Your Guide to NCAA Tournament Bracket Guides

Look alive people, there are only a few hours left before your March Madness brackets are locked in forever. Here are some last minute tips, culled from experts, to ensure that you have the best chance of making money off your bracket.

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Look alive people, there are only a few hours left before your March Madness brackets are locked in forever. Do you have a 10 over a 7? Do you have a four-seed in your Final Four? How about undefeated Wichita State flaming out early? Cincinnati going home early as well?  How far are Tennessee, Iowa State, and St. Joseph's going in your bracket?

If some of that makes no sense to you, or if you haven't quite solidified your bracket picks, have no fear. We've culled the commentary from experts from all over the web: ESPN (if you're looking to be bold), the Washington Post (if you're looking at history), Las Vegas (if you can read bookies' tea leaves), Bleacher Report (if you don't like chalk picks), CBS (if you like people who actually watch games), and data wizard Nate Silver (if you enjoy his numbers). So we figure that if we all of their top tips together, there's no way you can lose.

Here's what they had to say: 

Who is Going All the Way?

ESPN: ESPN varies from expert to expert, and our favorite expert, Mr. Jay Bilas is behind a paywall this year. Their "bold prediction" is that Florida wins this going away.

WaPo: Any of the one-seeds. “So you’re not crazy to pick some low seeds to get far. But don’t pick them to win. No. 1 seeds have won 18 of the 29 championships in the 64-team tournament,” the Post explains.

Vegas: Florida has 5/1 odds.

Bleacher-Report: Michigan St. “In the end, talent wins. And the Spartans have the best talent.”

CBS: Go with the Spartans. Even though they are a four-seed and had a lumpy season, a lot of those woes are because key players were injured. “I have felt all along that HMSU (Healthy Michigan State U.) is the best team in the country,” writes Jerry Palm. “So many teams these days are either talented or experienced. Michigan State is both, and that's why they will cut down the nets in Dallas.”

Nate Silver: Louisville. “Louisville is the defending national champion, was ranked third in the preseason, was ranked fifth in the AP poll last week, won its conference championship in dominant fashion, and ranks between first and fourth nationally in each of the five computer systems.”

The Biggest First Round Upset

ESPN: Cincinnati going down to Harvard (a 12-seed over a 5.)

WaPo: Not really that helpful.

Vegas: Tennessee, an 11-seed, is the favorite over its first round opponent, 6th-seeded U-Mass.

Bleacher-Report: 12-seed Stephen F. Austin over 5-seed VCU. “The [SF Austin] Lumberjacks are used to defensive pressure—they see it in practice every day—and they've won 28 straight games. VCU will likely be playing without third-leading scorer Melvin Johnson, who injured his left knee and was on crutches after the A-10 semifinals.” 

CBS: Several of the experts have 12-seed North Dakota St beating 5-seed Oklahoma. But the biggest individual upsets among the many expert brackets are 14-seed Western Michigan over Syracuse (from Mateen Cleaves' bracket) and New Mexico St. toppling San Diego St. (Gregg Doyel's bracket).

Nate Silver: 10-seed Arizona St. over 7-seed Texas. (Silver doesn’t really give predictions, he just gives percentages. ASU is 50% chance to win, which is as good of an “upset” pick as Silver does.)

The Final Four:

ESPN: It depends which analyst you're looking at. Again, most are behind a paywall. But … according to their “bold predictions” column, a daring choice to make it to the Final Four is Iowa State.

WaPo: If you added up the seeds of the Final Four teams (e.g. 2013 there was one 1-seed, two four-seeds, a one nine-seed bringing us to a total of 18) in the past three years, the average would be a 17. In short, if your Final Four consists of the four one seeds, history is not on your side. When in doubt, pick a 4. Four #4 seeds have made the Final Four in the last three years.

Vegas: Florida, Michigan State, Arizona, Louisville. 

Bleacher-Report: Florida, Baylor, Louisville, Michigan St.

CBS: Kansas, Arizona, Louisville, Michigan St. 

Nate Silver: Florida, Arizona, Louisville, Michigan St.

The Cinderella:

ESPN: St. Joseph’s, Baylor, or the aforementioned Iowa State.

WaPo: Pick an 11-seed. “Did you know that No. 11 seeds have a winning record in the Elite Eight, but no 10th-seeded team has ever won a game there?” the paper points out. Well, now we do.

Vegas: Syracuse, with 18/1 odds, is a better bet than Villanova, Michigan, and Duke — all of which are seeded higher.

Bleacher-Report: 6th-seeded Baylor reaches the Final Four largely because of math coincidences: “Scott Drew made Elite Eights in 2010 and 2012. The every-other-year trend continues.” 10-seed St. Joseph’s toppling Villanova to get to the Sweet 16 is also a nice surprise.

CBS: The 3-seed Creighton is flying under the radar somewhat, but has some big fans on CBS. But the single biggest Cinderella is from Pete Gillen, a former coach, who has “Round 1 #4” team reaching the Elite Eight. That squad could be either Tennessee or Iowa; the bracket doesn’t actually specify. Whichever team it is, Gillen has them beating Duke and Michigan.

Nate Silver: Silver does not believe in Cinderellas, because predicting a bad team to do well is irrational. BUT. His model is very high on 4-seed Louisville, and 8-seed Kentucky plays above its seeded weight in his analysis, too.

The First #1 Seed to Fall

ESPN: Wichita State.

WaPo: Not that helpful. But the last three years have shown us that there won’t be just one.

Vegas: Virginia has 18/1 odds according to Vegas.

Bleacher-Report: Wichita St. / Virginia both lose in the Sweet 16 round to 4-seeds Louisville and Michigan St, respectively.

CBS: Virginia can’t catch a break from Michigan St., who the majority of experts choose beating the Cavs. But three different CBS bracketeers have 8-seed Kentucky upsetting Wichita State, which obviously qualifies as a Shocker.

Nate Silver: Wichita St. “The computer and human rankings aren’t extraordinarily high on Wichita State this year, despite its 34-0 record. But the Shockers are a legitimate No. 1 seed. What really kills them is an absolutely loaded Midwest region.”

Any other stuff?

ESPN: Hmm. For whatever it’s worth, Barack Obama has Louisville, Michigan State, Arizona, and Florida in his Final Four, with the Spartans taking it all. He has a tendency to pick chalk and go with favorites— i.e. the type of person to win pools that everyone despises.

WaPo:  Hmm, if recent history repeats itself go with parity and lower seeds.

Vegas: These guys just want your money. Take any 50/1 long-shot and they'll be happy.

Bleacher-Report: BR has no idea what it’s doing. “Here are my picks, motivated by logic and that voice in the back of my head that said "don't go chalk, you sissy."” That’s not a clear strategy. 

CBS: Winning your bracket largely comes down to having the winning team, and there’s no dominant force to choose. “There is no 2009 North Carolina or 2012 Kentucky competing this season. Nobody is overwhelming,” Gary Parrish writes. Don’t be bashful in picking a team outside of the Big Three of Florida, Arizona, and Louisville.

Nate Silver: Check for travel distance to the game location. “Are you not at your best when you fly in from LAX to take an 8 a.m. meeting in Boston? The same is true of college basketball players. In extreme cases (a team playing very near to its campus, or having to travel across the country to play a game), the effect of travel can be tantamount to playing a home or road game, despite being on an ostensibly neutral court.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.