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BRACKET BINGING: Everybody in the pool
I filled out an NCAA tournament bracket Sunday night, studied it for a minute and then filled out another.
And another. And another.
I’m here to help you win your tournament bracket pool, and my best piece of advice is this: fill out as many brackets as you can. You’re bound to be bragging about one of them when “One Shining Moment” is playing after the championship game.
Do your research, but also trust your gut and have fun. Here are some of the guidelines I follow when making my picks:
DON’T GO ALL CHALK
The big boys don’t have as much of an advantage over smaller schools anymore.
That’s obvious by the number of double-digit seeds getting past the first and second rounds—which I’ll get to later—but it’s also evidenced in the decreasing number of top seeds getting to the Final Four.
Only four times in the last 10 years have more than one of the top four seeds advanced to the national semifinals, and on two occasions over the last decade none of the top seeds got to the semis.
The lesson here is to be creative with your picks. If you have Louisville, Kansas, Gonzaga and Indiana in your Final Four, you probably didn’t put too much thought into your bracket, and you’re probably not going to be rewarded when the final nets are cut down March 30.
I like to pick two No. 1 seeds and mix in a couple of lower seeds to make things interesting. I like Louisville and Indiana the most out of the top seeds, and I like teams like New Mexico, Wisconsin, Georgetown and VCU to make some noise in the later rounds of the West and South regions.
YOU CAN’T GO WRONG WITH MULTIPLE FIRST-ROUND UPSETS
First-round upsets happen every year, and they’ve been occurring with much more frequency.
Last year, we saw two 15-seeds rise up and beat Duke (Lehigh) and Missouri (Norfolk State). Eventually, we’ll see a 16-seed break through, although I probably wouldn’t advise making that pick this year.
Over the last decade, the most common upsets involving double-digit seeds have come in the 7–10 and 5–12 matchups. Fifteen 12-seeds have won at least one game over the last decade, including one in each of the last 10 tournaments, and 15 10-seeds have pulled upsets, including at least one in nine of the last 10 tournaments.
I like 10th-seeded Cincinnati over Creighton in the Midwest and Pac–12 tournament champion Oregon, the 12-seed in the Midwest, over Oklahoma State. Belmont and Minnesota, both 11-seeds, could also be dangerous.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR BREAKOUT PLAYERS
Remember when Stephen Curry carried Davidson to the Elite Eight in 2008? Sometimes all it takes is one red-hot player to lead an underdog team to success in the NCAAs.
My advice is to pick lower-seeded teams with players who are performing at a high level entering the tournament.
Some of the best breakout player candidates include Ole Miss’s Marshall Henderson, who led the Rebels to an improbable SEC tournament championship, and South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters, who scores baskets in bunches and dropped 53 points on an opponent earlier this season.
RIDE YOUR FAVORITE TEAM
This strategy stinks doubly when your team loses, but it makes it so much more fun when your school is making a run, like VCU and George Mason did in their Final Four seasons in 2011 and 2006, respectively.
If you’re a JMU or Liberty fan and you’ve waited years, or decades, to see your team play in the Big Dance, why not pick them to win a few games? I’m not saying pick the Dukes to make the title game, but wouldn’t you like to say you picked JMU in one of your brackets if they pull off the upset of upsets against Indiana?
MAKE IT FUN
I know people who use all sorts of factors to decide their picks: mascots, cheerleaders, famous alumni.
Whatever floats your boat, I say. It’s supposed to be fun, and it’s supposed to keep you engaged in the tournament.
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442