to predict a perfect bracket. As it stands, the chances of everyone you know being struck by lightning tomorrow are better than the 1-in-quintillions odds of predicting every game in the March bracket. 

Most adults have wagered on the NCAA Tournament, whether they know it or not! “Soft” betting on the tourney consists of office pools, social media dares, and “squares” games such as played during the NFL postseason. Even prep students run around talking about how their “bracket” is doing during the Round of 32. Whether we’re wagering Monopoly money, homework duties, or real cash, pretty much everyone participates in the prediction circus when hardwood rules the airwaves in early spring. 

There are an awful lot of rip-off “NCAA Tournament” sweepstakes still around. The modern era of legal sports bets is allowing companies like FanDuel to provide transparent, reputable hoops-gambling opportunities to the betting public.

NCAA Tournament: Find an Honest Broker for Bracket Betting

It might be better to buy gadgets from local Mom & Pop merchants when you can, but it’s probably best to gamble on the big dance with a “big-shot” provider. 

No, it doesn’t have to be FanDuel Sportsbook. But it is wiser to wager with a reputable (and sizable) bookmaker and/or Fantasy sports site than with some independent bookie at a night club. 

There are many bar traffic-driven College Basketball Tournament sweepstakes that promise a “jackpot!” payoff for that elusive tic-tac-toe bracket following the 1st and 2nd rounds. But there are so many potential upsets and surprises in the Round of 64 and Round of 32 that even pegging a few teams to reach the Sweet Sixteen can be a challenge. Pretty much everyone is bound to suffer some disappointments along the way and lose their buy-in without any hope of a “jackpot.” 

For example, some of the “Special Prize!” tourney sweepstakes on the internet don’t even pay-off for the customer unless she picks 2 or 3 out of 4 Regional winners from each mini-bracket of 16. That takes a lot of good handicapping, and a lot of luck. If you combined even a pair of #1 seeds’ odds-to-win each contest in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounds into an 8-game “parlay,” the payoff on an 8-up winner would be fantastic. Yet only at a legal sports betting book are such predictions fairly rewarded. 

Things got so bad in the internet’s infancy that your blogger’s job – touting NCAA basketball teams on the web – was thought to be the lowest of the low. Hype-men and charlatans were, after all, leading the public to gamble with unregulated and shady NCAA bracket brokers. “I hear Bobby Knight is now an internet tout,” said Jim Rome on the radio prior to an NCAA Tournament in the early 2000s. “Next thing you know he’ll be on some grease-ball Saturday morning TV show, with a bunch of other grease-balls asking me for my credit card number!” 

We’ve come a long way in 20 years. (Bobby Knight has regained much of his dignity, and that’s not where the good news ends.) The 2020s are a time of celebration for sports gamblers, as legal sports bets are placed on protected servers and retail betting is always on the up-and-up. It makes turning a profit with accurate predictions on the NCAA tourney into a much less-dodgy proposition. Picking winners is hard enough – let legitimate pros handle the rest. 

Tips on Predicting Brackets at the NCAA Tournament

Games like chess and Go! are not complex because the setups are complicated. There are only 64 squares in chess, and the opening position is always the same. It gets crazy when Player A makes a move out of 20 choices, and Player B has 20 choices to make following any of those. Multiply the 20 x 20 possible outcomes and suddenly things get real complex, real fast. 

Predicting an accurate college basketballbracket at the sportsbook and/or in a competition gets hard to strategize in the same way. You might decide that #2 seed Oklahoma matches-up very well against #7 seed Iowa State, which is the likeliest Round of 32 pairing following OU and ISU beating the #15 and #10 seeds in respective Regional tourney openers. But the Cyclones are only slender favorites over the #10 seeds in the Round of 64. Suppose the #10 is a school that Oklahoma would have more trouble with? Your prediction is Oklahoma in the Sweet Sixteen or the Final Four, but the outcome is affected by more than just the Sooners and their opponents’ outcomes on the court. 

Identify weak favorites among the top seeds in each Regional bracket of 16. Examples include teams with injury problems who have earned a nice NCAA seed thanks to having had a hot December and January, teams dealing with internal controversy that appears brushed-over to the public, and “reputation” seeds like Villanova in 2019.

The ’19 Wildcats had little chance against high-powered Purdue in the Round of 32. But they might have been facing a #2 or #1 seed in the 2nd round were it not for 2018’s national championship run. Like George Foreman winning a decision (and holding onto the Heavyweight belt) against Axel Schultz, Villanova had gotten dinged-around in a lot of rounds, but officials gave the Wildcats the benefit of the doubt with a solid #6 seed. Another example is the 2018 Arizona Wildcats, on which a blockbuster headline broke a scandal of monumental proportions just as the postseason got underway, but for whom betting odds remained firmly in the “minus” moneyline and spread category. That, of course, was prior to the other “Wildcats” getting blasted by double-digit seed Buffalo in the 1st Round. 

Weak favorites do more than invite “Cinderella” picks on #12 or #14 seeds advancing. They make it easier for other favored squads to reach the Final Four. Consider that when Oregon and UC Irvine met in the Round of 32 in 2019, there’s no question the Ducks and Anteaters were glad to see each other. Come to think of it, ducks and anteaters probably do get along just fine in the wild. But mascots’ real-life counterparts didn’t have anything to do with the excitement of 2 west coast fan-bases once Round of 64 results were official. 

Oregon had expected to play #4 seed Kansas State if it won a game to open the tourney, and the Anteaters had expected to meet burly Wisconsin of the Big Ten. Because each 1st-round game ended in an upset, Oregon and UC Irvine had more favorable match-ups on the court than they had expected in the 2nd Round. 

