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March Madness: The Perfect Bracket for Large Pools

by March 15, 2021

After what seems like forever ago, we finally have a bracket again! It’s the best time of year to sit and stress over first-round picks, flip coins when you’re unsure, and enjoy one of the best weekends in sports. There is a lot to think about, so that’s why I am here to put your mind at ease. Not everyone has the time to do hours upon hours of research when filling out their bracket, so I took it upon myself to do it for you and share my results.

I will be writing different articles on building the perfect bracket for small, medium, and large-sized pools. Every different pool will obviously have varying levels of risk vs. return, but after ample research, I have found keys to filling out each type of bracket. 

Below I have laid out three keys for building a bracket in a large pool. Be sure to use the BettingPros bracket optimizer to help your research as well.

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Get Creative With Gonzaga

Gonzaga’s implied odds to win the tournament are about 33%. This is valid, but I still expect the number of brackets to include them as their champion to be closer to 40%, if not higher. This means choosing a team other than Gonzaga as your champion offers great leverage.

Furthermore, their implied odds to make the Final Four sit at around 70%. Again, I see almost the entire field putting Gonzaga into their Final Four with a sharpie, which offers another incredible leverage opportunity. Being in a large pool means a need for creativity and using leverage to your advantage, so picking a team like Iowa here to topple Gonzaga in the Elite 8 can seriously pay you off if you’re correct. 

Check out all of our 2021 March Madness coverage >>

Identify a Surprise Final Four Team

In each of the last seven tournaments, and nine of the last 10, a team seeded fifth or worse has made it to the Final Four:

  • 2019: Auburn (5)
  • 2018: Loyola-Chicago (11)
  • 2017: South Carolina (7)
  • 2016: Syracuse (10)
  • 2015: Michigan State (7)
  • 2014: UConn (7), Kentucky (8)
  • 2013: Wichita State (9)
  • 2012: None
  • 2011: Butler (8)
  • 2010: Butler (5), Michigan State (5)

This is a pretty exceptional sample size and shows that it is okay to include a non-conventional team in your Final Four. As you can see, it isn’t always a stereotypical Cinderalla team and rarely a double-digit seed, but there has consistently been a team included in very few brackets that makes the Final Four. If you want to win a large pool, you have to nail the Final Four. This means nailing that surprise pick. Some qualified candidates I see worthy of making it that far include UConn, LSU, Rutgers, and Michigan State. 

Understand Leverage Points, and Don’t Be Afraid to get Burned

Picking Gonzaga to lose in the Elite 8 is a leverage point I mentioned earlier, but there are opportunities across the board to gain leverage on your opponents. Texas will be a popular Final Four pick after running the table in the Big 12 tournament, but Abilene Christian is a tough first-round opponent, and the road forward is tough.

Finding leverage is not just about upsets either. Villanova will be a popular pick to have an early departure, but they are still a talented team with one of the best coaches in the country capable of making it to the Sweet 16 and beyond. The same goes for Virginia. If you include enough non-conventional picks and surprise teams in your Elite 8 and Final Four, you can still have a one-seed winning and take down your tourney. You will have to get a bit risky and might get burned on some of your choices, but that’s what you will have to do in this all-or-nothing scenario.  

Find out more about building the perfect March Madness Brackets:

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Ryan Coleman is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Ryan, check out his archive.

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