UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who joined us for this AMA! Make sure to check out NCAA.com for tips when it comes time to fill out your bracket, and happy bracketing!

We are Andy Wittry and Wayne Staats, reporters from NCAA.com who spend a lot of time researching and writing stories on the history of the NCAA tournament, statistics on how current and past bracket players have picked their brackets, and tips for picking your bracket. You can read them here at the BracketIQ page.

Ask us anything about 2021’s bracket or any other piece of NCAA tournament history, stats or trivia.

And when you’re looking for a place to put all of this knowledge to use, feel free to join our Bracket Challenge Game, the only bracket game where you can watch every NCAA tournament game live right from your bracket.

Note: We are NOT the selection committee. Trust us, we had absolutely no say in the bracket.

We are Andy Wittry and Wayne Staats, reporters from NCAA.com who spend a lot of our work time researching and writing stories on the history of the NCAA tournament, statistics on how current and past bracket players have picked their brackets, and tips for picking your bracket. You can read them here at the BracketIQ page.

Ask us anything about 2021’s bracket or any other piece of NCAA tournament history, stats or trivia.

And when you’re looking for a place to put all of this knowledge to use, feel free to join our Bracket Challenge Game, the only bracket game where you can watch every NCAA tournament game live right from your bracket.

Note: We are NOT the selection committee. Trust us, we had absolutely no say in the bracket.

Our proof: March Madness on Twitter

Comments: 313 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

Snakebite7334 karma

Every year I pick based on which mascot would win in a hypothetical fight.

Based on your expertise, how should I handle games between mythical creatures (Devils always break my bracket) against storms (like cyclones and hurricanes)?

I've been assuming that the winds would win, but the the magics of the mythical creatures are often ill defined and they may just be able to outrun the storms, or just teleport away.

NCAAcom296 karma

I would watch a show about this. Want to collaborate?

Here's a fun answer: Mythical creatures are 7-1 against weather/elemental teams. I'd like to think that magic comes into play. However, Duke carries the power in our mythical category records. So maybe 2021 will be different.

Anguscheesteak73 karma

When building a bracket what biases do you find yourself constantly fighting over?

NCAAcom249 karma

It's a balance between the gut reaction that a lot of college basketball fans might have to put three or four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, but then not course-correcting and picking too many upsets. On average, six double-digit seeds win in the first round and two win in the second round, so you'll want to pick some upsets without getting carried away. The average sum of the Final Four seeds is about 11, so in the end it's often the best teams, along with one dark horse.

16ouncesofsand56 karma

I somehow managed to end up with Illinois winning it all...Should I go back and start again???

NCAAcom128 karma

Absolutely not, especially if you're competing with friends in the Bracket Challenge Game. We found that five of the last 10 national champions had a lead ball-handler who was an All-American as a junior or a senior. Illinois has one in Ayo Dosunmu and this team is talented enough that he can play off the ball, too. Illinois is one of three teams that's ranked in the top 10 of adjusted offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency, and given that its name isn't "Gonzaga," there may actually be more value than usual in picking a No. 1 seed that has the Illini's profile.

mbucc900052 karma

Any idea on what Michigan’s ceiling can be without Livers? I was thinking Sweet Sixteen, but LSU seems to be a popular 1-8 upset.

NCAAcom46 karma

That's a really tough one on Michigan. The Wolverines looked like one of Gonzaga's top challengers for such a long time. If LSU can get by St. Bonaventure (no sure thing), you're right in thinking that would be a popular upset pick. The Tigers have the kind of offense that can lead to, "Oh, right, I should have seen that coming" after a win. Add in a possible Sweet 16 showdown with Florida State one round later and you're looking at a tough draw. Michigan can still be at least a Sweet 16 team, but the potential opponents could be hard for even a healthy team.

Esteban9536 karma

Hey guys, what do y’all think of Colgate? Having only played six teams, they don’t have many data points so their NET ranking is definitely interesting.

