How to Pick a March Madness Bracket in Five Minutes

Credit: Joe Robbins / Getty Images

You're late. Suddenly, it’s that time of year again, the annual exploitation of college athletes in service of not building an NBA minor league best known as March Madness! Time to borrow someone’s ESPN Insider password and read up on expert analysis, watch some season highlights, carefully consider which stunning upsets you’re comfortable picking, and then — oh, holy crap, you’ve only got, like, an hour to get your bracket in. Hey, me too! Don’t panic though. First, the NCAA tournament is always full of insane surprises that will ruin the most obsessively constructed bracket. Second, there are a bunch of great ways to put a bracket together in five minutes or so. Don't believe us? Well, you don't even have to look for them because we've got your cheat sheet right here for you.

The Obama Doctrine

Hey, why not just pick the same exact bracket that the President did? He’s supposed to be so damn smart, and if you lose, you can blame him. And the odds are, you will lose. It turns out that the guy we trust with drone-strike authority has only managed to correctly pick a tourney champ once in a measly seven tries as president. This year, Obama picked a Final Four of Kansas, Texas A & M, Michigan State, and North Carolina, with Kansas taking home the big prize. It’s conservative-ish, with two Number 1 seeds, a Number 2, and a Number 3, but just keep in mind that Obama has picked Kansas twice and failed, and that the North Carolina and Michigan State picks are probably politically motivated to get a little extra shine for the Democratic party in two up-for-grabs states in the 2016 election.

All Number Ones! All Number Ones!

On the one hand, it’s lazy and cheap to pick all Number 1 seeds. On the other hand, last year was the first year since 2009 that all four Number 1 seeds actually made the Final Four, so no one will probably care if you do this. The other downside to the plan is that once you get all four teams to the semifinal, you can’t even say something to yourself like, “Screw it, I’ll just pick the higher-ranked team to win.” Still, at least it’s a fast way to do it.

Smells Like School Spirit

Is your alma mater in the tournament this year? Hey, congrats. My school isn’t in it this year, so I get to skip the whole thing where you’re torn on picking your Number 12 seed school to go further than the first round, or picking them to win and inevitably blowing everything up. But hey, a 12 seed has to win one of these days, and as long as you don’t have conflicted feelings about most of the people you went to college with, it’s not the worst thing in the world to just pick your school and pray. Don’t have a school in the tourney? Maybe your wife or office crush has a school you can glom on to. Although I don’t know how impressed your crush will be when you sidle up to her and say, “Hey, I know you went there, so I wanted to let you know I picked S.F. Austin in a first round upset.”

Big Data

Nate Silver and his merry band of wizards (okay, fine, “mathematicians”) have made their sacrifices, cast their spells, and peered into the future to determine the odds each school has of winning the tournament. Kansas, with a 19% chance, has the best odds of winning, but that’s also who Obama picked, and we’ve been over how that’s worked out in the past. The other factor stopping me from fully endorsing just taking 538’s picks is that Cafe’s ultimate beltway insider Carl Diggler has been stomping Silver in election predictions this year. The Dig hasn’t shared his bracket, but maybe if you tweet at him, he’ll be kind enough to share some of his insights.

Phone A Friend

Everyone’s got at least one friend who actually watches college basketball and fills out a bracket with a great degree of certainty. If you’re like me, though, the problem here is that your actually knowledgeable friend is in your pool, so he’s not actually gonna tell you anything useful. Maybe, though, you’ve got a college basketball-crazy friend in another state. In that case, give him or her a call this morning, find out how she’s doing (you’re not a monster), and then ask him or her if she’ll send you the bracket. Some people might call this “cheating,” but you know what? Ric Flair was the dirtiest player in the game, and he retired as a 16-time world heavyweight champion, so cheating obviously gets results.

Alphabetically!

You want fast, weird, and devoid of logic without being a total troll? Pick every winner based on which first letter of the school name comes first in the alphabet. Look, if you had a better way to do this, you wouldn’t be trying to figure out how to fill out a bracket in five minutes hours before the first tipoff. Also, this is what I’m doing, so why not join me on the adventure? (Note: In order to avoid totally screwing yourself, feel free not to institute this rule for 1 vs. 16 or 2 vs. 15 matchups.) Your bracket will be bad, and for that I’m slightly sorry. And c'mon, Arizona/Butler isn’t the craziest national championship ever picked. Plus, if you want to go deeper into the dark art of trolling your friends or co-workers, there’s one worse way you can fill out your bracket.

Rollin’ on 16s

Eventually, one day, a 16 seed has to win a game against a 1 seed. What will never, ever happen, is all four 16 seeds in a tournament upsetting the 1 seeds. The odds of that happening are lower than you picking a perfect bracket. The odds of that happening are lower than Gisele hand-delivering ice cream sundaes to your office. This isn’t filling out a bracket to win, it’s filling out a bracket to be a pest, but it is kinda funny. You’re only hurting yourself if you pick all 16s, but your friends might hate you anyway because it means you’re the kind of person who will throw $10 or $20 in the garbage like it’s nothing. Before you do this, strongly consider just lighting the money on fire, because while you’ll also be losing money that way too, at least then you’re committing a cool crime and acting out against the state.