NCAA Basketball Bracket Help
by Trevor Whenham - 03/13/2007
It's that time of year again - you have to fill out your brackets. There is nothing that you will do over the next year that is more important than this deceptively difficult task. The money that you can pocket if you win your pool is important, but the bragging rights that you get with that win are far, far more valuable. If you haven't been paying as much attention as you should be, though, then you might be panicking at this point. Worry not, for I am here to help you out. Here are ten things you should keep in mind as you are filling out your bracket:
1) What about Duke? This has been the easiest part of the bracket for years now - you have to put Duke into at least the Sweet Sixteen because it is inevitable that they will make it that far. Though you may want to stick with what has worked, there is one thing you have to keep in mind this year - Duke sucks. They really aren't very good. They lost seven of their last 11 games, including a tournament game against N.C. State which they had no business losing. They are a No. 6 seed and that's a complete joke - any other team with their record would certainly be on the bottom half of the bracket. Coach K is still the best there is, but it isn't looking like this is his year. If it is his year then the guy clearly has sold his soul to the devil.
2) Don't pick a 16. A No.16 seed has never won a game, and chances are that they won't this year. Sure, you'd be a hero if you picked the upset correctly, but you will look like an absolute idiot when you are wrong. With all due respect to five teams vying to be the first (and Niagara is much better than their seeding indicates), the class discrepancy between the elite and the last teams in is absolutely massive.
3) Don't pick a 15. 15 seeds have beaten a No. 2 seed, and they will likely do it again at some point. That doesn't mean that it is worth picking it to happen. The odds are incredibly long that you will be correct, and you are just throwing away points by doing it. It's like hitting at 20 in blackjack - you might hit the ace, but that doesn't make it a logical bet.
4) This year's George Mason is… probably nobody. The reason that George Mason was such a huge story last year is that something like that had never happened. It doesn't make much sense, then, to bet that it will happen again so soon. There are some tempting and exciting teams out there - Winthrop, VCU, Creighton and others. You might want to pick them to win a game or two, but picking them to go further is taking a big risk, and big risks are rarely rewarded in brackets.
5) Don't fear the chalk. In almost every pool out there, just picking the top seeded team in every game would lead you to a better result than a majority of the players out there. Picking some upsets is fun and important, but remember that for the most part there is a good reason why some teams have higher seeds than others. It's not by any means certain that the Final Four will be made up entirely of teams from the top four seeds, but it's a fairly good chance that it will. Getting fancy and reaching for Final Four teams from outside the elite seeds rarely pays off.
6) Look for bargains. When you are betting individual games, you are looking for lines that are far removed from what you think they should be. The same logic goes with filling out your bracket. Look for teams that you think have a significantly lower seed than they should. Those are the teams that could easily surprise a higher ranked team. Some potential candidates for this category include Nevada, Old Dominion and Winthrop.
7) Who doesn't belong? There are teams that have a higher seed than they probably should, and teams that are in the tournament when they really don't deserve to be. Finding these outclassed or mismatched teams can provide you some straightforward picks. You can take a look at Arkansas, Duke or Stanford to meet this criterion.
8) Check for pseudo-home court advantages. Though no team plays on their home courts in the tournament, some teams come pretty close. Having a building full of loyal fans is obviously an advantage. Louisville is playing in Lexington, UCLA plays in both San Jose and Sacramento, Wisconsin plays in nearby Chicago and North Carolina only has to go down the road to Winston-Salem.
9) Look for key injuries or suspensions. Some teams come into the tournament in a different position than they were when they earned their seeding. Wisconsin, for example, is playing without injured center Brian Butch, and Gonzaga is missing players due to a suspension over drug use. Both teams are significantly different than they were for most of the year because of the roster changes. Missing players don't necessarily mean that a team is certain to lose, but it is something you should consider.
10) Don't over-think it. Filling out your bracket is important, but it's not so important that it should take over your entire life. Filling out a bracket is like taking a multiple-choice test - your first instinct is often your best one. Do your homework before you sit down to fill out the bracket, but then don't mess around once you begin picking. Just keep picking until you're done and then let it be. This thing is the biggest crapshoot in the world, so it's not like constant tweaking and changing is going to help anyway - even the most insightful expert is going to be wrong many times in their bracket.