NCAAcom44 karma

The Patriot League played a total of nine non-conference games and eight of its 10 teams didn't play a non-conference schedule, so if any of Colgate's metrics jump out to you, that's why. There's little connectivity with the rest of the college basketball universe. You're right, five of their 14 wins came against Boston University and four came against Holy Cross, but the Raiders are a two-point loss away from being undefeated, which is really difficult to accomplish in any league. If nothing else, they project to play a really fun game against Arkansas in the first round, because both teams rank in the top 25 nationally in tempo and Colgate shoots 40 percent from three. No. 14 seeds have won at least one game in 18 of the 35 NCAA tournaments since the expansion to 64 teams and from 2013 to 2016, at least one No. 14 seed won in the first round. Colgate arguably has a low-risk, high-reward matchup, no matter how you feel about its NET ranking.

stonks061931 karma

Which double digit seed is best poised to make a run? Both in terms of their quality of play and also the opponents they might run into in the bracket.

NCAAcom65 karma

Yes, that really is the perfect mix. Find a team with the quality and the seemingly favorable draw to make a run. Right now, I look at that bottom right corner and see No. 10 Rutgers. The story is there — Rutgers' first NCAA tournament appearance in 30 years. As a member of the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights have been more than tested.

mart137329 karma

Which team ranked 4 or below would you say has the best chance to make a run and win the whole championship?

NCAAcom67 karma

I like Florida State. Leonard Hamilton and the Seminoles played on the second weekend in the last two tournaments. FSU is really efficient on offense and has a favorable draw as a No. 4 seed. If you want to go below a No. 4, my answer would have been Loyola Chicago — before the bracket came out. But the Ramblers and their defense could make things very difficult for No. 1 Illinois. Want a third? No. 7 UConn. If James Bouknight is healthy, look out. I think we all remember the last time UConn was a No. 7 seed.

sskolks27 karma

How good is Loyola-Chicago? Should they really be favored over Georgia Tech when their wins are over the likes of Southern Illinois?

NCAAcom46 karma

If you ask the computers at kenpom.com, Loyola Chicago has the ninth-best efficiency margin in the country. In 2018, when the Ramblers made the Final Four, they finished at No. 31 on kenpom.com. That's not to say that they'll make another run like that, but KenPom adjusts for competition so wins over the likes of Southern Illinois are what is propping up Loyola Chicago's metrics, not holding it back. Loyola Chicago's defense is the most efficient in the country and the teams that finished with the No. 1 defense in 2017 and 2019 both lost in the championship game. The matchup between Cameron Krutwig and Moses Wright should be must-watch TV.

SnooPickles709327 karma

Is Abeline Christian vs. Texas a potential upset or am I overthinking it? Texas has a lot of turnovers and Abeline is good at forcing turnovers so I don’t know. Also, what is the earliest that you could see a 1 seed getting out and who?

NCAAcom40 karma

I don't think you're overthinking things all that much, especially on a 14-over-3 level. Good eye on the turnovers issue — Abilene Christian leads the nation in turnover margin. Uh oh, now you're making me think harder about this. Texas should still win, but I can see this being a game that keeps our attention the entire time. As for your No. 1 seed question, Michigan would likely be on upset alert for many if the Wolverines face LSU in the second round.

WeedHellYeah19 karma

any thoughts on this Purdue team? both in this years tournament, as well as thoughts for the future considering they’re so young

NCAAcom27 karma

Despite Purdue's consistency, it seems like it doesn't get as much national attention as it likely deserves. Purdue finished around both Ohio State and Iowa in the Big Ten regular season standings. Only positive thoughts about this Purdue team and ones in the future, too. The Boilermakers are the only Indiana team to play in this year's Indiana-based tournament — and I think they will be staying around for a while. Purdue is balanced and has a good path to the Sweet 16. With Trevion Williams, Zach Edey and Jaden Ivey, the Boilermakers would make for a tough out against No. 1 Baylor.

