Your March Madness Bracket Blueprint For All 63 Picks

Getty Images

It’s great to have March Madness back.

It’s been two years since the last NCAA Tournament, but the 2019 version of my Mega Bracket Breakdown resulted in a 99th percentile bracket. I’ll be using the same strategies in this year’s version — hopefully with the same degree of luck — as well as debuting my March Madness Bracket Builder so you can create your unique bracket.

March Madness Bracket Builder

The best way to gain an edge against the field is to compare the projected chance for a team to win against how many ESPN and Yahoo brackets that team is picked in. This is called Leverage — i.e. the percent difference between the two — which we use to bet on outcomes that are more likely than the public realizes.

March Madness: $4,500+ FREE from sportsbooks

See all MM promos for 10+ books

Bet $20, Win $150 if a team scores

Over $4,500 total for the tourney

A sound bracket strategy takes advantage of these discrepancies while also knowing when to forego Leverage for the more likely outcome. You can see how I try to find that balance in my game-by-game breakdown below, but you can use my Bracket Builder to calculate Leverage by round based on different possible outcomes.

Here’s a quick key to the rest of the Bracket Builder:

  • Chance to win (Win%): My projected chance of that team winning a matchup.
  • Chance to advance (Adv%): My projected odds of that team advancing past that matchup (factoring in previous games).
  • Brackets Taken In (Users%): The percentage of users on Yahoo and ESPN that are taking that team to advance to the next round.

The Round of 64 matchups in the builder are set, but as you work through different possible outcomes in later rounds, you can compare how the Leverage changes.

You can download the tool by subscribing to Action PRO or, if you’re already a subscriber, by clicking here.

Here’s a preview of the West:

I also explain various strategies you can implement based on round-by-round Leverage here, but for now, let’s dive into my bracket.

March Madness Bracket Breakdown

It’s critical to always think ahead to later rounds when making any decisions in your bracket.

No decision is more important than selecting your champion, the second-most important decision is to correctly predict the two finalists, and so on. Bracket scoring system makes it that way — failing to predict the few upsets in the first round can be offset by getting the champion right.

With that in mind, let’s dive into Version 1 of my 2021 bracket — by the end of the week, I’ll reveal my “official” bracket on Action Labs.

Navigate To
West | East | South | Midwest | Final Four | Bracket Builder

West Region

Round of 64

(1) Gonzaga over (16) Norfolk State / Appalachian State

I can’t wait to see how much Gonzaga is favored by once we know the matchup. It’ll potentially be in the low 30s. I’m going to go out on a limb here and pick the Bulldogs to advance to the next round.

(9) Missouri over (8) Oklahoma

Oklahoma and Missouri limped into the tourney. The Sooners have lost seven straight games against the spread (ATS), while the Tigers have gone 2-7 ATS in their last nine. It’s hard to love either team here, and the winner gets to face Gonzaga. Don’t spend too much time on these types of decisions, if you can help it. I’m going with Missouri and their +7.6% Leverage score.

(5) Creighton over (12) UC Santa Barbara

UCSB offers the most value out of all the 12 seeds, which is the conclusion our Ryan Collinsworth arrived at with this detailed breakdown.

However, I’m going to take Creighton here because of the +7% Leverage score it offers in the next round. For this particular bracket, I am not taking Gonzaga to win it all. Therefore, I can be more chalky here and will want the Bulldogs to face the best team(s) in every round. That means having too many upsets in this part of the bracket wouldn’t be ideal.

Strategy note: If you end up taking Gonzaga to win it all, you’re going to want to take more chances along the way. It would make sense to get contrarian here and pick a 12 vs. 13 matchup for the next round, which would correlate with Gonzaga having an easy path to the Elite Eight, as well.

(4) Virginia over (13) Ohio

Virginia had to pull out of the ACC Tournament due to a player testing positive for COVID-19. It’s a situation we’ll want to monitor, but for now, I am penciling them in to advance.

(6) USC over (11) Wichita State/Drake

Similar to my Creighton vs. UCSB analysis above, I realize Wichita State would offer a massive +10% Leverage score here. However, USC would be offering a +15% Leverage score in the next round, which I much rather have.

(3) Kansas over (14) Eastern Washington

Kansas is another team dealing with COVID-related issues that we’ll have to monitor. I realize Eastern Washington has a +9% Leverage score here, but I’m going with Kansas and their 85% chance of advancing. The next round will be when I fade the Jayhawks.

