*Definitiveness not guaranteed.
March is here and, with that, a chance to make water-cooler talk with your office mates because you’re participating in an NCAA bracket. No matter what your knowledge level, you can play and even sometimes defeat your sports-junkie friends who have been following college hoops obsessively for years. It’s called madness for a reason.
And now, for the first time, you can have a patented system guaranteed to place you in . . . OK, maybe the top half of your office pool. Probably. It’s been honed and perfected over the years by a select committee of casual basketball-watchers for over a decade . . .
‐ Don’t fall in love with the upset. Yeah, it’s fun to root for the underdog, but when we’re filling out our brackets, too often we talk ourselves into low seeds making a “run” and going farther than they should. The best way to fill out a bracket is from the inside-out: pick the championship matchup, then the Final Four, then the Elite Eight, just so you can avoid suddenly looking at your bracket and seeing Montana in the Final Four.
‐ With the aforementioned in mind, certain first-round matchups have a knack for delivering upsets. The NCAA selection committee usually values middling big-conference teams over small-conference champions. Look for the 5 vs. 12 and 7 vs. 10 matchups where a smaller school can take a victory over a big-name team.
‐ Bet on the big-name coaches. (Corollary: Never bet against Tom Izzo in March.) For better or worse, coaches with a pedigree and a track record usually come prepared in March. The likes of John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, and others have established reputations for a reason. If you’re at a loss, check the coach’s Wikipedia page — and bet on the one with more detail.
4. Don’t sleep on the mid-majors. Just because you haven’t heard of a school or never saw one of their games this season doesn’t mean the team is a pushover. We’ve seen spectactular runs by Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, Xavier, Davidson, and George Mason in the last few years. This year, teams like Wichita State, Murray State, and New Mexico are well positioned to make deep runs.
‐ As in many other sports, defense wins championships. As the clock ticks down in a close game between two evenly matched squads, the ability to get a stop is crucial. High-powered offenses like North Carolina and Missouri are fun to watch, but when it comes down to crunch time, count on athletic defenses like Kentucky’s or efficient ones like Michigan State’s to triumph.
‐ Chicks dig the long ball. In picking upsets in the NCAA tournament, the ability to get hot from the three-point line is important. Powerhouse teams from big conferences like Syracuse often aren’t used to teams with undersized guards and forwards from smaller conferences who nonetheless have the ability to light it up from downtown.
‐ Depth matters. One superstar can bring a team a lot of hype during the regular season, but the strength of a team from top to bottom matters more come tournament time. It’s better to take the team with a solid interior tandem or great guard play over the team with one great player whose teammates may wilt when he’s double-teamed.
‐ Duke is always overrated. Just kidding. But they’re fun to hate. They’re actually very good and pass just about every test on this list. It’s okay to bet on Duke. People will hate you if you win, though.
‐ Everything you know is wrong. It’s better to be lucky than good. Every year millions of people play online bracket challenges and every year there are seemingly only four or five people who emerge with a perfect bracket. While logic should always be the basis for a decision, if you just can’t decide, sometimes it’s fun (possibly even preferable) to go with your gut.
There you have it: a formula for guaranteed success in picking your NCAA tournament bracket. For a few diverse viewpoints, if you really want them, check out FiveThirtyEight’s guide from last year and Eamonn Brennan at ESPN.
Happy Madness, everyone.
– Kevin Glass is the managing editor of Townhall.com. He and fellow contributor Christopher Regal, a health policy writer with HealthCentral, are veteran viewers of college basketball.