Our 10 proven tips to winning your NCAA Tournament pool
BY KYLE KOSTER | COMMENTARY March 16, 2011 12:58PM
So you want to win your NCAA Tournament pool? Here are 10 surefire tips to filling out a winning bracket.
Updated: March 16, 2011 5:07PM
It’s just sitting there, blank and full of possibilities, questions begging to be answered. Winners to be identified, upsets to call.
There are millions like it, but this one is your own. This one is special. It is a reflection of your gut feelings, your innermost biases, your carefully crafted theories.
It’s your NCAA March Madness bracket. With proper punctuation: Your Bracket.
You fill it out, bask in your genius and admire it. This year, surely, is the year you nail every pick.
But something always goes wrong. Cinderella is waylaid on her way to the dance. A sudden spate of cold shooting befalls your championship pick or a wide-eyed freshman misses the front end of a one-and-one.
Your Bracket is ruined.
It all blows up and your wife, who made her selections based on uniform color, bests you in the office pool.
Luckily, we’re here with 10 tried-and-true tips to keep this doomsday scenario from happening yet again.
1. Don’t be a hero
Everyone wants to be the contrarian who correctly selects the year’s biggest upsets or longest-dancing Cinderellas. Sure, picking the correct David to slay Goliath will make you look brilliant if it happens. It will also decimate your bracket quicker than Kemba Walker’s first step if it doesn’t. Do yourself a favor and pencil all No. 1 and 2 seeds into the second round. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the top two teams in each reason have gone a combined 204-4. That’s a 98.1 winning percentage. Top seeds also win 88 percent of second-round games. Again, going out on a limb is risky here -- and can make for a severe case of buyer’s remorse.
2. A 12 over a 5
There is just something about this matchup that makes it rife for upsets. A 12-seed has beaten a 5-seed in 19 of the last 21 tournaments. Overall, they win almost 34 percent of the time, much higher than the success rate of 11-seeds against 6-seeds. This year, there’s the added element of the play-in games. The winner of the Clemson-UAB game, which will face West Virginia, will already have the confidence of a tournament win under its belt. Also, beware of Utah State against Kansas State. The Aggies finished the regular season in the Top 15 while the Wildcats have been extremely inconsistent all year.
3. Winners keep winning
For every North Carolina State or Villanova that wins the title, there’s a boring old team that’s been dominating all year. Nineteen of the last 26 national champions have won their conference’s regular-season crown, while 19 of the last 44 Final Four teams have won the conference tournament title -- including three from last year. Teams that have won both (Duke, hint, hint) are never a bad choice to hoist the trophy.
4. Guard-ian angels
The NCAA Tournament is all about guards, guards and more guards. This bodes well for Peyton Siva of Louisville, Ashton Gibbs of Penn State and Isiah Thomas of Washington. In close games, and you know there will be plenty on neutral courts, do you really want to pick a team without a play-making ball-handler who can either create his own shot or create one for a teammate? Thought not.
5. Believe in the ACC
At least one ACC team has reached the Final Four in 22 of the last 27 tournaments. The conference boasts the last two national title winners. Each team -- Duke and North Carolina -- have the mettle to be the last team standing once again.
6. Be you
There’s no shortage of people out there who will tell you they’ve got a fail-safe system of selecting the winners. The only problem with that is that there are 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 different ways to fill this thing out. So, if you’ve got some sort of connection to Notre Dame (you went to Catholic school, for instance), go ahead and take a flier on them. Like the sound of Old Dominion? Pencil them in. The great part about March Madness is that it puts analysts and know-nothings on the same playing field. And, trust us, the more knowledgeable entrant doesn’t always win.
7. Old wise men
Experience is invaluable. A veteran-laden team is usually less prone to wilting under the bright March lights. Teams in this year’s field with a glut of upperclassmen include Notre Dame and St. John’s. Remember: The Fab Five were so remarkable because they were the exception to the norm.
8. Support local
Ohio State has been, overall, the best team in college hoops this year. With a mix of young studs and dyed-in-the-wool seniors, the Buckeyes should reach the Final Four. Purdue, led by JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, have a legitimate shot to reach Houston as well. And while a lot of people like Belmont to stun Wisconsin in the first round, I have confidence in Bo Ryan and Co. Then there’s Michigan State, which has been dreadful all year. But with the track record Tom Izzo has of guiding surprise teams deep into the tournament, is it really unreasonable to think he can do it again? If the Spartans can survive a first-round matchup with UCLA, they’d face the weakest 2-seed (Florida) and weakest 3-seed (BYU). Hey, crazier things have happened.
9. Light ‘em up
Don’t be afraid to take a risk on a team with a player who can explode for a monster game. When Davidson made its surprise run to the Elite 8 a few years back, it was due large in part to the torrid shooting of Stephen Curry. This year’s parlor pick? Future national player of the year Jimmer Fredette, of BYU, who averaged 28.5 this season. Penn State’s Talor Battle (20.5 per game) also has the capacity to carry the Nittany Lions past Temple in the first round -- and perhaps further.
10. Mr. Obvious
With pool scoring awarding more points for later rounds, what really matters is nailing the Final Four and eventual national champion. And, as un-sexy as it sounds, this is the time to make a logical, informed choice. It seems obvious, but it’s usually a team that is statistically dominant that wins it all. Twenty-one of the past 24 champions have averaged at least 77 points per game and a scoring margin of 10-plus points per game during the regular season. Additionally, since 1979, every national champion has had at least one McDonald’s All-American -- except Maryland in 2002.