LordShaxxFanCam16 karma

Is Iona over Alabama a terrible pick? I’m not really sold on Bama to go far even if they win R1.

NCAAcom17 karma

I don't want to scare away anyone brave enough to pick a No. 15 over a No. 2, but be careful! There's a reason we remember almost all No. 15 over No. 2 upset — because they don't happen often! When filling out a bracket, if you don't pick the No. 1s, it makes sense to pick a No. 2 to win it all or make the Final Four.

Squatch780215 karma

Can Gonzaga actually win it all this year? Or another disappointment?

NCAAcom44 karma

Absolutely! The Zags may be looking for their first title, but that doesn't mean they've been a March disappointment — only one NCAA tournament team is happy at the end, right 😎? Gonzaga almost won it all in 2017. Really the only year the Bulldogs underperformed big based on seed was in 2013, when it lost to No. 9 Wichita State as a No. 1 seed. More on over over/underperforming team here. But this year they go in as the clear favorite. The efficiency is second to none. Some intriguing parts about their region, too. In a fun twist, Gonzaga has already defeated the Nos. 2 through 4 seeds in their region this year: Iowa, Kansas and Virginia. So they know what to do.

iket2612 karma

What are your thought on Oklahoma State? Cade Cunningham is such a x-factor. Could they ride his back like Syracuse did with Carmelo Anthony in 2003?

NCAAcom23 karma

If you had to make a list of the teams that have played better than Oklahoma State in the last month, that list would stop after, what, four teams? Six? Eight? Buehler? In that span, the Cowboys split with Baylor, including a nine-point win in the Big 12 semis, they swept West Virginia and Oklahoma, and they beat Texas Tech. The good news for Oklahoma State is that it will arguably have the best player on the floor in any matchup and roughly a third of the Elite Eight teams last decade had an All-American lead guard. However, No. 1 seed Illinois – potentially the second-best team in the country – is sitting there in a potential Sweet 16 matchup. Win that, and is there any team that Oklahoma State fans would want to avoid before the championship game? Probably not. So we're saying there's a chance...

adc44447 karma

How much stock can we put into this Winthrop/Nova matchup? Nova 0-2 without Gillespie against a 23-1 Winthrop.

NCAAcom10 karma

This has all the ingredients. Winthrop has that impressive 23-1 record, Gillespie is out — and we're in that enticing No. 12 over No. 5 territory. Kind of seems like it's almost begging you to pick the upset. Though Villanova has the two recent titles, the Wildcats also have a history with early exits when not winning it all.

MikeJeffriesPA7 karma

Going for a 2-for-1 here.

1) How much, if at all, should strategy change based on pool size? Should you pick differently for a 10-person pool than a 500-person one?

2) For those playing for money in multiple pools and using multiple brackets, where are the best places to hedge your bets? Should you keep a consistent champion and just make early round changes, or go completely different?

NCAAcom12 karma

Great question. Anecdotally, the only time I've won a bracket challenge with a significant number of entrants was at my alma mater, where literally every other contestant picked our school and I correctly picked the eventual national champion. So there's definitely some psychology and strategy involved. If you're in a bracket challenge with a handful of friends or colleagues, it may not hurt to go more chalk-heavy. History says an average of six double-digit seeds win in the first round, so in a smaller pool, maybe pick only five or six to win in the first round, and maybe pick three No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four.

But in a larger group, you need to find value, however you define that. If you think 40 to 60 percent of the entrants will pick Gonzaga, for example, then you probably shouldn't, even if you think the Zags are the best team, because you'll also probably need to hit on three of your Final Four picks and most of the Elite Eight teams in order to win. Try to pivot to another really strong No. 1 seed, like Illinois, or take a team like Houston that has great advanced numbers but isn't on the 1-line.

