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March Madness 101: A Few Tips For Your Bracket


It's March. So that means a few things, like turning your clocks forward an hour tonight or breaking out that barbecue for the first time in months. But for a lot of people, it means one thing above all else - Madness as in March Madness. Tomorrow, the full fields will be announced for the men's NCAA basketball tournament. The women's draw will be revealed on Monday.

The winners will be the college basketball national champions. There will be plenty of winners and even more losers in office pools across the country. So we thought it would be a good time to call our very own Tom Goldman NPR sports correspondent. Thanks for being here.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Calling a loser - is that what you're saying? You're calling me a loser.

SINGH: A loser.

GOLDMAN: All right. Happy to be here, Lakshmi.

SINGH: Well, tell me - when you think March Madness, what immediately comes to mind?

GOLDMAN: I think of disappointment when I think of the pools. But I think of excitement, and I think of the first week mainly. The first week always seems to be the best. That's where the madness really is in March Madness. It's where you have all these teams playing, and it's where your really fun upsets will happen usually.

SINGH: OK. So for folks, like myself, who haven't really gotten into it as much as in, you know, recent years, you have any big strategies in mind for those who start filling out their brackets tomorrow?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Well, let me preface this by saying I have one - maybe one pool in the last decade, so buyer beware. OK here are a few tips.

SINGH: All right.

GOLDMAN: If you have face paint and a foam number-one finger and all kinds of colorful T-shirts and sweatshirts from your alma mater...

SINGH: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Put them away.

SINGH: What?

GOLDMAN: You can wear them during the games, but not when you're making your picks. It's not about emotion. It's about business. Only pick your school to win if you went to Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, you know, UCLA, teams this year that have a real chance. OK. Another one.


GOLDMAN: If you want to pick upsets, 12 seeds for some reason do well against fives. So go ahead and pick them. And if you want to pick a whopper upset like a 15 seed over a two or a 14 over a three, don't take your Cinderella team far. They'll often flame out quickly after the thrilling win.

And one thing, Lakshmi, do not pick a 16 seed to beat a number one seed. That is the only guarantee because it's never, ever, ever happened. It might someday, but don't use the someday principle to knock out a first seed that might very well go all the way.

And, lastly, arm yourself with a quarter because you will need to flip a coin on several picks. It's just that close or you don't know the teams, and that's perhaps the biggest rule, except that there's luck involved both in the games and in picking winners.

SINGH: Although I've seen those coins with two heads or two tails, so I'm thinking get the coin that has a head and a tail.

GOLDMAN: There you go.

SINGH: OK. Who are the teams and players to watch on the men's side?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, I mentioned a couple of teams before, but I'll add Louisville, I'll add defending champion Villanova. We haven't had a team win consecutive titles since 2007 when Florida won its second straight - also Gonzaga which spent a good deal of the regular season as the number-one ranked team. The West in general has some very strong teams, along with Gonzaga, UCLA which I mentioned, Oregon and Arizona.

SINGH: And how about the women?

GOLDMAN: Well, the women - of course, it's all about UConn. They have now won 107 straight games, many by whopping margins. Although this season, they had some squeakers. They won by two, by three, by six in three different games, and I asked's great women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel, the question we always ask in March with UConn, can they be beaten? She says, while it's still a tall order, there's probably a better chance this year than last.

Last season, they were ridiculously dominant, rather than their usual unbelievably dominant. They have some younger players leading them this year, and those younger players without a lot of experience in past tournaments. That might make them a little vulnerable, but it should be UConn. We have South Carolina, Baylor, Notre Dame, Maryland as teams that might be the ones to beat them.

SINGH: Well, I hope you go mad this March Madness. Tom, thank you so much for joining us. That's Tom Goldman, NPR sports correspondent. Thanks again.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on

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