Here’s the straight dope from a college basketball junkie.
With the NCAA Basketball Tournament coming, I vow not to repeat last year’s mistake. I filled out my bracket without putting any thought whatsoever into it. By the time the second round concluded, March Madness had become March Sadness as my bracket was completely stained in red ink.
This year, I’ve conducted some research to justify my picks. Here are a few tips I’ll gladly share with you:
- Don’t play it safe. Be bold and pick several first-round upsets. Remember last year when the University of Maryland-Baltimore County became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed, Virginia? Early-round upsets happen. That said, you’re more likely to look like a genius by picking one of the No. 15 seeds to beat a No. 2 seed. That has occurred eight times throughout NCAA Tournament history.
- Pick either Duke or North Carolina to the Final Four—but not both. In 10 of the past 18 seasons, at least one of these teams has advanced to the Final Four. However, despite their rich histories, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels have been in only one Final Four together. That was in 1991 when Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski, won his first national championship.
- Pick a Cinderella team to the Sweet 16. In the age of parity, it’s likely to happen. Here’s a quick reminder of teams who got that far: Cleveland State in 1986, Richmond in 1988, Chattanooga in 1997, Valparaiso in 1988, Cornell in 2010, and Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.
- Pick a mid-major team to the Final Four. There’s always that one region of the bracket where the top seeds are eliminated early, leaving the door wide open for an unexpected Final Four participant. Think George Mason in 2006, Butler in 2010 and 2011, Virginia Commonwealth in 2011, Wichita State in 2013, and Loyola-Chicago in 2018.
- Don’t pick Kansas to the Final Four. Despite a plethora of talent at his disposal, Coach Bill Self has never led Kansas to back-to-back Final Four appearances. Before last season, KU hadn’t competed on college basketball’s grandest stage since 2012.
- Pick Kentucky to advance past the first round. John Calipari is a perfect 9-0 in first-round games since becoming head coach of the Wildcats.
- Pick Michigan to advance to the Sweet 16. Since 2013, John Beilein has led his Wolverines to the Sweet 16 four times—including two national championship game appearances.
- Pick Michigan State to lose by the second round. The Spartans haven’t advanced past this round in four years, and in 2016, they suffered a crushing first-round loss to Middle Tennessee State. It looks like Coach Tom Izzo’s Final Four runs are a thing of the past.
There you have it, folks. If you follow these tips and your bracket turns out comically awful, then next year forget historical trends and just use the eeny-meeny-miny-moe approach.
When it comes to the wildly unpredictable NCAA Tournament, that method is probably just as effective.