(7) Oregon over (10) VCU

Oregon has the best odds (66%) of advancing of all the No. 7 seeds, which is why I’m picking the Ducks. However, if VCU happens to pull off the upset, that would only make Iowa’s path easier to reach the Elite Eight, which is what I want.

(2) Iowa over (15) Grand Canyon

Iowa offers a +8% Leverage score if you pick them to win the West Region, which I will likely do with my bracket.

Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: Luka Garza

Round of 32

(1) Gonzaga over (9) Missouri

Gonzaga will likely be the only one seed favored by double digits in the Round of 32. Regardless, I’m taking the Bulldogs here.

(5) Creighton over (4) Virginia

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to take advantage of Creighton’s +7% Leverage score here. The point spread would likely be around Virginia -1 for this matchup, but 62% of users are siding with them over Creighton.

(6) USC over (3) Kansas

Only 23% of users are taking USC to advance to the Sweet 16, while I have the Trojans with a 38% chance. They have one of the best players in the tournament in freshman big man Evan Mobley, and I love getting USC as a +15% Leverage play here.

(2) Iowa over (7) Oregon

I’m taking Iowa here because I decided to use it as the team that takes down Gonzaga.

However, if you have Gonzaga going to the Final Four or beyond, you should consider taking Oregon with their +6% Leverage score. You’ll want to separate yourself from other chalky brackets that have Gonzaga. The Bulldogs not having to face Iowa in the Elite Eight would significantly increase their chances of winning it all.

Sweet 16

(1) Gonzaga over (5) Creighton

Gonzaga is still likely going to be favored by double digits this far into the tournament. I’m taking the Zags here along with 84% of users, but I wouldn’t mind if Creighton pulls off the upset. That would bust a ton of brackets and make the path for Iowa to the Final Four that much easier.

(2) Iowa over (6) USC

A matchup between big men Mobley and Luka Garza would be must-see TV. I would have Iowa favored by six points or more, regardless of who it faces here. I have the Hawkeyes rated as the top No. 2 seed in the tournament and have them advancing to the Elite Eight to face off against the Zags.

Elite Eight

(2) Iowa over (1) Gonzaga

Iowa would be the first team to give Gonzaga a run for its money and would only be about a six-point underdog here. A whopping 87% of users take Gonzaga in this matchup, which provides us with an excellent Leverage opportunity in Iowa.

Gonzaga very well could be the first team since 1975-76 to go undefeated, winning the national championship and going down as one of the greatest teams ever. However, the 2020-21 season is one full of uncertainty, and the tournament itself will be held in a unique setting that we have never seen before. The additional uncertainty of it all makes it a bit easier to fade the chalk.

As I mentioned throughout the region, if you make a bracket with Gonzaga winning it all (which I will have the Zags doing in some), you will want to make sure you are taking more chances elsewhere. That way, you will have a unique bracket to separate you from the rest of the pack.

Navigate To
West | East | South | Midwest | Final Four | Bracket Builder

East Region

Round of 64

(1) Michigan over (16) Mount Saint Mary’s/Texas Southern

No need to waste any brain power here. Just take Michigan.

(9) St. Bonaventure over (8) LSU

I’m seeing 68% of users taking LSU here, despite the Tigers being only 1.5-point favorites in the betting market (check live odds here). I’m taking the Bonnies and their +16.5% Leverage score.

(5) Colorado over (12) Georgetown

Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas won the Big East Tournament by winning four straight games as underdogs. They’re an extremely popular 12-seed, with 47% of users taking them to upset 5-seeded, Colorado. It’s offering a ton of value on the Buffaloes with a +17% Leverage score.

(4) Florida State over (13) UNC Greensboro

I’m going with the chalk here. The bottom half of this region is where I see a ton of chaos happening and is when I’ll be taking my home run swings.

Win $5,000 in Our FREE Madness Contest

Free to enter

$5,000 in prizes

Contest closes on Friday at 12pm ET

(11) Michigan State/UCLA over (6) BYU

I thought the public would be all over the BYU fade after hearing nearly every TV pundit claim that “BYU should not be a 6-seed” after the bracket reveal. Alas, 66% of users are taking BYU, although that will likely drop after seeing them as 2.5-point favorites over UCLA or only 1.5-point favorites over Michigan State. I will be taking the 11 seed for the upset here.

