March Madness 2023: NCAA tournament last-minute bracket tips

We’re getting close to window lock for your 2023 Tourney Pick'Em bracket, which means it’s time for our last-minute tip sheet. You need some final swing thoughts on the NCAA men's tournament before you click on your final answer. Here are some things to consider, prudent advice we try to offer every season.

Your late-round picks are most important

This is obvious to any seasoned tournament player, but it’s still worth mentioning up front. Most contests stagger the scoring so that the points are heavily weighted to the end of the tournament. This means that if a non-Cinderella wins the whole thing, most likely, you will absolutely need to have that team on your final line, along with other shrewd picks. If a shocking team cuts down the nets, perhaps you can win your tournament without the title team properly selected. But more often than not, you need the winner.

So focus most of your energy on the later picks. That’s where the glory is.

Let the point spread be your guide

If you simply focus on the NCAA seeding of each matchup, you’ll miss the perceived difference between some teams. Although Marquette is a No. 2 seed, it’s only a 10.5-point favorite over Vermont. No. 4 Virginia is a 5.5-point favorite over Furman, but No. 4 Tennessee is an 11.5-point favorite over Louisiana (beware the Rick Barnes effect, of course).

There’s a ton of interest in the NCAA tournament and the books have incentive to put out a solid line. Obviously sports are unpredictable and these games are played by athletes in their teens and early 20s, so some results will fall nowhere close to the projected outcome. But if you want a good sense of team strength, Vegas is your friend. We use this hack all the time in fantasy football, and it’s just as useful here.

Some teams are underseeded, some are overseeded. The point spread helps us figure out those perception gaps.

[Free bracket contests for both tourneys | Printable Women's | Men's]

Your contest might have discernible biases

One of my earliest bracket wins came in 1995, when UCLA cut down the nets. My angle on UCLA was simple — I thought the Bruins had a plausible chance to go deep in the tournament, and I expected almost no one in my East Coast-based group to play them. Early in the tournament, I realized that if the Bruins were the champion, I was going to win, no matter what else I got right on my sheet. It’s a nice feeling.

In some bracket contests, you’ll know very little about your opposition and their likely picks and habits. That’s okay. But in an office or neighborhood contest, you might be able to sleuth out some of the expected picks. Use all the information you have available to you. Be mindful who the hometown team is.

My Preferred Style: Secondary favorites with high upside

Generally I will not pick the first or second favorite on my tournament sheets; there’s so much crowding there. As I compose this article, Alabama (22.05 percent), Houston (13.95 percent), Kansas (12.92 percent), and Purdue (8.42 percent) are the four heaviest favorites in the Yahoo game. That’s to be expected —they’re the No. 1 seeds. (It’s interesting that Houston isn’t the first favorite, given that the Cougars the betting favorite in Vegas, and the Final Four will be played in Houston.)

Alabama is the most popular pick to win it all in the men's bracket on Yahoo, but should you look to pivot? (AP Photo/John Amis)
Alabama is the most popular pick to win it all in the men's bracket on Yahoo, but should you look to pivot? (AP Photo/John Amis)

But perhaps you’ll get more bang for your buck with a secondary favorite, maybe one of the next four teams: Gonzaga (6.33 percent), UCLA (6.28 percent), Arizona (6.08 percent) or Texas (5.62 percent). I’m more likely to fish in that pond (though if I had to roll with a chalk No. 1 seed, I’d take Houston over Alabama).

Remember college basketball is a coach’s game

If you peruse the list of recent NCAA champions, you’ll see plenty of blue-blood programs and plenty of big name coaches, the names you know by heart. Roy Williams and Coach K; Jay Wright and Jim Calhoun; John Calipari and Billy Donovan. If you want to feel good about your brackets, you better feel good about the people in charge of your key teams.

Of course, it’s more likely than not that my picks will be wrong. There are a bunch of teams who can take down the title. And while you’re welcome to consider any of my advice, at the end of the day, it’s your team, it’s your sheet, it’s your dance. Take your best shot. Embrace the madness. Have some fun.