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How to Make a March Madness Pool

Publish Date: 03/13/2023
Fact checked by: Allan Howe

It’s March Madness, when college basketball seems to be on the television every hour of every day. It’s the time of year when you corral your friend group and family for an NCAA Basketball Tournament Pool.

During March Madness, people who otherwise don’t pay attention to college basketball start talking about “bracketology” and staring at their phones to find out if Northeast Appalachian State has beaten Holy Cross of Central Arkansas.

The best way to add a fat layer of fun to the tournament is to start a March Madness Pool. But how? In this guide, we explain how to make your own March Madness Pool.

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How a March Madness Pool Works

What is a March Madness Pool?

That’s when you or a group of people fill out your own NCAA Basketball Tournament brackets and compete to see who picks the most winning teams.

Each tournament has 64 teams in four regions of 16 (after four play-in games). Many people don’t count the play-in games (or “First Four”) as part of the bracket challenge.

Typically, the scoring goes like this:

  • One point for each correct pick in Round One
  • Two points for every correct pick in Round Two
  • Four points for every pick in Round Three
  • Eight points for each correct pick in Round Four
  • 16 points for each correct pick in Round Five
  • 32 points for a correct pick in the final round

A March Madness pool has 192 points total possible points (32 points per round) using the scoring method above. Often, the tiebreaker is to choose the combined points scored in the championship game.

Each round of March Madness is usually known by a name:

  • Round 1: Round One
  • Round 2: Round Two
  • Round 3: Sweet Sixteen
  • Round 4: Elite Eight
  • Round 5: Final Four
  • Round 6: National Championship Game

The more teams you pick correctly and the more college basketball teams you pick that go deep into the tournament, the better your chances to win a March Madness pool. Even if you fall behind in the first two rounds, if you pick enough teams to get to the Elite Eight and Final Four, you can have a chance to win the prize.

Alternatively, some people like to score this way:

  • First Round, 1 point
  • Second Round, 2 Points
  • Third Round, 3 Points
  • Fourth Round, 4 Points
  • Fifth Round, 6 Points
  • And finally, Sixth Round, 10 Points

Online vs Offline: Which is Best for your NCAA Tournament Pool?

Should you create a March Madness pool to be tracked online or print out brackets and do it the old-fashioned way?

That’s a personal preference. Or you could participate in both.

The only March Madness pools are hosted by websites like ESPN and CBS Sports. In those pools, you can fill out your bracket and invite your friends to join you in a private pool OR compete in a public March Madness pool. It’s up to you.

It’s free to create a March Madness pool from CBS Sports or ESPN. Make sure to set a deadline for your players to logon and fill out their brackets. Players will be locked out if they do not fill their brackets in before tip-off of the first game of the tournament.

If you want to have the fun of tallying up the points and having your friends and family fill out their brackets in a social setting (at your favorite sports bar, for example), then an offline March Madness pool is for you.

Many websites, including DraftKings, offer free brackets you can download for your offline (IRL) MArch Madness pool competition.

If you’re doing a real-world March Madness pool, you can collect the entry fees (if any) and hold them until the final round is completed. See our tips below for ways you could split prize money.

Download March Madness Brackets Free

We have you covered. Download free March Madness brackets here. Print them, make copies, and distribute to your friends and family. The more that participate the more fun you’ll have.

March Madness Empty Bracket sheet

Gamble or No?

According to Statista, every year 36.5 million adults fill out at least one March Madness bracket. Last year, according to the American Gaming Association, #2.8 billion was wagered on March Madness. But we can’t be sure how many of that was from brackets between friends outside of a sportsbook.

Technically, wagering money on the bracket in your own March Madness pool is not prohibited in most states. However, friendly pools are not going to cause the authorities to knock down your door.

Many people who otherwise would never register and wager with a sports betting app, are comfortable tossing in $5 or $10 or more in a March Madness pool.

Here are the most common payouts for a March Madness pool:

  • Overall winner gets 50% of the prize pool
  • 25% paid to the entrant who picks the most winners in first, second, and third rounds.

Some pools also pay out something to the player who gets the fewest points. Typically they egt their entry fee back.

Seeding Winning Percentage

This section can help you strategize your March Madness pool picks. Remember that upsets are part of the NCAA Tournament, but they are still rare. So pick them judiciously. Or kiss your stake goodbye.

The information below is courtesy CBS Sports, which broadcasts the NCAA Tournament, the Final Four, and title game.

  • The No. 1 seed is 147–1 against the No. 16 seed (.993 winning percentage)
  • The No. 2 seed is 138–10 against the No. 15 seed (.932)
  • The No. 3 seed is 126–22 against the No. 14 seed (.851)
  • The No. 4 seed is 117–31 against the No. 13 seed (.791)
  • The No. 5 seed is 95–53 against the No. 12 seed (.642)
  • The No. 6 seed is 91–57 against the No. 11 seed (.615)
  • The No. 7 seed is 90–58 against the No. 10 seed (.608)
  • The No. 8 seed is 72–76 against the No. 9 seed (.486)

That means that the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 seeds are a combined 411-33 since the field went to 64 teams. It’s tempting to pluck a No. 16, 15, or 14 off the bracket line and push them through to round two, but it rarely happens.

The point where the seeding starts to even out, and the underdog has a real fighting chance is the No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup. In 19 of the last 21 March Madness tournaments, at least one No. 12 has upset a No. 5 in round one.

The lower seeds are 134-162 in the 8/9 and 7/10 matchups. That’s a 45.2% chance for the upset. Which gives you many interesting games to look at in the first round. Find that team you especially like on those lines, and if you think they have what it takes to get to the Sweet Sixteen, consider them. Because being that guy or gal who picks the unexpected team to get to the second week of the tournament can help your chances to win a March Madness Pool.

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