March Madness demystified and simplified (plus how to be a bracketology champion)


Marc Smith

March Madness annually makes for a college basketball month of crazy picks and busted brackets.

Marc Smith and Paul Smith

When March comes around each year, the mess of teams and brackets can be confusing. Understanding the teams, the regions and the seeding give a foundation to what will be happening over the next month.

And a few bracket tips might lead you to either a perfect bracket or at least becoming champion of your pool.

In 2023, some teams received favorable seeding by the committee while others were sent home. Historically great program UNC was not granted a spot in the tournament after an up-and-down season. The Tarheels were ranked first in pre-season and early play but quickly fell out of the Top 25 after many unexpected losses. This is the first time since the bracket was expanded to 68 teams that a preseason number one seed did not qualify for the tournament

There also are possible Cinderella stories in this year’s tournament. 

The College of Charleston, a 12th seed, has an impressive out-of-conference win record and was even ranked in the Top 25 at one point in the season. Pat Kelsey and his team have a chance at winning multiple games starting with San Diego State in the first round. 

Oral Roberts made a run to the Sweet Sixteen two years ago and, now the 12th seed in the East, the Golden Eagles are even better. However, Roberts drew the short straw on Selection Sunday when they were matched up with agonized ACC Tournament Champion, Duke, who is on a nine-game winning streak against ACC opponents. With that being said, Oral Roberts has a fighting chance against the Blue Devils. Their competition might not have been as strong in the regular season but their undefeated “in conference” record was impressive. Oral Roberts is the only Division 1 team to do so in 2023.

Overall there is no dominant team in this year’s tournament, every team has some sort of blemish on their regular season or conference tournament record. But that is what makes March Madness so exciting and unpredictable. With 68 teams and 67 games, it is often hard to predict the outcomes. That is where the art of bracketology comes in handy.

Bracketology is the science of picking games for each of the rounds right through to the finals.

For starters, it matters most what type of bracket you are doing. Most online sites offer both a traditional bracket which gives more points for getting games correct the later you get in the tournament and an upset bracket which gives bonus points for predicting big upsets. This article focuses on the more popular traditional bracket.

In the traditional bracket, it is important not to get caught up in picking the upsets even if that makes you feel good. Teams have higher and lower seeds for a reason and it is important not to choose against a top seed early. If you do it every time and they win a game after your incorrect pick then you lose more possible points. That doesn’t mean you should pick the higher seed every time but use educated guesses.

The upset games that you should look at picking are teams that match well against their opponents. This year for example, Louisiana’s high-power offense should pair well against the weak Tennessee offense despite their good defense. 

Some seeding matchups do often go to the underdogs. Statistically, nine seeds have won more games when playing the favored eight seeds. Twelve versus five seeds also have good odds. This year VCU matches well against Saint Mary’s. 

Teams that are hot and have momentum are also good to look out for as that can give them the confidence to win. Duke, a number five seed, has a winning streak that could bode well.

At the end of the day, if you follow college basketball, do a little bit of research, trust your gut and the vibe of the team, you may do well. While you can’t predict all the Cinderellas, gut instincts sometimes lead to good outcomes.

So here’s to 2023 and a mad month of hoops and hype, wins, losses, buzzer beaters and heartbreakers. Have fun watching and good luck with your picks.


Author’s notes – Twin brothers and staff writers, Marc and Paul Smith, take March Madness seriously. In this article, Paul understands (and writes about) the teams and regions and seedings while Marc, the bracketology expert who has won his traditional bracket style pool the last two years, shares a few tips