March Madness lessons learned when you build your bracket

March Madness Betting History: How To Build A Winning Bracket

College basketball’s March Madness tournament is close. The biggest single tournament on your sports calendar is here to completely captivate North America. I’ve pulled out a few facts about the tournament that should help you build your bracket for March Madness.

So as you get prepared for this massive month-long event, here are a few things you need to know.

Want more March Madness coverage? See our college basketball national championship odds page as well as our guide on how to fill a bracket.

Impossible Odds: Perfect Bracket

If you think you might just go through the March Madness tournament with a perfect bracket, you’re dead wrong. You’re setting yourself up for a massive disappointment because it has never been done and likely never will be done.

The odds of hitting a perfect bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 if you just go about filling your bracket randomly or 1 in 120,200,000,000 if you know the sport. 

To put that into perspective, you have a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of getting struck by lightning and a 1 in 250,000,000 chance of winning the lottery.

So yeah, you’re not hitting a perfect bracket. Neither is your friend Kevin who swears he’ll do it this year.

Not So Favorite

Are you backing the favorite to go the entire way and win the tournament? Here’s what you need to know about the pre-tournament favorite. They rarely win. 

Last 10 Years Opening Odds
TournamentWinner (Odds)Favorite (Odds)
2022Kansas (+900)Gonzaga (+300)
2021Baylor (+500)Gonzaga (+200)
2019Virginia (+675)Duke (+255)
2018Villanova (+570)Villanova
2017North Carolina (+535)North Carolina
2016Villanova (+1500)Kansas (+485)
2015Duke (+1000)Kentucky (+110)
2014Connecticut (+9500)Florida (+550)
2013Louisville (+450)Louisville
2012Kentucky (+185)Kentucky

**The 2020 tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.

The favorite heading into March Madness has only come away with the championship four times in the last 10 tournaments, with the last one being Villanova in 2018, though there was no upset quite like UConn’s in 2014.

The seventh-seeded side from the East defeated second seed Villanova, third seed Iowa State and fourth seed Michigan, then took out South No. 1 seed Florida 63-53 in the Final Four before ultimately defeating Kentucky (the eighth seed in the Midwest) 60-54 to win the championship. That was a heck of a run for a seventh seed.

Big First-Round Upsets

March Madness is the upset season. Make sure you have a few of them in your bracket. But when you’re building out that bracket, you should avoid picking a No. 16 seed to take out a No. 1 seed in the first round. It’s happened only once in tournament history. That was in 2018 when UMBC took out No. 1-ranked Virginia 74-54.

You might have more luck predicting a 2 seed losing to a 15 seed. Over the history of the tournament, a No. 15 seed has knocked off a No. 2 seed in the first round 10 times. It’s also happened twice in the last two tournaments.

In 2021, Oral Roberts knocked out Ohio State 75-72 and in 2022 Saint Peter’s defeated Kentucky 85-79.

Obviously, the further down the matchup list you go, the more likely the potential for an upset. Here’s a breakdown of opening-round upsets by matchup:

Upsets By First-Round Seed
MatchupNumber of UpsetsLast TimeScore
16 vs 112018UMBC vs Virginia 74-54
15 vs 2102022Saint Peter’s vs Kentucky 85-79
14 vs 3222021Abilene Christian vs Texas 53-52
13 vs 4312021Ohio vs Virginia 62-58
12 vs 5532022Richmond vs Iowa 67-63
11 vs 6572022Michigan vs Colorado State 75-63
10 vs 7582022Miami (FL) vs USC 68-66


Look to the South

If you start building that bracket of yours by looking at the four individual regions for the easiest path, consider this: The champion has emerged from the South Region eight times in the last 13 years and five times in the last seven.

Here’s a look at the last 10 winners and their region:

Last 10 Winners By Region
2017North CarolinaSouth


Chalk it up!

Maybe you don’t start building that bracket based on the four regions but based on what sides are seeded No. 1. If that’s how you’re building that bracket, you should know that championship game appearances fall drastically from the No. 3 seed and below. Specifically, if it’s a fifth seed. A fifth seed has never won a national championship.

Winners By Seed
SeedNumber Of ChampionshipsChampionship GameFinal Four Appearances


You’ll want a chalky championship game and championship winner for that bracket. But, again, steer clear of those 5 seeds. There’s a significant dropoff in Final Four appearances from 17 appearances for 4 seeds to seven for 5 seeds.

Good Luck

Consider all of this as you build your bracket for this year’s tournament. And good luck to you. You’re going to need it to have any success. 

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