The time has come. You do this to yourself every year. You think you have watched enough college basketball, read enough magazines and scoured the Internet for every conceivable morsel of analysis to fill out the perfect NCAA tournament bracket.
Here’s the cold, hard truth — all you have done is learned enough to become dangerous. To yourself.
Accept the fact that the only moment your bracket is flawless is before you put pen to paper.
But that’s OK. We’re here to help you. If you fill out your bracket in accordance with these 10 tips, we guarantee you will walk away with one of two outcomes: You’ll win … or you’ll lose.
Inexact science, people. But, hopefully, this will increase your odds.
Probably not. But maybe.
SKIP THE FIRST FOUR
Make certain you have entered a pool that doesn’t not ask you to pick the winners of the Tuesday-Wednesday games that have come to be known as the “First Four.” Those four — 16s vs. 16s, 12s vs. 12s, etc. — are true tossups and it would stink to lose your pool by a point because some goober flipped a coin because he didn’t know what a UTSA or a IUPUI were.
BUT WATCH THE FIRST FOUR
If there is a red-hot mid-major team lurking in those first four games and they happen to win, then you can almost chalk them as upset winners in the next round. Think Virginia Commonwealth a couple of years ago. The thing is, most mid-majors wrapped up their tournaments a week before the big boys. They sit, rest, then get heated up again by that opening-round game. Meanwhile, the big boys are fresh off their conference tournaments and have to find their legs at the beginning of a game in which the mid-majors are already in stride.
CHALK THE ONES AND TWOS
After seeing a pair of No. 2 seeds fall in last year’s Dance, you will be tempted to set yourself apart by making a bold pick. You see the parity out there. You see all the pundits talking about how this could be the year a top seed falls to a No. 16. Balderdash. Sure, you think you’re giving up one point, but you’re giving up much more than that, for that No. 1 or No. 2 likely would earn you points through at least the Sweet 16. That said …
KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ’EM
There is enough parity for at least half of those top eight teams to bite the dust before the Elite Eight. The key is knowing which ones are the vulnerable ones. The key is in the matchups. All eight of these teams will have a fatal flaw, some sort of consistent chink in their armor that cost them in the games they lost during the year. For example — the Kansas Jayhawks are vulnerable against teams with terrific guard play. Pick an upset against them when the time — and team — is right. Meanwhile, a team such as Duke might be one to put all the way through, since it was stunned last year — you can bet that’s motivation — and is playing its best basketball of the season.
DITCH THE ALLEGIANCE
Hey, this fella went to Kansas State. He feels as if he knows a little more about the Wildcats — a solid, winning program — than most people. As such, he believes he will get the drop on a great many people by picking Kansas State to go a little farther than most predict. Well … that’s the perfect formula for blowing up your bracket, since the odds are equal that they’ll urp up a hairball against a Bucknell or some directional school. Again, learn your team’s weaknesses and be mindful of the matchups.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The NCAA likes to reward its top seeds — typically Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 — with trips to nearby regionals. Think Gonzaga to Salt Lake City, Kansas to Kansas City or Ohio State to Dayton. As it turns out, seeds playing at or close to home advance 70 percent of the time. That carries on through later rounds as well. Likewise, if you see a team traveling cross-country, they are as likely to lose.
A NO. 12 WILL WIN AGAIN
There is a reason why No. 12 seeds — typically the final four at-large teams to make the field — knock off No. 5s. A No. 5 seed is a team that spent its season hovering in the back half of the top-25 polls. They’re good, but not great. They have lost games they shouldn’t have, but probably haven’t recorded many upsets of their own. There is little difference between a team ranked 15th (a No. 5 seed) and a team receiving three nods in the “others receiving votes” category (No. 12s). Chip. On. The. Shoulder. When two equal teams meet, it’s usually the one that is honked off that wins the day.
BET AGAINST THE BIGS (EAST, TEN)
Every year there are leagues that get a ton of teams in the field, but seldom do they emerge with a national champion. The reason for this is simple. They are victims of their success. In the best leagues, the rugged regular season and extended conference tournaments take their toll. Battle-tested? Try battle-worn. There are exceptions, of course, but they are not the rule by any stretch.
SWEET 16 AND FINAL FOUR
If you have a double-digit seed advance to the Sweet 16, you best knock them out before they get any farther. Yes, such low seeds have reached the Final Four, but they are vanishingly rare. As for the Final Four, dig these numbers: All but two national champions since 1998 have won at least 25 games going into the tournament. All but two have lost fewer than six games. And in the 3-point era, two national champions have averaged fewer than 77 points per game.
LAST AND NOT LEAST …
Accept the fact you won’t win your pool. Some goof who picked their national champion based on mascots, the zodiac signs of each team’s backup point guard, dartboards, their 6-year-old daughter or their pet lizard will take your money. End of story. Be a fan. It’s the most wonderful time of the sports year. Treat it thusly.