A Beginner's Guide to March Madness

By Lauren Haan on March 13, 2018

Until recently, I didn’t know much about March Madness because I do not attend a school that ever qualifies for it and I am not a big sports fanatic. However, I did notice that people hype it up every year and have a good time filling out brackets and placing bets on their favorite teams. After being encouraged by a few friends to fill out a bracket, I decided to do a little research first. I found out that all in all, there is no wrong way to fill out a bracket.

There are some trends that tend to occur that are surprising to experts and fans and many claim that they have analyzed them to know for sure who will win the championship, but it is impossible to know. That being said, if you’re a beginner, here is all you need to know in order to fill out a bracket and sound like you know what you are talking about when discussing it with friends, family, colleagues, and/or peers.

via Pixabay.com


Before learning how to fill out your bracket, it’s important to understand some terminology that will for sure come up in conversation, online and on television.

Matchup: one team versus another team.

Seed: How a team is ranked in the tournament. The highest ranked team going into the tournament has a low seed number. For example, the number one team in each conference has a seed number of 1.

Upset: When a lower ranked team beats a higher ranked team.

Conferences: The regions of schools in which participate in March Madness.

The schools participating this year (2018):

  • Auburn University (Auburn), mascot: Aubie Tiger, colors: burnt orange and navy blue
  • Bucknell University (Bucknell), mascot: Bison, colors: orange and blue
  • Butler University (Butler), mascot: Bulldog, colors: butler blue and white
  • Cal State-Fullerton (CSU Fullerton), mascot: Tuffy the Titan, colors: navy blue, white and orange
  • Clemson University (Clemson), mascot: Tigers, colors: Clemson orange and regalia
  • College of Charleston (Charleston), mascot: Cougar, colors: maroon and white
  • Creighton University (Creighton), mascot: Billy the Bluejay, colors: blue and white
  • Davidson College (Davidson), mascot: Will E. Wildcat, colors: black and red
  • Duke University (Duke), mascot: Blue Devils, colors: Duke blue and white
  • Florida State University (Florida State), mascot: Seminoles, colors: garnet and gold
  • Georgia State University (Georgia State), mascot: Pounce the blue panther, colors: blue, white and red
  • Gonzaga University (Gonzaga), mascot: Spike the Bulldog, colors: blue, red and white
  • Iona College Gaels (Iona), mascot: Killian, colors: Maroon and Gold
  • Kansas State (Kansas St.), mascot: Willie the Wildcat, color: royal purple
  • Lipscomb University (Lipscomb), mascot: Bisons, colors: purple and gold
  • Loyola University Chicago (Loyola Chicago), mascot: Lu Wolf, colors: maroon and gold
  • Marshall University (Marshall), mascot: Marco the Bison, colors: kelly green and white
  • Michigan State University (Mich. St.), mascot: Sparty the Spartan, colors: green and white
  • Murray State University (Murray State), mascot: Racer One and Dunker, colors: navy blue and gold
  • New Mexico State University (New Mexico St.), mascot: Pistol Pete, colors: crimson and white
  • North Carolina State University (NC State), mascot: Wolfpack, colors: red and white
  • Providence College (Providence), mascot: Friar Dom, colors: black and white
  • Purdue University (Purdue), mascot: Purdue Pete, colors: old gold and black
  • San Diego State University (San Diego State), mascot: Aztec Warrior, colors: scarlet and black
  • Seton Hall University (Seton Hall), mascot: Pirates, colors: blue, gray, and white
  • South Dakota State University (South Dakota St.), mascot: Jackrabbits, colors: blue and yellow
  • Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA), mascot: Lumberjacks and Ladyjacks, colors: purple and white
  • Texas A&M University (Texas A&M), mascot: Reveille the Collie, colors: maroon and white
  • Texas Christian University (TCU), mascot: Horned Frogs, colors: purple and white
  • Texas Tech University (Texas Tech), mascot: Masked Rider and Rider Red, colors: scarlet and black
  • The Ohio State University (Ohio St.), mascot: Buckeyes, colors: scarlet and gray
  • The University of Virginia (Virginia), mascot: Cavalier, colors: navy blue and orange
  • University of Alabama (Alabama), mascot: Big Al the Elephant, colors: crimson and white
  • University of Arizona (Arizona), mascot: Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat, colors: cardinal red and navy blue
  • University of Arkansas (Arkansas), mascot: Tusk & Big Red hogs, colors: cardinal and white
  • University of Buffalo (Buffalo), mascot: Victor E. Bull, colors: blue and white
  • University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati), mascot: The Bearcat, colors: red and black
  • University of Florida (Florida), mascot: Gators, colors: orange and blue
  • University of Houston (Houston), mascot: Shasta the Cougar, colors: scarlet red and albino white
  • University of Kansas (Kansas), mascot: Jayhawks, colors: crimson and blue
  • University of Kentucky (Kentucky), mascot: Wildcat, colors: blue and white
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), mascot: True Grit (A retriever), colors: black, gold and white
  • University of Miami (Miami (Fla.)), mascot: Sebastian the Ibis, colors: orange, green, and white
  • University of Michigan (Michigan), mascot: Wolverines, colors: maize and blue
  • University of Missouri (Missouri), mascot: Truman the Tiger, colors: black and gold
  • University of Montana (Montana), mascot: Monte the Grizzly Bear, colors: maroon and silver
  • University of Nevada (Nevada), mascot: Alphie, Wolfie Jr. and Luna, colors: blue and silver
  • University of North Carolina (North Carolina), mascot: Rameses, colors: Carolina blue and white
  • University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), mascot: Spiro the Spartan, colors: mustard gold, white and navy
  • University of Oklahoma (Oklahoma), mascot: Boomer and Sooner (horses), colors: crimson and cream
  • University of Pennsylvania (Penn), mascot: Quakers, colors: red and blue
  • University of Rhode Island (Rhode Island), mascot: Rhody the Ram, colors: blue and metallic gold
  • University of Tennessee (Tennessee), mascot: Smoky (a dog), colors: orange and white
  • University of Texas (Texas), mascot: Bevo (Longhorn), colors: burnt orange and white
  • Villanova University (Villanova), mascot: Will D. Cat the Wildcat, colors: blue and white
  • Virginia Tech (Virginia Tech), mascot: Hokie, colors: maroon and orange
  • West Virginia University (West Virginia), mascot: Mountaineer, colors: blue and gold
  • Wichita State University (Wichita), mascot: Shockers, colors: black and yellow
  • Wright University State University (Wright State), mascot: Gray Wolf, Rowdy Raider, colors: green and gold
  • Xavier University (Xavier), mascot: D’Artagnan the Musketeer and the blue blob, colors: blue, silver and white

