It is March again and millions of Americans are gearing up to fill out a March Madness bracket in their office/friends/family/random Facebook newsfeed link pool.
I am going to go out on a limb and say 30 percent of bracketeers do not know what the heck they are doing and 40 percent are in the same boat but refuse to admit it.
This 70 percent estimation blindly fills out a bracket and awkwardly chuckles, “I have no idea what I’m doing!”
Sometimes, these people get fluky luck, but rarely do these individuals win their pools. A blind squirrel finds an acorn, but he does not find the stash.
Here are a few ways to act smart this March with minimal effort and possibly fill out a legitimate bracket. These tips can put some money in your pocket or at least earn sports knowledge points at the water cooler.
You have until Thursday afternoon to study.
1. Know Who Conference Tournament Champions Are
Before I go any further, you may be asking, “What is a conference tournament?” That is okay. Short and simple, there are 32 conferences in college basketball. With the exception of the Ivy League, each conference holds a final league tournament in the weeks leading up to the NCAA Tournament. The winner of the tournament makes the NCAA Tournament.
More importantly, there are arbitrarily seven “power conferences” in Division I college basketball: the American, the ACC, the Big 12, the Big East, the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and the SEC. Since 2006, there have been eight NCAA Champions. Six of those champions won one of the power conference tournaments in the week leading up to the NCAA Tournament.
It is a simple concept. Hot teams perform better at the NCAA Tournament. When determining a national champion pick, history says choose a power conference champion.
Here is a list of this year’s tournament champions for reference.
2. If You Recognize an Obscure Name, Do Not Ignore It
Wichita State, Creighton, Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis? Where did these schools come from? They have been on the bracket before, but they are not mainstream schools.
Repetition is a good thing. Wichita State made the Final Four a year ago and has not lost since last April. Creighton has National Player of the Year favorite Doug McDermott. VCU has gotten past the first round in the last three NCAA Tournaments. Saint Louis is 80-21 in the past three seasons.
Just because no one from your high school went to any of these schools does not mean their basketball teams suck.
3. Buy Four, Sell Five
For some reason, the NCAA selection committee algorithm seems to pit underrated teams at the number four seeds and overrated teams at the number five seed in recent years.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 41 number 12 seeds have defeated number five seeds. That is two more than the 39 number 11 seeds to beat number six seeds and well above the 25 number 13 seeds to beat number four seeds.
Since 2008, number 12 seeds and number five seeds are dead even at 12-12. In 2013, number 12 seeds were 3-1 against number five seeds. In picking first round upsets, do not be afraid to pull the trigger on a 12 seed.
Meanwhile, four of the 12 teams in the last three Final Fours have been number four seeds, more than any other seed position. Last season, Michigan and Syracuse both made the Final Four as number four seeds, with Michigan being the national runner-up.
Going back to the conference tournament theory, Michigan State just won the Big Ten Tournament and Louisville, the defending National Champion, just won the American Tournament. Both are hot and both are number four seeds. Do not let the seeding fool you on these teams.
4. Location Matters
Most websites include the location of games above the matchups in interactive brackets. You might think, “Looks like Syracuse will play Ohio State in Buffalo, N.Y. I guess that will be cool for Syracuse fans.”
Sure, I guess. But it is a lot cooler for the Syracuse players who get to play in front of those fans. In 2012-2013, Syracuse had the second-highest home attendance in the nation with 22,439 fans per game. The Orange have a massive backing and upstate New York is its dojo. Assuming Syracuse makes their third round, the First Niagara Center will look like a second Carrier Dome. This must be factored into picks.
Look for some of these quirks. UCLA plays its first two games in San Diego. Baylor will be in San Antonio. Wisconsin will be in Milwaukee.
In a sport that hinges on emotions, use site to your advantage.
5. Don’t Be A Hero
Upsets are fun and it is easy to think the key to winning a March Madness pool is being unique. However, the secret is being conservative and playing the percentages.
For example, if you take Virginia to beat Memphis in the third round and Memphis wins, there is not much damage. Most people will take Virginia, a number one seed to make the Sweet 16.
However, if you take Memphis and Virginia wins, there is a lot more damage. While the majority of your pool will get the points for Virginia, you will slip behind.
This is where you need to play the percentages. For example, I am taking sixth-seed Baylor to reach the Sweet 16. This is not a stretch. Baylor is playing in its home state of Texas and is coming off a run to the Big 12 Tournament final. In the third round, it takes on a number three-seeded Creighton team that some may say is overrated. Most pools will probably tilt a bit more toward Creighton on this due to seeding, but not by much. If Baylor wins, I pick up solid ground on my opponents and if Creighton wins, the harm is minimal compared with other upset choices. A series of minor Baylor-type victories can help make a bracket elite.
In short, be confident in your upset picks. If you are not confident, you may get lucky, but more likely than not, you will dig yourself a hole in the standings.