It’s just sitting there, blank and full of possibilities, open to any permutation your little heart desires. Everyone and their brother fills one out, but your bracket is special. It represents your gut feelings, your carefully crafted March Madness theories. When it’s done, you sit back and admire it, sure that this is the year you nail virtually every pick.
But something inevitably goes wrong.
That Cinderella never dances. That sure-fire Final Four team goes ice cold. Nobody guards the damn inbounder in a late-game situation.
Yes, it all goes to pot and someone’s girlfriend, who made her selections based on which mascot was the most ferocious, wins the your pool.
Luckily, I’m here with ten tips that can keep this Doomsday scenario from happening yet again.
1. Don’t be a hero
Everyone wants to be the genius who picks all the upsets. Sure, picking the Goliath one will make you look brilliant if it happens. It will also decimate your bracket quicker than Marcus Paige’s first step if it doesn’t. Go ahead and pencil all No. 1 and 2 seeds into the second round. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the top two teams in each region are a combined 217-7. Additionally, No. 1 seeds win 87 percent of their second-round games.
2. Keep the 12-over-5 trend alive
In every tournament since 1989 – except for 2001 and 2007 – a No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5 seed. Last year, three out of four of these matchups went to the underdog. Overall, they’ve won 38 percent of the time, a much higher frequency than No. 11 seeds over No. 6 seeds. This year’s most likely candidate? N.C. State, who has one of the highest scorers in the country, T.J. Warren. Second-most likely? Harvard over Cincinnati. The Bearcats can’t score.
3. Mr. Obvious
With pool scoring awarding more points for later rounds, what really matters is nailing the Final Four and eventual national champion. And, as unsexy as it sounds, this is the time to make a logical, informed choice. It seems obvious, but it’s usually a team that is statistically dominant that wins it all. Twenty-three of the past 25 champions have averaged at least 77 points per game and a scoring margin of 10-plus points per game during the regular season. Additionally, since 1979, every national champion has had at least one McDonald’s All-American — except Maryland in 2002.
4. Believe in the ACC
At least one ACC team has reached the Final Four in 22 of the last 29 tournaments. Duke has been up and down this year, but they are Duke. Syracuse has obvious flaws, but their zone is a gamechanger. For my money, the regular season and tournament champion Virginia is the best bet.
There’s no shortage of people out there who will tell you they’ve got a fail-safe system of selecting the winners. The only problem with that is that there are 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 different ways to fill this thing out. So, if you’ve got some sort of connection to Providence (you went to Catholic school, for instance), go ahead and take a flyer on them. Like the sound of Mercer? Pencil them in for an upset. The great part about March Madness is that it puts analysts and know-nothings on the same playing field. And, trust me, the more knowledgeable entrant doesn’t always win.
6. Guard-ian angels
The NCAA Tournament is all about guards, guards and more guards. This bodes well for Gary Harris of Michigan State, Scottie Wilbekin of Florida and Chris Smith of Louisville. In close games, and you know there will be plenty on neutral courts, do you really want to pick a team without a play-making ball-handler who can either create his own shot or create one for a teammate? Thought not.
7.Light ‘em up
Don’t be afraid to take a risk on a team with a player who can explode for a monster game. This year’s parlor pick? Creighton, led by Doug McDermott. Need another? Baylor and Brady Heslip.
8.Support the Big Ten
Expect the Big Ten to make a lot of noise this year, led by Michigan State, who is well-rounded enough to win the whole thing. Michigan and Wisconsin are legitimate threats to reach Dallas. Ohio State is ugly, but has been known to yield great tournament results.