March Madness Cheat Sheet: All the answers you need to fill out your bracket (2024)

  • ESPN College Basketball Analysts

Mar 20, 2024, 04:00 PM ET

It's fewer than 24 hours until the NCAA men's college basketball tournament tips off and March Madness begins in earnest, with the first game scheduled for 12:15 p.m. ET on Thursday. In the days since the bracket was revealed, ESPN's team of analysts -- including Jeff Borzello, Myron Medcalf, Joe Lunardi, John Gasaway, Paul Hembekides and Keith Lipscomb -- has been tirelessly dissecting the bracket and producing tens of thousands of words to help you be smarter and more informed about filling out yours. But as time gets short, do you have time to read it all? Probably not. But don't worry, that's why cheat sheets were invented.

Below, you will find all the answers you need as you construct a winning entry into Tournament Challenge, your office or family pool, or shooting for Gregg Nigl's unofficial record of best bracket ever. If you want to dig in more, follow the link to each individual column, but if all you need are the takeaways, this cheat sheet has you covered.

Jeff Borzello's Instant Bracket

Borzello predicts a score for each matchup and advances them through a bracket. If it plays out this way, here are Jeff's predictions for the Final Four and the national championship.

  • No. 1 (East) UConn defeats No. 2 (West) Arizona

  • No. 1 (South) Houston defeats No. 3 (Midwest) Creighton

  • UConn defeats Houston for the title

Joe Lunardi's Bracket Guide

Joey Brackets and his team identified strengths, weaknesses and that one thing that might allow each school to survive and advance, and gave each team a final ranking. Here is the top 10.

  1. (1) UConn Huskies

  2. (1) Houston Cougars

  3. (2) Arizona Wildcats

  4. (2) Tennessee Volunteers

  5. (2) Iowa State Cyclones

  6. (6) Texas Tech Red Raiders

  7. (5) Gonzaga Bulldogs

  8. (9) Michigan State Spartans

  9. (1) Purdue Boilermakers

  10. (2) Marquette Golden Eagles

... Wait a minute. Where's (1) North Carolina? They weighed in at No. 17 in the field.

Medcalf's guide to all 68 men's teams

Myron Medcalf was among the first to react to the bracket release with his 68-team guide to the field. In it, he provided a "ceiling" for each team in the tournament. Here's how he grouped the top contenders.

The National Championship Contenders

  • (1) UConn Huskies

  • (1) Houston Cougars

  • (1) Purdue Boilermakers

  • (1) North Carolina Tar Heels

  • (2) Tennessee Volunteers

  • (2) Arizona Wildcats

  • (3) Kentucky Wildcats

  • (3) Creighton Bluejays

Other Final Four contenders

  • (2) Iowa State Cyclones

  • (2) Marquette Golden Eagles

Elite Eight contenders

Sweet 16 contenders

  • (3) Illinois Fighting Illini

  • (4) Kansas Jayhawks

  • (5) San Diego State Aztecs

  • (5) Wisconsin Badgers

  • (6) BYU Cougars

  • (6) Texas Red Raiders

  • (6) South Carolina Gameco*cks

  • (7) Florida Gators

  • (8) Florida Atlantic Owls

  • (9) Michigan State Spartans

  • (10) Colorado Buffaloes

  • (10) Nevada Wolf Pack

  • (12) James Madison Dukes

  • (12) McNeese Cowboys

  • (12) Grand Canyon Lopes

Giant Killers

No bracket is complete without some upset picks. John Gasaway and Keith Lipscomb reveal what our College Basketball Power Index identified as the most likely upsets, defined as a team beating an opponent with at least a five-seed advantage.

  • No. 11 New Mexico Lobos vs. No. 6 Clemson Tigers

  • No. 11 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 6 South Carolina Gameco*cks

  • No. 12 James Madison Dukes vs. No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers

  • No. 12 Grand Canyon Lopes vs. No. 5 Saint Mary's Gaels

  • No. 12 UAB Blazers vs. No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs

  • No. 12 McNeese Cowboys vs. No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs

  • No. 11 NC State Wolfpack vs. No. 6 Texas Tech Red Raiders

  • No. 13 Samford Bulldogs vs. No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks

  • No. 11 Duquesne Dukes vs. No. 6 BYU Cougars

  • No. 14 Morehead State Eagles vs. No. 3 Illinois Fighting Illini

Paul Hembekides's 10 rules everyone should follow when filling their men's bracket

You're almost ready to put it all together. Before you do, here's some quick trends you need to make sure you pay attention to.

  1. Advance one First Four team to the round of 32

  2. Do not predict a 16-over-1 upset

  3. Predict at least one 12-over-5 upset

  4. Eliminate at least one No. 2 seed prior to the Sweet 16

  5. Advance at least one double-digit seed to the Sweet 16

  6. Advance at least one team seeded 5 or lower to the Elite Eight

  7. Do not advance a double-digit seed to the Final Four

  8. Advance no more than two teams from the same conference to the Final Four

  9. Pick a No. 1 seed to win the national championship

  10. But don't pick UConn to do it.

Upset Alert! How 11-seeds have become the new 12s

It may still be wise to take a 12-seed if you like the matchup, but Keith Lipscomb broke down the data to find out that: "After failing to win a first-round game just three times in 30 years, No. 12 seeds have been shut out in three of the past eight tourneys."

If you're looking for bracket facts to latch onto when making your picks, try these on for size: Only the 1 through 4 seeds have more Sweet 16, Elite Eight or Final Four appearances than No. 11s in the 68-team era (since 2011). Yes, really. Five times in this span of 12 tournaments, multiple 11-seeds advanced to the Sweet 16, something that hadn't been done since 1985 prior to that.

March Madness Cheat Sheet: All the answers you need to fill out your bracket (2024)
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