Similarly, it wouldn't hurt to hedge your picks. Duke was the best team in the country in 2002 (and not terribly far off from Gonzaga's efficiency numbers) and it lost in the Sweet 16, so you'd hate for all of your brackets to be out of the running by Friday of the second week if you pick the same champion in every bracket. Our advice: (reasonably) mix up your champions and vary your one or two upset/dark-horse picks, while trying to keep the overall bracket integrity so that you don't get too carried away.

MarathonMedjool5 karma

Which round will Michigan State blow it and under deliver? :(

NCAAcom14 karma

Did you know that the 2019 NCAA Tournament was the first time that a team from the First Four didn't win at least one game after the First Four? We've seen VCU go from the First Four to the Final Four, and La Salle, Tennessee and Syracuse have made the Sweet 16 after starting in Dayton.

So whether you're looking at Michigan State or another First Four team, here's the truth: they're playing a team with a resume that's on the same level as theirs in the First Four, then the winner will play a team with a stronger resume in the first round. By definition, it's impossible for a team in the First Four to get upset, based upon its seed, unless it makes it deep enough in the NCAA tournament where it's playing, say, a No. 14 seed in the second round or a No. 12 or No. 13 seed in the Elite Eight.

In many ways, playing in the First Four is a low-risk, high-reward proposition, because based on seed lines, those teams aren't expected to make it out of the first round, yet Michigan State has beaten No. 1 seeds Illinois and Michigan, and No. 2 seed Ohio State in the last few weeks, making it capable of multiple NCAA tournament wins.

communism4kids5 karma

Does Iowa make it to the Elite 8?

NCAAcom9 karma

Let's break out our crystal ball real quick. We don't operate in absolutes but there's reason to like Iowa's draw through the Sweet 16. The best-seeded team in Iowa's half of the West region is No. 3 seed Kansas, which unfortunately had to exit the Big 12 tournament due to Covid-19 issues and Kansas currently doesn't have a full roster.

On Iowa's end, the Hawkeyes' defense has often plagued them but it has improved to No. 50 nationally, which is good enough for a deep tournament run for a team that has the No. 2 offense. Villanova won a national title in 2018 with a similar combination (No. 1 offense, No. 69 defense entering the tournament), as did Duke in 2015 (No. 4 offense, No. 64 defense entering the tournament).

The potential pitfalls for Iowa are a pair of Pac-12 teams – Oregon, which feels like it has all too often been playing shorthanded, and USC, which will have one of the best players in the entire tournament in Evan Mobley. Predicting anyone in Gonzaga's region to go to the Final Four is difficult, but you could chart a potential path for Iowa to the Elite Eight if you trust Luka Garza and the 3-point shooters that surround him.

The_Fighting_Wildcat4 karma

What are the best ways to determine championships and Cinderellas? Also how did you guys become interested in College Basketball

NCAAcom8 karma

We'll start with Cinderellas, and we're glad you asked. We've found that a good place to start when picking a Cinderella is to look for a team with an elite offense that typically forces more turnovers than it commits and whose top three scorers collectively have an average of at least three years of college experience. Easy enough, right?

There's not secret sauce to picking the right Cinderella, but look for a No. 11, No. 12 or No. 13 seed that can score at will and ideally has a veteran core, and that's typically a good place to start.

As far as picking a champion, this will sound simplistic, but who do you think is capable of winning six games in a row, at least four of which will probably come against a top-25 caliber opponent? That's probably a pretty short list of teams and depending on how many competitors are in your bracket challenge game, go from there. In a smaller group, feel free to pick a favorite, like Gonzaga or Illinois. In a bigger pool, it wouldn't hurt to find a team that might be a less-common pick, like Houston or Alabama, because if that team wins, you'll have fewer competitors who also picked that team with which to compete.

I became interested in college basketball going to Xavier games growing up and seeing the Musketeers transition from a successful mid-major program to getting an invite to join the Big East.