(3) Texas over (14) Abilene Christian

Abilene Christian is my favorite 14 seed, and if you want to be aggressive, take the Wildcats here. I’ll be taking Texas but fading the Longhorns in the next round. I’m putting myself in a position in later rounds that I will still benefit if ACU pulls off the upset here.

(7) UConn over (10) Maryland

UConn is a darkhorse as a 7-seed. The Huskies rank inside KenPom’s top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and offer a ton of value over the next few rounds because of how vulnerable the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds are in this region.

(2) Alabama over (15) Iona

It will be fascinating to watch Rick Pitino coaching a 15-seed in the tourney. I have no doubt he’ll have the Gaels ready to play. However, Alabama should be able to put them away with ease.


Round of 32

(1) Michigan over (9) St. Bonaventure

Senior forward Isaiah Livers is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right foot, which is a devastating blow for the Wolverines. They do have enough talent that will help minimize the damage, but I lowered their team rating by about two points to reflect the injury. I still expect them to be 8- to 10-point favorites here and have them advancing to the next round 76% of the time.

(5) Colorado over (4) Florida State

Colorado is offering a massive +17% Leverage score here, thanks in large part to 47% of users picking the red-hot Georgetown to pull off the upset in the Round of 64. If Colorado can come out of that alive, it presents us with another opportunity to cash in on the Buffaloes. Florida State would only be about a 1-point favorite here, yet 78% of users are taking them in this potential matchup.

(11) Michigan State/UCLA over (3) Texas

The public is severely underestimating just how close this (potential) matchup would be. Texas will only be favored by 3-5 points against either No. 11 seed, yet 91% (!) of users are taking the Longhorns to advance. The result is 70% of brackets with Texas moving on to the Sweet 16, while my simulation has them advancing only 47% of the time. I’m taking advantage of this by fading them and taking the +12% Leverage score on the 11-seed to advance.

(7) UConn over (2) Alabama

Alabama would be only a 2- to 4-point favorite against UConn, yet 87% of brackets pick the Tide in the hypothetical matchup. It provides us an excellent +13% Leverage score here, and I’m going to bite on the Huskies.

Sarah Stier/Getty Images. Pictured: Tyler Polley.

Sweet 16

(1) Michigan over (5) Colorado

My strategy is knowing when to take advantage of Leverage and when to go with the likely outcome. I’m going with the latter here and taking Michigan and its 55% odds of advancing to the Sweet 16. If Colorado makes it this far, I will already have a leg up on the field. No need to push my luck even further — I’ll be taking some longshots in the bottom-half of the bracket instead.

(7) UConn over (11) Michigan State/UCLA

If this matchup were to happen (5-6% chance of occurring), I’ll already be sitting pretty. UConn would be about a 3- to 4-point favorite, which is why I’m picking the Huskies to advance to the Elite Eight. If the Huskies were to face Texas here, it would be a pick’em. I think UConn is offering so much value because the general public doesn’t realize just how close any potential matchup with the Huskies would be.

I will admit that it is scary having them in my Elite Eight because their Round of 64 matchup against Maryland is also a toss-up. I’m risking my bracket being “busted” very early on. But in theory, I need to win only three coin tosses to gain a significant edge on the field with UConn.

Part of my strategy here is fading Texas and Alabama so even if it ends up being BYU and Maryland that takes both teams down, I won’t be completely dead.

Elite Eight

(1) Michigan over (7) UConn

This matchup captures the balance of chalk vs. Leverage I strive for in my bracket. I’m banking on the bottom-half of this region to be chaotic and for Michigan to benefit with a slightly easier matchup in the Elite Eight. I have the Wolverines advancing to the Final Four.

Navigate To
West | East | South | Midwest | Final Four | Bracket Builder

South Region

Round of 64

(1) Baylor over (16) Hartford

No need to waste any brain power here, either. Take Baylor.

(9) Wisconsin over (8) North Carolina

I have this matchup as a true coin flip. Therefore, I’m going to lock in Wisconsin and its +6% Leverage score.

(5) Villanova over (12) Winthrop

Villanova suffered a massive blow when leader and starting point guard Collin Gillespie sustained a season-ending injury a few weeks ago. The Wildcats should be able to put away Winthrop here, but I’ll be looking to fade them in the next round.

(4) Purdue over (13) North Texas

North Texas is a great Leverage play considering I give the Mean Green a 22% chance of pulling off the upset with only 9% of users taking them. However, Purdue offers a ton of Leverage over the next couple of rounds and that is more valuable, so I will roll with the chalk here.

