Ah yes, March Madness. The time of year when millions of people pore over their college basketball brackets ... only to watch them disintegrate in a matter of hours.
Not this year, though (hopefully). Here are five tips for filling out your bracket, winning your office pool and not looking silly in the process. At the bottom, there’s even a championship prediction to ride with (or ridicule):
▪ All No. 1 seeds is a recipe for disaster: Since 1985, there has been one Final Four with all top seeds. One. That's it. Now, about 40 percent of No. 1 seeds do reach the Final Four, so you shouldn't discount them altogether. Just temper expectations, and only choose one or two No. 1’s to make it to San Antonio. Virginia looks to have the best path this year, and Kansas appears to have the toughest.
▪ Do pick a 15 seed...: But only one. As you will hear over and over in the days leading up to the NCAA tournament, a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed. Those are locks. No. 2 seeds, though, aren’t as safe. Only eight No. 15 seeds have beaten No. 2 seeds, but recency bias definitely clouds our perception there (four such upsets since 2012). The most recent upset was Michigan State losing to Middle Tennessee in 2016, but there could very well be one this year – looking at you, Duke and Iona.
▪ When in doubt, go with the guards: Guard play is always crucial in college basketball, but come NCAA tournament time, it becomes paramount. Guards, especially those with the potential to play in the NBA, can take over games and almost single-handedly will their teams to wins. Charlotte sports fans should know that better than most: Hornets star Kemba Walker parlayed an incredible 2011 tournament with Connecticut into being the No. 9 pick in the NBA draft. If you're waffling on a game, go with the superior guard play.
▪ ▪ Getting “hot” is a real thing: It doesn’t happen every year, like Walker and Connecticut did, but sometimes a team starts rattling off wins right before tournament time. Those teams usually aren’t the most talented. They usually don’t have the most professional prospects. But they do have momentum, and that goes a long way. Davidson has some now (despite a tough first matchup against Kentucky) and so too does Alabama – trendy upset picks they may not be, but don’t discount the value of simply being on a roll.
▪ Don’t get upset-happy: Everyone wants to see a Cinderella story in the tournament, a low seed that plows through more-notable names and strings together a few upsets. Sometimes that happens, like South Carolina reaching the Final Four as a No. 7 seed last season, but more than often, it doesn’t. Picking a few upsets is fun and normal. They happen in the tournament. Just try not to get too carried away. Limit your upsets mostly to the first two rounds – nobody recommends having all double-digit seeds in the Final Four.
As for that championship prediction ...
▪ Before the brackets were revealed, Virginia was absolutely a championship favorite. Then they got seeded in the same region as Kentucky, Arizona, Tennessee and Cincinnati. ...The Cavaliers could still pull it off, but that’s an insanely difficult bracket to come out of, not to mention Virginia’s past postseason collapses. Instead, let’s pick a team with clear NBA talent, a Hall of Fame coach and balance on both ends of the court. Despite the tough matchups ahead, it’s hard to bet against Tom Izzo and future lottery pick Miles Bridges of Michigan State. The Spartans are your 2018 champions ... at least until the games begin.