The first step in creating a bracket is to go to www.ncaa.com/march-madness. Here you can make an account and fill out a bracket. You begin by selecting which teams you think will win in the first round matchups. The top-ranked, or seeded, teams will have an advantage and play lower seeded teams. The number next to each team indicates how they are seeded.

As you move on to each round, remember that upsets occur. At least a couple top-seeded teams will lose to lower seeded teams. When filling out your bracket, its good to include some upsets and cheer for an underdog team. While it’s hard to tell which underdogs will prevail, just use your best judgment.

If you’re having trouble picking a team that’s pretty evenly ranked to move on, Sporting News has identified some strategies that may help. They suggest, choosing the team with blue in their colors or the most blue in their logo/uniforms. A lot of schools’ colors include blue, therefore statistically, most of the March Madness champions have been blue.

Lastly, if you’re still having trouble choosing a team to win in a matchup, you could always choose the team with the fiercer mascot. For example, in the first round, Wright State Raiders (or wolf) plays the University of Tennessee whose mascot is Smokey the dog. A wolf is much tougher than a domesticated canine, therefore Wright State could be chosen to beat the University of Tennessee.

Like I said, there is no wrong way to fill out a bracket. My suggestions might not be the most strategic or team-based, but they can be considered if you are a newbie to March Madness and college basketball in general. Remember, even the most knowledgeable basketball fans can do poorly on a bracket, so no matter how much you know, fill one out and have fun with it!

Hi, my name is Lauren and I am a senior at James Madison University. I love good food, the outdoors and my one year-old pup!

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