G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images. Pictured: Trevion Williams

(11) Utah State over (6) Texas Tech

A huge 76% of users are taking Texas Tech here, and I wonder if it’s because some experts have claimed Utah State didn’t deserve to make the field. I’m in line with the market and have Utah State as only a 4.5-point underdog and think the Aggies offer excellent value.

(3) Arkansas over (14) Colgate

It was unfortunate Colgate drew Arkansas in the first round — Colgate plays at a very fast pace and would be a sneaky upset pick. However, Arkansas also plays at a fast pace and won’t be thrown off one bit. I’m taking the Razorbacks.

(7) Florida over (10) Virginia Tech

Florida is in a very similar spot as UConn in the East Region. The public underestimates the Gators’ chances in future rounds, but it’s essentially a 50/50 chance they advance. I wouldn’t fault you for rolling with the Hokies here instead. The critical decision will come next round against Ohio State anyway.

(2) Ohio State over (15) Oral Roberts

Just take Ohio State and move on.

Round of 32

(1) Baylor over (9) Wisconsin

Most brackets will have Baylor advancing to the national championship game and losing to Gonzaga. The clever play will be to either have them go all the way and win the title, or consider them getting knocked out within the next couple of rounds. Being aggressive with Baylor (in either direction) will be an effective way to gain Leverage with your bracket.

(4) Purdue over (5) Villanova

I resisted the temptation to have Purdue taken down by 13-seed North Texas in the Round of 64 to cash in on the Boilermakers’ +7% Leverage score here. It’s always fun to have a 13- or 14-seed hit, but we have to be thinking big picture here. Purdue offers a ton of Leverage in the Sweet 16 against Baylor.

(3) Arkansas over (11) Utah State

The way to gain significant Leverage with the bottom-half of the South is to fade Ohio State. I am taking Arkansas here, but thinking a couple of steps ahead and taking them to upset Ohio State in the Sweet 16.

(2) Ohio State over (7) Florida

Heading into Selection Sunday, I thought Ohio State would be a lock to make my Final Four and be a sneaky team to have winning it all. However, the public is all over the Buckeyes and offering a ton of incentive to fade. If you want to be super bold, you can have either Florida or Virginia Tech knock Ohio State out here. I’m going to hedge my bets a bit and pick the Buckeyes to win but lose in the next round.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: EJ Liddell

Sweet 16

(1) Baylor over (4) Purdue

For this specific bracket breakdown, I’m having Baylor go all the way. As I mentioned above, the way to gain an edge on the field is to either have the Bears get knocked out here or all the way. Any bracket in which I have Gonzaga winning it all, I will have Purdue advancing here.

(3) Arkansas over (2) Ohio State

Ohio State would be only a 2- to 3-point favorite here, yet 77% of users are taking the Buckeyes. Arkansas is one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Razorbacks are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 games (9-1 straight-up). I’m going to ride their wave into the Elite Eight and potentially to the Final Four.

Elite Eight

(1) Baylor over (3) Arkansas

This bracket is an “all-in” approach on Baylor, so I have them advancing to the Final Four. However, if I decide to switch to a Gonzaga-championship bracket, I will send Arkansas to the Final Four.

Navigate To
West | East | South | Midwest | Final Four | Bracket Builder

Midwest Region

Round of 64

(1) Illinois over (16) Drexel

No need to waste any brainpower here. Just take Illinois.

(8) Loyola Chicago over (9) Georgia Tech

I was shocked to see only 51% of users on Loyola Chicago — the Ramblers are very good for a No. 8 seed and could give Illinois a run for its money in the next round.

(5) Tennessee over (12) Oregon State

I’ll be boring and set up another 4 vs. 5 matchup in the Round of 32. Oklahoma State is a very popular No. 4 seed, so the play here is to have Tennessee beat the Cowboys in the next round.

(4) Oklahoma State over (13) Liberty

Liberty is offering a +11% Leverage score here, but I’m going with Oklahoma State. Cade Cunningham is the likely No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, and he should be able to beat Liberty himself. I’ll be looking to fade in the Cowboys next round, though.

Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Cade Cunningham

(6) San Diego State over (11) Syracuse

I have my sights set on San Diego State’s +11% Leverage score in the Round of 32, so I’m picking the Aztecs to squeak out a win against Syracuse.

