We didn’t get our tips and tricks in before tip-off of the fake-first-round play-in game, but never fear: the National Review bracket rules are here before the Big Dance starts in earnest. So take another look at your bracket and make sure that you don’t come in dead last in your office pool. Follow our advice, and you’ll be guaranteed to narrowly edge out Geoffrey from IT. Maybe.
1. Don’t get cute. Kentucky is undefeated. They’re on a historical run of dominance and have barely broken a sweat during the regular season. They are only very narrow underdogs to the entire rest of the field. If you are undecided, pick them. Don’t pick an overabundance of upsets. Don’t pick low seeds just for funsies. There will be a lot of people in your office picking chalk, but remember, don’t go against the crowd all the time. The tournament champion probably isn’t where you’re going to win your bracket. You win by being smart, not by being a contrarian.
At a certain size pool, it’s worth it to take an unconventional pick to win it all, as detailed here. But that’s for a pretty narrow band of pools. Look: picking Kentucky is not fun, nor is it sexy. But it’s probably the best bet you have to win your bracket. It’s rare that a single team is so overwhelmingly favored by most analysts.
#related#2. Some coaches have been there before. That counts. Mike Krzyzewski. Roy Williams. John Calipari. If you’re not a college basketball diehard and you can name the coach, they’re probably pretty good. This doesn’t mean that a low-seeded Tom Izzo squad is going to go wild and upset powerhouse after powerhouse, but it does mean these coaches come prepared and (usually) aren’t subject to surprise upsets.
Except for Duke. Man, it’s awesome when Duke gets upset.
3. Everybody hates Duke. Duke has a propensity to win the tournament — they’ve done it a few times already. But they have also experienced spectacular flameouts to double-digit seeds. (Twice in the last three years!) You can use this to your advantage: Everyone hates Duke and likes to see them go out early, so some of your officemates might pick them for an early upset. You can go against this and pick Duke to go on a long run.
Or you can pick Duke for an early upset, because it’s so much fun.
4. Chicks dig the long ball. Low seeds that can drill it from the three point line are potential upset contenders. This is how teams from smaller conferences can keep up with the size and superior athleticism of some of the bigger schools.
Are we saying that Davidson (10 seed), Eastern Washington (13), Belmont (15), or Lafayette (16 [!] seed) will pull upsets? No, of course not. But if any of those teams — among the tops in the nation in three-point percentage and/or three-pointers taken — gets hot, turn on the TV and get ready for a show.
On the other hand, the high variance of three-pointers means that the good teams that rely on three-point shooting are susceptible to upset. Villanova (1), Gonzaga (2), and Notre Dame (3) could blow anyone out of the water, but a few clanged threes means they might let other teams hang around too long.
5. Stay away from Western teams. This is a rule that’s easy to follow and makes no sense whatsoever: Teams from the Mountain and Western time zones bomb in the tournament. Only one team from out there (Arizona) made even the Elite Eight last year. We’ve used this rule a few times, but it’s helpful just to be wary. There aren’t too many high-seeded teams from the west this year, but Arizona (2) and Gonzaga (2) are, for me, stay-aways.
6. Style matters. You already know this because you’re a fashion-forward Millennial (right?) but heterodoxy is a big deal in the tournament. Matchups could spell doom for system teams that don’t stray from their system no matter what, like Wisconsin (1), Georgetown (4) or VCU (7). Unorthodox systems come in handy for lower seeds looking to pull an upset, though, so someone like the bombers from Eastern Washington (13) might be a good upset pick.
7. Have fun. That’s what this is for. Enjoy yourself! Pick your alma mater in a ridiculous upset. Pick against Duke because nothing is more gratifying. Try to win, sure, but definitely have some fun with it. Oh except for one thing . . .
8. Please, for the love of everything that is good, beat President Obama’s bracket. In my office pool a few years ago we entered Obama’s bracket as a ghost just to see where it would place. It beat everyone. That was not fun at all.