Filling out a bracket is daunting. We've got five simple rules to help guide you through the madness.

By The SI Staff
March 17, 2019

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The NCAA tournament field isn’t even 24 hours old, and you’ve likely already filled out a bracket or two. Everyone wants to win their pool for money or bragging rights (or both) but making the right choices can feel daunting. We’re here to help. Leaning on historical precedent, here are a few guiding principles to follow while completing your bracket.

1. Pick at least one (and probably two) No. 12 or No. 13 seeds to win at least one game

Just because it’s well known doesn’t make it less true. Last year, two No. 13 seeds won their first game. In 2017, it was a lone 12-seed to advance to the second round. The year before that, two 12s and a 13 pulled upsets. There were no wins by No. 12 or 13 seeds in 2015, but two 14-seeds won their first game. Whether you highlight a strong underdog or a No. 4 or 5 seed ripe for upset, you’re going to want to make sure you have at least one team seeded 12th or 13th advancing to the second round.

2. Pick at least one double-digit seed to make the Sweet 16

This principle naturally follows the one that came before it. The 2018 tournament included two No. 11 seeds—Loyola-Chicago and Syracuse—in the Sweet 16. No. 11 Xavier made the Sweet 16 in 2017. The year before that, 11th-seeded Gonzaga met 10th-seeded Syracuse in a Sweet 16 matchup. The 2007 tournament was the last one that didn’t have a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16.

Would you like to know some players who played in that season’s Final Four? How about Roy Hibbert, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Darren Collison, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and a young Russell Westbrook, who logged eight minutes in UCLA’s semifinal loss to Florida. Yeah, it’s been awhile. Pick a double-digit seed to make the Sweet 16.

3. Do not blindly trust the No. 1 seeds

Every No. 1 seed earned its way to the top line, but that doesn’t guarantee success to all of them. The 2008 tournament was the only one to feature all four No. 1 seeds—Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA—in the Final Four. Over the last 10 years, at least one No. 1 seed has failed to make the Sweet 16 seven times, including last year’s Virginia, which became the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed (bonus hint: this year’s Virginia isn’t last year’s Virginia). The exceptions: 2009, 2012 and 2016. They may look invulnerable right now, but history suggests at least one No. 1 seed won’t make it to the second weekend.

4. Don’t get too crazy

Upsets are part of what make the tournament so special, but the teams that have been the country’s best since November are likely to remain its best in March and April. The last four Final Fours have included three teams seeded fourth or better in their region. The same goes for six of the last seven and 15 of the last 18. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, just four Final Fours have had two or more teams seeded fifth or worse.

5. Have fun!

Don’t take this too seriously, or drive yourself crazy trying to fill out the perfect bracket. Take risks, trust your gut and if all else fails, you could always choose which mascot you think would win in a fight. Make your bracket quintessentially you and enjoy the pageantry of March Madness. — By Michael Beller

ICYMI

Find out the tip time and TV channel for every game between Tuesday and Friday.

• Who got snubbed? Who should have been seeded higher? Our initial impressions of the 2019 bracket. (By Michael Beller)

• What to watch for in the East Region: Belmont, Pitino vs. Louisville ... oh yeah, and Zion Williamson. (By Jeremy Woo)

• The South Region has Virginia looking for redemption, the reigning champs, darkhorse Oregon and more. (By Emily Caron)

• The nation's best offense and the nation's best defense both ended up in the West Region. Will they meet for a trip to the Final Four? (By Molly Geary and Eric Single)

• UNC and Kentucky are the favorites to meet in the Midwest Region final, but neither have an easy road to get there. (By Dan Greene)

• For those wagering on March Madness, here are the opening lines for the First Four and Round of 64 games this week. (By Michael Shapiro)

Zion has a message for Duke fans.

Best Thing We Saw

So much for taking risks, eh? ESPN's Dick Vitale leaned on the best seeds all the way through to make an extraordinary Elite Eight prediction. Screenshot via @KevinGQuinn.

Pick 'Em: East Region

SI's Michael Beller makes his picks for the initial slate of games in the East Region.

No. 1 Duke over No. 16 NC Central/North Dakota State: This one doesn’t need an explanation, right?

No. 9 UCF over No. 8 VCU: With Marcus Evans unlikely to be 100%, if he’s even able to play, VCU is going to have a ton of trouble scoring.

No. 5 Mississippi State over No. 12 Liberty: The Flames aren’t a pushover, but they don’t have the scoring punch to stick with Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters.

No. 4 Virginia Tech over No. 13 Saint Louis: Saint Louis stole a bid in one of the weakest leagues in the country, while Virginia Tech was a top-five team in the ACC and is getting Justin Robinson back just in time for the tournament.

No. 11 Belmont over No. 6 Maryland: Belmont’s tempo can be a serious challenge for Maryland, which had trouble in the Big Ten against teams that like to get up and down the floor.

No. 3 LSU over No. 14 Yale: Yale is an intriguing upset pick, but Tremont Waters and Naz Reid are simply too good to fade in the first round.

No. 7 Louisville over No. 10 Minnesota: Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy did some serious work in the Big Ten tournament, but Jordan Nwora will prove to be too much for the Gophers.

No. 2 Michigan State over No. 15 Bradley: The Spartans should’ve been a No. 1 seed. There won’t be any shades of their loss to Middle Tennessee State as a 2-seed here.

Crystal Ball

Duke and North Carolina have played one another 250 times, but never in the NCAA tournament. That will end this season in appropriately huge fashion. For my money, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels are the two best teams in the country. What's more is that they ended up on opposite sides of the bracket. Both have to go through blue bloods just to get to the Final Four—Michigan State for Duke, Kentucky for North Carolina—but they will both do so, and then win their Final Four matchups to set up a title game that won't soon be forgotten. — Michael Beller

At the Buzzer

Before you go, here's a link to our printable NCAA tournament bracket. We've also concocted a new way to make your picks with Realtime Brackets. Change your original picks mid-game when it looks like your bracket is about to be busted. Completely and totally foolproof, right?

Here's a photo from the tournament champs of 30 years ago, Michigan. SI's Manny Millan captured this shot, complete with the Wolverines' "Just Did It!" caps.

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