(3) West Virginia over (14) Morehead State

I’ll join the 92% of brackets that are taking West Virginia to advance. However, I will fade the Mountaineers and the public in the next round.

(10) Rutgers over (7) Clemson

Rutgers is the top no-brainer Leverage play of the first round. Not only is Rutgers favored in this game by 1.5 points as the 10 seed, but 60% of the public is taking Clemson! It will be so frustrating if Clemson wins this game,, but you have to go with Rutgers here.

(2) Houston over (15) Cleveland State

No need to waste any brainpower here. Just take Houston.

Round of 32

(1) Illinois over (8) Loyola Chicago

Loyola is a dangerous 8-seed, so if you’re in a massive league and want to be super aggressive, go ahead and take the Ramblers here. They will likely be 7- to 9-point underdogs with a 20-25% chance of winning — crazier things have happened. I’ll be taking Illinois in this bracket, however.

(5) Tennessee over (4) Oklahoma State

Fifty-eight percent of the public is picking Oklahoma State to reach the Sweet 16. I get that people want to root for the Cowboys and the best player in the tournament, but they might not realize that Tennessee would likely be the slight favorite in this matchup. It presents us with a solid Leverage play here at +18% on Tennessee.

(6) San Diego State over (3) West Virginia

This line will either be a pick’em or have West Virginia as a slight favorite, yet 77% of users are taking WVU here. It provides us with a solid +11% Leverage score on San Diego to advance to the Sweet 16.

(2) Houston over (10) Rutgers

I realize Rutgers offers a +11% Leverage score here, but a lot of that comes from users loading up on Clemson in the first round. I’m taking Houston with my sights set on the Cougars beating Illinois in the Elite Eight.

houston cougars-vs-wichita state-shockers-thursday-february 18-2021-college basketball-betting-odds-picksCarmen Mandato/Getty Images. Pictured: Houston Cougars forward Quentin Grimes (24).

Sweet 16

(1) Illinois over (5) Tennessee

If you’re in a huge pool with a top-heavy payout and are taking Gonzaga as your winner, you could have Illinois knocked out here. The optimal round to have Illinois knocked out, however, is in the Elite Eight.

(2) Houston over (6) San Diego State

I’m taking Houston to be the team that knocks Illinois out of the tournament in the next round.

Elite Eight

(2) Houston over (1) Illinois

Illinois would be 3- to 4-point favorites in this hypothetical matchup. As of Tuesday, 81% of users are taking the Illini here, which is why Houston offers a juicy +11% Leverage score to reach the Final Four. I’m giving Houston a 25% chance to reach the Final Four, which happens to be right in line with the betting market, yet only 14% of brackets are willing to take that leap.

Navigate To
West | East | South | Midwest | Final Four | Bracket Builder

Final Four

(1) Baylor over (2) Houston

Again, this bracket is meant to be “all in” on Baylor — you either want to have the Bears go down early or go all the way, so I have them advancing here.

My “Gonzaga” bracket will have Houston beating Arkansas to advance to the Final Four.

(1) Michigan over (2) Iowa

Michigan is a sneaky play to reach the championship. Yes, Isaiah Livers’ injury hurts the Wolverines’ chances of making it there — I’m assuming he’ll be out for the entire tournament and have lowered their team rating by two points. However, there’s a chance he could return by this point, which would give the Wolverines a considerable boost and offers them some sneaky upside.

In my “Gonzaga” bracket, I will be joining the masses and have Michigan losing to the Zags here.

Championship Game

(1) Baylor over (1) Michigan

As promised, my “all in” on Baylor bracket would end in them being my pick to win it all.

The Bears were 18-0 and one of the top teams in the nation before taking a three-week break due to COVID-related issues. Upon return, they struggled a bit, going 5-2 straight up and 1-6 ATS. It’s not a surprise they were a bit rusty after taking that much time off.

They are a very volatile team heading into the tourney because they can regain their form at any time — that’s why it’s key to either have them get beat early on or have them go all the way and take advantage of their +2.6% Leverage to win it all.

Navigate To
West | East | South | Midwest | Final Four | Bracket Builder

March Madness Bracket Builder

Download the spreadsheet with the tool by by clicking this link or the picture below.

Are you looking for a safe, reliable, trustworthy sportsbook? Check out our ratings of the best sportsbooks and their current sign-up offers for new customers.

Read More

Related Articles


error: Content is protected !!