I don't know about you, but to me it feels like just yesterday that we were watching Marcus Paige hit a circus, game-tying 3-pointer in the finals against Villanova, only to be outdone by Kris Jenkins' National Championship-winning shot as time expired. That game was an instant classic, and as fans of basketball we can only hope that this year's NCAA Tournament provides us with more games like that one.
As a neutral observer, that game was amazing. As a bettor, that game was heart-breaking or money-making depending on which team you were on. I sympathize for you if you had a ticket, money line or ATS, with North Carolina on it. What I can't sympathize with is if your bracket was busted after the first weekend of tournament action.
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You don't have to consider yourself a die-hard fan to have even the most basic knowledge of putting together a tournament bracket that will make you proud. Every year, we hear about a random lady in HR that won the office pool because she filled in her bracket based on whose jerseys were nicer. Don't be that lady. Despite the major role luck plays in any type of gambling, it can only take you so far. That's when research and knowledge come into play.
We've been filling out brackets for a long time, and there has yet to be an absolute proven method when it comes to having a winning bracket. I'm not here to tell you I have the solution we've all been waiting for. I'm here to help you take into account four things that make these tournament teams worthy of picking or staying far, far away from.
Let's take a look some of the factors you should consider while filling out your bracket.
Please do not pick a No.16 seed to upset a No.1 seed. Just don't do it. In the tournaments existence, the No.16 seed is 0-128. And after this year's tournament will be 0-132 and 0-136 after next years. No.1 seeds are selected by the committee as the top seed for a reason. They are very good basketball teams that will not lose to inferior schools in meaningful games. Depending on your expectations for your bracket, capturing four free points should be a no-brainer.
If you are dead set on finding that upset, or "Cinderella" team, you have a few different options. In last year's tournament, at least one 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 seed won a first-round game for the third time ever and the first time since 2013. I'm not saying to pick every one of those higher seeds, but there will be a few games that end in an upset.
In 2016, only one out of the four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four. To take it one step further, over the last 14 years, top seeds in the tournament have earned 25 Final Four berths. The No. 2 seeds have made 15 Final Four appearances during that span, while the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds have made seven and six Final Four appearances, respectively. Only once has there been a tournament that featured all four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four (2008).
However, stats and trends can only take you so far. At some point you will have to look for the next factor, and in my opinion the next factor is momentum.
Momentum can be a fickle thing. Some believe in it, while others think it's just an excuse for playing well or well below your standards. To me, momentum is something that exists and is something that can be carried a long way. I believe there is no other sport in the world where a momentum swing is more prevalent than the one in college basketball.
Instead of looking at a team's win-loss record, you should look at how a team has performed in its last 10 games to get a better understanding of where they are as a team. Momentum plays a big factor late in the year, and for teams struggling down the stretch and backing into conference tourneys that should be a red flag for bettors to consider.
On the contrary, a team that has notched several noteworthy wins down the stretch in conference play could possibly be a team to back going forward. However, tread lightly, because not all teams who are on a hot streak matchup well with their tournament opponent.
Bear with me here while I ramble a bit off topic. I'm sure you heard about the Paris Saint-Germain/Barcelona game that happened this past Wednesday. I've never seen two teams play completely opposite brands of soccer during the home and away fixtures. Barcelona couldn't touch the ball in Paris and PSG couldn't touch the ball at the Camp Nou. Mind-blowing.
What I'm getting at is this: college teams are just as Jekyll-and-Hyde while playing on the road or in the friendly confines of their home gym. You should definitely consider a team's away record before confidently backing them to move on in your bracket.
Good teams fare well on the road and have what it takes (experience, leadership, scoring) to get the job done in hostile territory. The mid-tier teams tend to buckle under the pressure. I know that most of these games are considered "neutral" for most teams, but the fact remains that they must travel, and the travel not only affects the team but also the supporting fans as well. The further away a game is from home, the less fan support a team may get.
Unless you are Kentucky. Kentucky fans are literally everywhere.
Strength of Schedule
This one is a tough one to explain because there isn't any parity in terms of scheduling out-of-conference games. For example, Michigan State will likely be a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament. What you might not know is they only own a 19-13 record because they decided to play the likes of Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor, Wichita State and Duke all before November was even over. If they played weaker opponents, they'd have a better record and likely would earn a higher seed.
With that said, if Michigan State can stay hot to close out the conference tournament, they will a tough out because they are battle-tested. They know what it takes to hang with the superior teams like the Kentuckys and Dukes of the tournament.
Accumulating a great record during the regular season is fine and dandy, but doing so while beating cupcake teams is misleading and can hurt the team.
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