A beginner’s guide to filling out a March Madness bracket

  • For those who haven’t done it before, building a bracket can feel like an intimidating or over-complicated endeavor, but it’s pretty simple and comes down much more to luck than skill.
  • If you have never filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket before, or aren’t all that familiar with college basketball and would like a quick refresher, here’s a step-by-step guide to joining your local bracket pool.

March Madness is back!

Every spring, people spend the first weeks of March fretting over bracket building, collecting pool fees, and preparing for the best sporting tournament on the planet.

For non-basketball fans, building a bracket can be somewhat intimidating, but it shouldn’t be! The NCAA Tournament is based much more on luck than chance. Think of submitting a bracket into your office pool as a lottery ticket that you get to brag about if your numbers hit, rather than any test of actual basketball knowledge.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to everything you need to know about filling out a March Madness bracket for your office pool the first time.

1. Find a bracket pool and join.

Finding a bracket pool to enter might sound complicated, but it is simple. All you have to do is talk to whoever is running the pool or a website that is hosting brackets for the public.

If you’re office running things old school, you may still be working by pen and paper, in which case you’ll want to print out two copies of the blank bracket to fill out (one for you to keep, one for you to submit).

But chances are your pool will be hosted on ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, or similar site. You can also go to those sites and join a public pool. Nowadays most host sites have a “Sign in through Facebook” option, so you don’t even have to really deal with the inconvenience of setting up a new account.

2. Office pools often come with an entry fee.

March Madness is one of the few times in American when intra-office gambling is allowed, and sometimes even encouraged. Usually, dues aren’t too steep – $10 or $20 for an entry is plenty to make the pool enticing enough to win, and no one should be betting more than $50 on a bracket pool, especially if you’re not intently following the tournament.

Pay whoever is running the league your entry fee, and in turn, they’ll likely give you the name and password of your league so you can log in online and begin filling out your bracket.

3. Fill out your bracket.

Don’t stress. There’s no wrong way to do this. But don’t get too crazy – no No. 1 seed has ever lost in the first round – and while it’s called “March Madness” for a reason, the upsets are usually somewhat contained rather than all-encompassing.

We’ve already made a few guides to help beginners filling out their brackets, but the logic is simple. The higher seed (the team with the lower number next to its name – I know, more complicated than it has to be), is likely the better team, and if you err on the side of picking them, with a few upsets sprinkled in, you’ll do fine.

Don’t pick all of the top seeds to make it to the Final Four, but pick maybe two of them, and then a few other teams to fill it out. Duke, North Carolina, and Michigan State have historically been good bets when it comes to building brackets.

Most importantly though, make the bracket your own. You need to pick a winner in every game, so do what feels right to you. I’ve built brackets based on petty grievances and mascot fights and anything else you can think of, so trust me when I say there is no wrong way to do it.

Once you’ve filled out your bracket, you’ll likely have to pick a final score as a potential tiebreaker. 70-69 is usually a good number, but again, go with your heart. Make sure your bracket is saved before the games tip off Thursday at noon EST. Nothing worse than submitting a blank bracket.

4. Watch the tournament.

Now comes the fun part! You have your bracket, and all day Thursday and Friday you get to update it while watching the games and doing your best to look like you’re still working. Then, you can skip out of work a bit early with friends with friends who also have brackets, and celebrate your wins and commiserate your losses together.

As long as you keep most of your Final Four intact through the first weekend of the tournament, you still have a puncher’s chance of winning your pool. During the second weekend, the games come at a less breakneck pace, and it’ll be easier to track what teams you need to come through for you.

5. If you win money, it is a gesture to tip the host.

Congratulations! You’ve won your bracket pool. Some will chalk it up to beginner’s luck, but you’ll know deep down it was your sharp bracket picking skills that set you apart.

If you do win your pool, it is a nice gesture to tip whoever put the league together. A common amount is to tip the amount of their own entry fee. Often, pool host will refuse the gesture, but it’s good sportsmanship and positive karma to bring into the next year’s bracket.

And that’s everything you need to know about building a bracket! Best of luck.

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