TanClark3 karma

Is an all-conference final four in the cards this year? The big 10 and big 12 have some beasts

NCAAcom11 karma

The easiest answer and the most likely one is "No," as entertaining as that would be. Gonzaga is a big impediment for that, too. But don't rule out a Final Four with multiple teams from the same conference. History says that an average of 1.6 No. 1 seeds and 0.8 No. 2 seeds will make the Final Four and the Big Ten, with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds, is the conference that's the best qualified to send multiple teams to the Final Four.

stedman883 karma

What can I learn from your website that I cant learn far more succinctly (and accurately) by just looking up money lines and point spreads for each game?

NCAAcom8 karma

Great question. There are a lot of great resources available to help you pick individual games but no one else has the access to the Bracket Challenge Game data that we have. Because after all, this is an (inter)national competition against lots of other smart fans, so you need any edge you can get. Plus, we look at the NCAA tournament bracket comprehensively and we can help you with your bracket strategy. Want to know which programs have most over-performed and under-performed in the last decade? What about how to pick potential rematches of regular-season matchups, such as No. 1 seed Gonzaga against Virginia, Iowa or Kansas? How about how many upset picks is too many? We encourage fans to use as many tools and data sets as possible before filling out their brackets, and we think we can help you pick games in a smarter way, too.

damillvider2 karma

What 12 seed do you think has the best chance of beating a 5 seed?

NCAAcom12 karma

Here's how I would list the four No. 12 seeds in the order I think they could win: Georgetown, Winthrop, UCSB, Oregon State. At least one No. 12 seed has upset a No. 5 in 30 of the last 35 years. I don't think we'll see all four win, but I would expect at least one to advance. Starting with Georgetown.

International-Egg3781 karma

What team has beaten the most other 2021 NCAA tournament teams at least once? I think it is Mizzou at nine. Any others close?

NCAAcom6 karma

Mizzou is up there. The Tigers' wins in their 5-0 start all came against teams now in the tournament field. But the nine wins aren't the most. Oklahoma State has 13 wins against teams in the tournament (against 10 different teams). There are a lot of tested teams this year.

Icyfrosty171 karma

Will Florida state play like the team in January/ Feb where they looked like the best in the ACC or will they look like the team that’s lost 3 out of their last 5?

NCAAcom2 karma

If we knew for sure, we'd have a good chance of winning the Bracket Challenge Game, but we'll say this – Florida State arguably has the best chance of a deep NCAA tournament run of any No. 3 or No. 4 seed. Ken Pomeroy's math seems to agree, too, for what it's worth.

While you're right about Florida State having lost three of its last five, one of those games was in the ACC tournament final, so that's a bit like penalizing a team for losing in the College Football Playoff. Put another way, Florida State finished second in both the ACC's regular season and conference tournament, and it has as much size and depth as anyone. Scottie Barnes is a unique talent and the 'Noles have a top-10 offense. Plus, they made the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight in their last two NCAA tournament appearances, respectively, and they would've been something like a No. 2 seed last season.

Virginia has arguably been the class of the ACC for the last six or seven years, but Florida State has established itself as maybe the second or third-best program (talking just currently, not all-time) in the conference.

joey_the_g1 karma

Who do you think comes out of the section with Drake, WSU, USC, and KU?

NCAAcom2 karma

If Kansas is at peak capacity, the Jayhawks would be primed for the Sweet 16. But there's no telling just yet how KU will be affected by COVID-19 protocols after having to drop out of the Big 12 tournament. If you want more certainty when filling out your bracket, look to USC. The Trojans are the highest of these four teams on kenpom.com and have Evan Mobley.

peezozi1 karma

How did you guys do with your main bracket two years ago?

NCAAcom3 karma

Would you believe me if I said I had Virginia? I swear it's true. However, I had the Cavaliers beating Gonzaga in the final. I think in most years, it's a good idea to pick the second, third or fourth No. 1 seed, since the No. 1 overall seed is very, very popular (look at Duke in 2019). This year, Gonzaga will be picked more than anyone else by far. That makes it more difficult to stand out from the pack, even if you pick right.