March Madness Bracket Paths


It’s a time-honored tradition: filling out the March Madness bracket. Everyone has their own way of filling it out: advancing the highest rank teams, determining which mascot would beat the other in a head-to-head fight, or applying a “scientific method” with stats and graphs. If it’s just for fun, or as part of an office pool, here’s the information you need to chart a path to victory.

Understanding the Madness

Sixty-four teams will vie to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Division I National Championship, but not all teams are created equal. There are four regions – East, Midwest, South, West – each with 16 different teams ranked No. 1 through No. 16. They will play head-to-head elimination games, pairing the highest ranked seed with the lowest ranked seed (e.g., No. 1 vs. No. 16; No. 2 vs. No. 15). Teams will continue to advance to the regional finals.

After the regional finals, the semifinals will take place, pitting the victors of the East, Midwest, South, and West against one another. The two teams that advance at this stage will play in the final. However, don’t look for many of those lower seeds, No. 9 through No. 16, to make it to the final game. As of 2000, the lowest seed to make it to a final was No. 8. In this same period, No. 1 seeds have made the final 16 out of the 32 possible times. No. 1 seeds have also won 11 of the last 17 tournaments.

The Path of Champions

So maybe you know the teams that qualified this season and have watched more minutes than anyone else in your office. More likely you know some of the teams, at least those who are top ranked, but maybe not much else. Here’s a look at how likely, by seed, teams are to advance within the tournament.

While there is still the likelihood a surprise entrant makes it to the finals – like in 2014 when No. 7 Connecticut emerged from the East to beat No. 8 Kentucky out of the Midwest – fortune seems to favor the better-ranked teams. Anywhere from just below 20 percent to near 30 percent of the time the first ranked team advances forward to the second and third rounds.

In certain locations on the bracket (bottom right, for example), your No. 1 seed team almost goes to a 40 percent chance they’ll make it to the finals. Rolling the dice on a few sleepers may be a good idea, but don’t overthink it either. Those No. 1 seeds may be your ticket to your best bracket ever.

We’ve compiled data to come up with the most common bracket paths to victory. Use the interactive below to help you make some toss-up decisions, and help you do the unthinkable: Turn your bracket into a winner.

How Often a Finalist Might Emerge From a Given Game
How Often a Champion May Win a Given Game
How Often a Runner-Up May Win a Given Game
The Most Likely Path For Getting to the Finals
The Most Likely Path For a Runner-Up
The Most Likely Path For a Champion

The March Toward Glory

Even if you’ve never found success predicting the winner of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Division I National Championship, it’s still easy to root for your favorite teams! Equip yourself with the best officially licensed merchandise and apparel for your school with Don’t get caught wearing the wrong colors when March Madness kicks into full swing.




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