The Overthinker’s Guide to Picking Your Bracket

Mike Krzyzewski looking puzzled
March Madness can be full of headaches.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

There is no use in putting any thought into your March Madness bracket. Had you conducted a minute’s worth of research last year, you would have learned that a No. 16 seed had never won in the first round, and so you probably wouldn’t have picked the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to beat the No. 1 overall seed Virginia. This, of course, would have made you a big stupid loser.

If you insist on using your brain to fill out a bracket this year, may we suggest overthinking things? You have a 1-in-9,223,372,036,854,775,808 chance of predicting a perfect bracket, so it’s only sensible to stay 9,223,372,036,854,775,807 steps ahead of everyone else in your office pool.

All of the following questions will come up as your pick your bracket, and we’ll do our best to help you needlessly overcomplicate each one.

Will a No. 16 seed win again?

Sure, the odds are overwhelmingly in the favor of the four No. 1 seeds, but can you count on any of them after last year? Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was one of the few people to correctly call the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history, and he did so because, in his words, “We’ve been known to beat the odds around here” (even though he governs from Anne Arundel County, which is not Baltimore County).

If we’re going to overthink things, then we’ll need to at least consider the possibility that governors are clairvoyant (but can only see until the second round of the tournament).

Depending on how the play-in games shake out, this year’s No. 16 seeds will come from New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas, or New Jersey. Only two governors representing those states have chimed in on Twitter about their team’s odds. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is too overwhelmed to pander and instead wished the state’s five participating teams luck all at once. North Dakota’s Doug Burgum, meanwhile, tweeted “The Bison are dancing again!” but didn’t make any predictions.

The governors’ silence speaks volumes. This is not the year for our No. 16 seeds.

Which No. 9 seeds will inevitably win in the first round?

The difference between No. 8 and No. 9 seeds is nonexistent. Of the 136 first-round games played between those two seeds, each has won precisely 68 of them. If there were ever a time to flip a coin, this would be it. But my statistical models indicate that coin-flips are wrong half the time, so you should look beyond the first round to decide what to do.

No. 8 seeds do better in second-round games than No. 9 seeds (13 wins vs. 7), but, historically, they’re both failures. They don’t do nearly as well as the three seeds ranked immediately below them. No. 12 seeds, for example, have won 20 times in the second round even though they have played 21 fewer games.

Don’t even bother flipping a coin for those 8–9 matchups. These teams aren’t going anywhere, so it’s best to leave their first-round games blank.

Who will be this year’s Loyola-Chicago?

The Ramblers thrilled the nation last year when they became just the fourth No. 11 seed to make it to a Final Four. If another No. 11 seed is able to match Loyola-Chicago’s feat this March, it won’t be quite as shocking while the Ramblers’ success is still fresh in our minds. To truly be “this year’s Loyola-Chicago,” a school will have to be seeded even lower to compensate, and it will also need at least two adorable nuns to top Sister Jean’s star turn.

The only school to both be a lower seed than No. 11 and have the ability to field multiple court-side nuns is Iona. Before becoming “this year’s Loyola-Chicago,” the No. 16 seed Gaels would first have to get by UNC and assume the title of “this year’s University of Maryland, Baltimore County.” But, as we’ve already covered, that simply isn’t going to happen. Blame Andrew Cuomo.

Can anyone stop Duke?

Only Gonzaga has managed to beat a healthy Duke team this season, and the Zags await in the Final Four should both schools make it out of their regions. But that Gonzaga win happened at the Maui Invitational, so it’s entirely possible that the Blue Devils were distracted by the island’s natural splendor.

No matchups en route to the national championship will be played in a Hawaii-like atmosphere. Duke’s first two games are in Columbia, South Carolina, and while that city’s mid-March weather is similar to Maui’s in November, it likely won’t make a difference because the Colonial Life Arena is climate-controlled. Duke catches all the breaks.

Assuming they win their first three games, Michigan State might have a chance against Duke if Washington, D.C., becomes a tropical dreamland by the time the two teams play their Elite Eight game there. Given the rapid acceleration of climate change, don’t count Sparty out.

Who’s going to win it all?

Duke. Don’t overthink this.