Subsequently, Virginia had better match-up opportunities against 2nd-round winner Oregon than it might have against a team like the Badgers. Oregon put together a great defensive effort in the Sweet Sixteen and lost to UVA 53-49. What if the eventual champs had had such a poor shooting night against a Big Ten stalwart instead?

There are 2 schools of thought on touting #8 and #9 seeds at the NCAA Tournament. Some contend that taking a Cinderella bid deep into the bracket is easier if the school is seeded #11 or #12, allowing it to play through a worst-case-scenario path of #5 and #4 seeded opponents to the Sweet Sixteen. No winner of #8 seed vs #9 seed Round of 64 contests in 2019 advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, each of the 4 bids losing to the #1 seeds in their respective Regional brackets. 

Another school of thought is that a talented #8 or #9 seed may have an easier path to the Elite Eight once making it out of the Round of 32, since the victorious middle-seed would then meet a #4 or lesser seed in a match-up designed for the #1’s path. 

Is it worth buying a bunch of bracket-prediction “turns” and filling them all out differently? That’s up to you. Some college basketball tournamentspeculators prefer betting on specific Regional outcomes – or even predicting the bracket long before the bracket is determined.

What’s the Difference Between Bracket Predictions and Bracketology?

Bracket predicting is the task of selecting winners in the dozens of games that will shape the Sweet Sixteen field. It occurs once the NCAA tourney field is set on Selection Sunday. 

“Bracketology” is the art of predicting what the NCAA field will look like in March. Remember that it is not simply a 64-team field or even a First Four-enhanced field of 68 that pundits are guessing, but the seeding of each contender and conference-winner as well. 

FanDuel Sportsbook offers an alternative futures board on the tourney that gives gamblers a 4x better chance of success, asking if each school will reach the Final Four. Perhaps a Cinderella is destined to fail against the finest players in the land once the big dance is narrowed to just 4 teams. But that won’t matter in Final Four futures gambling – all Cinderella has to do is win 4 games and show up for the gala. 

2019-20 NCAA Basketball: Which Schools Were Destined #1 Tourney Seeds?

Predicting the #1 seeds at the NCAA Tournament is an important step in determining which schools are best-poised to reach the Final Four. Top seeds are granted the easiest-possible Round of 64 match-up vs a #16 “auto-qualifier” and a 2nd Round match-up vs no better than a #8 Regional seed. In fact, an opening-round win is all but guaranteed for #1 Regional seeds, who have better than a .990 winning % in the Round of 64. 

Who would the #1 seeds have been if the 2020 NCAA tourney had gone forward as planned?

With many conference tournaments left unplayed, guessing who the top NCAA seeds might have gone to isn’t an easy chore. But the betting favorites in 2019-20 included Gonzaga, Duke, and Kentucky, the latter of which appeared to have the mental game to match UK’s teenage athleticism as the new decade began. 

No list of 2019-20 contenders would be complete without Kansas. The Jayhawks may have been the only potential #1 seed that wouldn’t have been downgraded following an early-round loss in the conference postseason.

KU spent the entire season dominating teams from the Big 12 and beyond, advancing the trend of Bill Self’s squads knocking-off Top 10 ballers by the barrel. Duke had episodes on the road and Gonzaga shot poorly from the foul line, but Kansas showed few weaknesses in midst of a 28-3 campaign. 

A pair of non-Gonzaga programs from non-power conferences threatened to snag #1 NCAA Tournament seeds in 2020. The Dayton Flyers of the Atlantic-10 crushed Georgia and Virginia Tech in out-of-conference play, balled with Kansas in a 90-84 November loss, then went a perfect 18-0 against a league that includes Richmond, Saint Louis, and VCU.

Dayton reached a top-5 Associated Press ranking by season’s end, but could not compete in last season’s A10 tournament...yet another casualty of the worldwide pandemic. 

San Diego State, meanwhile, thrilled spectators with an up-tempo style led by 2nd-team All-American guard Malachi Flynn. The Aztecs ran-up a 30-2 overall record and won the Mountain West regular-season crown by 5 games. However, SDSU’s reputation as 1 of the best 5 teams in college hoops took a hit in the MWC postseason, as San Diego State lost a title game full of wayward shooting 59-56 to the Utah State Aggies. 

Handicappers expect several name-brand teams to rise and challenge the Jayhawks, Blue Devils, and ‘Zags for betting-board supremacy in the early 2020s. Many iconic NCAA hoops programs have been playing through talent gaps, including Syracuse, North Carolina, and Michigan. Top-rate coaching and recruiting pull at each university should return those basketball brands to prominence in no time. 

Meanwhile another familiar school name - Georgetown - flashed into contention under head coach Patrick Ewing in 2019-20, nearly upsetting Villanova in the Big East postseason. Look for the Hoyas to be a “sexy” underdog pick to achieve NCAA Tournament glory in 2021. 

Wager on the NCAA Tournament at FanDuel Sportsbook

If modern “bracketology” doesn’t tickle your betting fancy, FanDuel is happy to provide legal sports bets on individual NCAA Tournament games to speculators in 6 states.

Check out our entire college hoops blog for tutorial and tips pages on moneyline and spread betting, the Over/Under lines, and futures odds on an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship winner.

FanDuel Inc is not affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA®) or March Madness Athletic Association, neither of which has supplied, reviewed, approved or endorsed the material on this site. FanDuel Inc is solely responsible for this site but makes no guarantee about the accuracy or completeness of the information herein.

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