One day left to turn in those brackets to the office manager, or your frat brother from college, or Warren Buffett, or whoever’s running your pool. You may have a general idea of how you’re going to make the tough decisions, but having a macro strategy for bracketology is more important. Right Field has the secret rulebook, honed by years and years of couch-surfing across every college basketball channel. These rules are guaranteed to win you your pool.
Or, you know, at least guaranteed that you’ll place higher than the guy who picks according to which mascot would win in a fight (answer: the championship arena loses when the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes meet the Iowa State Cyclones).
Here are the rules – some old, some new.
1. Don’t fall in love with the upset: This is where so many brackets go awry. It’s why Steve from accounting, who watches more college basketball than the rest of your pool combined, loses every year. Steve has watched every quarter of Sun Belt basketball and swears that Louisana-Lafayette is underrated by the so-called “experts” and that the 14-seed is primed to make a run to the Elite Eight.
Fill your bracket from the inside-out. Which top seed do you think is going to win it all? Who are the Final Four teams? Once you’ve figured the important questions out, you can pick a few double-digit seeds to make some early-round upsets. Don’t convince yourself that if Western Michigan (14) can just eke out a win against Syracuse (3), they’ve got smooth sailing for another round or two.
2. Famous coaches are famous for a reason: Maybe their teams underperformed in the regular season, but there’s a reason why Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, and Rick Pitino (among others) are legends in their fields. They coach well, they prepare well, they recruit well. When undecided, check the coaching matchup.
3. Regions matter: The University of Florida plays its first two games in Orlando. Arizona plays its games in San Diego and then Anaheim. Proximity to school location can turn a 50/50 matchup into a 60/40 matchup if a school’s fanbase can make it a de facto home game. On the other hand, Michigan State’s first two rounds will be in Spokane, Wash., before needing to travel (if necessary) to New York City. Travel can take a toll on a team and add or subtract that marginal advantage in close matchups.
4. Super-freshmen are inconsistent: For every team like 2012 Kentucky that wins the title with young NBA-ready talent, there’s 2007 Texas, led by future NBA players Kevin Durant and D. J. Augustine, a 4-seed that flamed out in the second round. Kansas (2), featuring super-freshmen Andrew Wiggins and (possibly, because he’s injured) Joel Embiid, has been inconsistent all year. They’re scary when they put it all together, but tend to have lapses when their stars don’t play well. Duke (3), led by Jabari Parker, is susceptible here as well.
5. Live by the three, die by the three: Three-point shooting is a double-edged sword for bracketologists: Love the low seeds who can shoot the trey, shy away from the high seeds who rely on it. Because the three-pointer is a lower-percentage shot, a string of misses when a team is reliant upon it can put it in a big hole. Michigan (2), Duke (3), Michigan State (4) and Creighton (3) are all high seeds for whom a poor-shooting spell could spell upset.
But on the flip side, lower seeds who can get hot from deep have a good chance of catching a higher seed off guard. A few of these are seeds for whom getting hot from deep won’t matter – Mercer (14) and Eastern Kentucky (15) are both excellent but have unfavorable draws — but don’t sleep on Harvard (12), one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country and a team that pulled an upset last year.
6. Read the matchups: Certain teams play a style so distinctive it’s almost patented. Syracuse runs a team-oriented 2-3 defense that is smothering when it clicks on all cylinders. Wisconsin slows down the pace and milks the clock, hoping to wear down opponents physically and psychologically. Virginia Commonwealth has a name for its chaotic full-court press: HAVOC. These teams are run with brutal efficiency, but this makes them vulnerable to upsets from the right team. Wisconsin has trouble scoring on good defenses, for example, and Syracuse’s zone gets stretched thin by teams with good three-point shooters. Overthinking will doom your bracket — see item #1 above — but picking all chalk is both no fun and won’t win you anything.
7. Beware of West Coast teams: We used this fact last year, and it held true: Only two teams from the Mountain or West time zones in the last 15 years have made the Final Four — Arizona in 2001 and UCLA for a three-year period from 2006–2008. Arizona has a nice draw on its way to the Final Four, but they’re working against history.
8. Everything is wrong: Perfect brackets are impossible. Don’t panic when half your picks go down in the first day. Have fun. We all know the story of that one IT guy who made picks based on which schools had the best computer science programs who won the office pool. But if your objectives are not to embarrass yourself and have a little fun, well . . . most of these rules might work out for you.
— Kevin Glass is the managing editor of Townhall.com.