‘March Madness’ has finally arrived, and guessing the results of the biggest tournament in college sports is an American pastime that even the President gets involved in. In case you were feeling left out, here’s how to build a good bracket.
Welcome to the excitement that is the ‘big dance’; 68 college basketball teams competing for the opportunity to write their names in American sporting immortality whilst tens of millions of sports-mad workers secretly try to find internet feeds of matches at their office computers.
The tab next to it has their tournament bracket, which hopelessly fails after the Round of 32 because they didn’t research properly or they picked their teams based on who has the coolest logo.
That won’t be you though; whether this is your first time filling out a bracket or you’re a seasoned veteran, here are some helpful tips to make your bracket a success this year.
1) Don’t be THAT person to pick a #16 seed over a #1 seed
It’s never happened before in 120 games, and it will probably never happen ever. Unless you’re in this just for a funny story, just pick the #1 seed and move on.
2) Pick with your head, not your heart
So you support the #15 ranked North Dakota State Bison? That’s fine, just don’t have them making an unprecedented run to the championship just because you like the team.
Doing this with perennial powerhouse teams like Duke and Kentucky is passable as a technique, but avoid supporting your team unless you’re confident they can win the matchup at hand.
3) Teams are ranked higher than others for a reason
There are roughly 325 teams in Division 1 college basketball, so you can understand why rankings can be occasionally wrong. However, the amount of thought placed into these rankings by experienced members of the selection committee is unbelievable, so it’s safe to trust the hierarchy.
Picking the highest seeds in every matchup is a fairly solid technique for beginners, but you’ll hit trouble when you reach the Final Four where there are four #1 seeds.
Most of the time, the higher seed tends to get the win…
4) However, #12 seeds frequently beat #5 seeds
There’s an exception to the rule, and it’s a rather large exception.
In the last eight meetings between #5 and #12 seeds, the #12 seed has won six times. How does that happen?
The selection system places teams who win the smaller conferences as lower seeds because their ‘strength of schedule’ is much worse than the teams who may finish 3rd or 4th in a big conference like the ACC, Big 12, Big 10 etc.
These champions of smaller conferences actually are good teams, and if you find a vulnerable #5 seed (examples this year include Arkansas), the upsets are fairly likely when you think about it.
This trend applies to teams who fill #13 and #14 seeds as well, but logically it’s much more difficult for them to beat better teams. It still happens occasionally though, so do your research and find a nice upset or three to separate yourself from the rest.
5) High seeds from smaller conferences: Buyer beware
Whilst it’s important to respect smaller conferences and their good sides, let’s not get too carried away.
Wichita State’s campaign last year is a good example of this. Coming out of the smaller Mountain Valley Conference, they were 34-0 heading into the tourney, which landed them a #1 seed.
They got knocked out in the round of 32…(against eventual runner-up #7 Kentucky, but it still counts).
Their strength of schedule was relatively poor due to their conference play, and the inexperience in big games can cripple even highly ranked sides.
So this year, look carefully at #2 Gonzaga. They are a very good team, but keep the conferences in mind when you make these decisions.
6) Pick a ‘Cinderella’ team to make the Sweet 16
Named after the fairytale, these teams create their own incredible storyline and capture the imagination of a nation.
These are usually teams which are ranked #10 onwards, and they manage to pull off a few upsets in a row to make an unlikely run and make you wonder if they can keep going all the way.
No team less than a #8 seed has won the whole thing, but it is fun to dream. It’s also a trend that one or more of these teams makes the Sweet 16 stage of the tourney (#8 Butler and #11 VCU both made the Final Four in 2011).
Cinderella teams are hard to pick because by nature, they are unpredictable and surprising. However, using your gut (paired with a bit of research obviously) is the most effective tactic.
7) Don’t feel uneasy about picking #1 seeds for your Final Four
I’m guilty of this, but just because you don’t have a hipster-like pick for the Final Four or Elite Eight, that doesn’t mean you’re making a mistake.
Kentucky (undefeated), Duke, Villanova and Wisconsin are ranked #1 in their respective regions for a reason: they are the four best teams in the country. If they all, or at least most, get through to the Final Four, the committee has done their job. So make sure you’re picking the best team in each matchup, not to make yourself different.
If you’re interested in filling in a bracket, follow this link (http://games.espn.go.com/tournament-challenge-bracket/2015/en/), and if you’re stuck for ideas, check out my bracket here: (http://games.espn.go.com/tournament-challenge-bracket/2015/en/entry?entryID=2012517)
Written By Chris Guscott – @Chris_Guscott