NEW HAVEN -- Whether you are a seasoned veteran who has been filling out NCAA brackets for years, or you've decided to fill out your first one ever, picking the right programs for your perfect bracket can be a difficult and sometimes daunting task (unless of course you just pick your bracket based on who has the funniest looking mascot).
With a field of teams so big, there will be mountains and mountains of data for you to sort through and no matter how much research you do, let's face it, there is an element of luck involved. But luckily for you we've reached out to our veteran handicappers over at Covers Experts to help you out. They've been filling out brackets for years and we've asked them to give you their most important tip for putting together a winning NCAA Tournament bracket.
"For pools that are local, rather than national, my No. 1 bracket tip is to consider the team or teams that other entrants might pick for their Final Four (and eventual champion), and then avoid picking such teams. That is because it's difficult to win a Tournament pool if your entry is vastly similar to other entries. You have to separate yourself from the herd. So, if you live in ACC Country, avoid picking teams like North Carolina and Louisville. If you're in the heartland, steer clear of Kansas and if you're on the West Coast, select teams other than Gonzaga and UCLA."
"Many office pool players work too much on picking the early round upsets and not enough on their Final Four teams. The vast majority of Final Four teams are top seeded teams; No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seeds. I generally pick at least two No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. They earned those top seeds because they've been the best teams in college basketball all season, which is why I rarely call for a No. 1 seed to get upset before the Sweet 16 round at the earliest in my own brackets.
"Additionally, remember, the bigger pool that you are in, the more chances you’ll need to take and the more upsets you should pick, particularly upsets that build big points on the second weekend of the tournament, as we go from the Sweet 16 to the Elite Eight, then the Final Four. For smaller pools, a more conservative strategy is the superior choice. You don’t have as much competition to worry about, and there’s much less of a need to pick a bunch of upsets in order to surpass your opposition."
"My main advice is to put circles around the teams that play the best defense. The last 15 national champions have all been teams ranked in the top 40 nationally in defensive efficiency. "
"Avoid picking a ton of upsets in the First Round. It's tempting, but there simply have been fewer and fewer the last few years because the mid-majors have gotten progressively weaker. When going for an upset, try and focus on teams from better conferences."
"My advice would be to focus on upsets in the 2nd Round or Sweet 16 as opposed to the 1st Round. I find that is often the difference between a winning and losing bracket!"
"Ignore the seeding. I believe a lot of bettors get hung up about what seed a team is. For example, some start worrying about how No. 4 teams have done against No. 13 seeds historically. Every matchup is unique though, so the fact that some No. 13 seed upset a No. 4 seed previously has no relevance to me. If you like the favorite, lay the points. If you like the underdog, take them. Likewise, when filling out your bracket. If you feel that underdog is going to win, don't let its seeding prevent you from taking it to advance."
"I believe the secret to filling out a bracket (or even handicapping games during the tournament), is to be realistic about upsets. We all know that there will be some big surprises, but you don't want to over do it. When a smaller school upsets one of the top ranked teams, everyone talks about it. That tends to overshadow the fact that for every big favorite that loses, several others go on to win. I think you need to be careful not to fall in love with the dogs. "
"One of the things I look to do is seek out deeply experienced teams with five returning starters back from last year’s squad. These teams play with the calmness of a ‘been there, don’t that’ mentality."
"Look for experienced teams to advance. Teams heavy with senior leadership flourish in these types of tournaments. That is also true of experienced coaches."
"My one tip would be to remember this before filling out your bracket: Beyond the top three seeds, teams for the most part do not have a shot at the National Title. Whatsoever. In fact, only one title has been won by a No. 4, 6 and 8 respectively. No other seed in the history of the event has won the tournament."
"My tip would be not to over analyze---don't pick too many upsets. Picking that way will eliminate you even faster than rolling with the main hitters."
"Everyone loves to find those big first round upsets, however most bracket contests double the points each round, so unless you get the Final Four or the Finals correct, all those first and second round upset picks do not matter. It is fun to pick long shots, but historically the best teams win the tournament. In fact, a No. 1 seed has reached the finals in 24 of the past 32 years."
Editor's note: This story was written by Covers.com, a sister site also owned by Tribune.